Special Care is needed for Emotional Abuse

Question:
We have a Lab mix 2 years old. She’s had issues with trust but has done well, always sleeping inside. While my friend was pet sitting her daughter hid behind the door and when our dog came in she shut the door, scaring the dog. Now she will come up to the door but will not cross the threshold. We have tried coaxing her with treats and toys to no avail. We miss her terribly! The weather will be getting cold and I am fearful for her to be outside.

Dr. Nichol:
I too am sad for your sweet girl but I’m also hopeful. An emotionally traumatized dog needs special consideration; anything that might startle her should be avoided. Forget the cajoling and luring. Nervous Nellie (May I call her Nellie?) can replace her fear with an earned reinforcer that is unrelated to that scary doorway.

Nellie can learn to “target”, meaning that she will touch her nose to a stick you hold for her. Start by smearing a little peanut butter (none with xylitol, thank you) on the end of the stick. When her nose touches it say, “Target”.

A clicking sound will function as an immediate reinforcer. You’ll click your clicker right after Nellie touches her nose to the stick. Then give her a treat from your pocket. Go to facebook.com/drjeffnichol for full instructions. Your dog will love this game.

When Nellie is veritably vibrating with the excitement of her new skills you can have her target some distance from the door and then click and treat her. When she performs happily 20 feet from the dreaded doorway you can move a little closer, a few days later, a little closer. Nellie will learn best with 3-4 minute training sessions, just twice daily.

Continue playing the target, click, and treat game at the doorway and, when Nellie is ready, just over the threshold. We want this to be about relaxed fun and not, well, you and Nellie have already abandoned what got this started. Repeat hundreds of times. This will take a few weeks. Quiet praise will avoid awakening old doorway emotions.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.