Case Study: Luna — Reactivity to Other Dogs Part 1
Summary: A case of dog-dog reactivity in an energetic older dog, is made more complicated by the client’s specific situation and set of needs, and then turns into human-directed aggression as their living situation becomes more stressful. Working within Luna’s adoptive caregiver’s capacities requires patience and creative thinking. Recommending the client make some difficult decisions in the short-term for the sake of their health proves challenging but necessary. Part 1 of a 2-part case study.
Age: Estimated to be 8 years old
Breed: Luna is thought to be a vizsla mix based on her appearance
Sex and reproductive status: Luna is a spayed female
Presenting behavior concerns at the time of initial consultation: Reactivity towards other dogs.
History of acquisition: Luna was adopted by Tanner about two months before our initial consultation from the local Humane Society.
Medical history: Luna had no known history of medical issues when she was adopted from the Humane Society.
Exercise and enrichment: Luna and Tanner take twice daily walks on leash in the neighborhood for exercise. There is no enrichment ongoing.
People involved in Luna’s care: Tanner, an elderly gentleman, is Luna’s main caretaker. Tanner’s wife, Jeannie, is a paraplegic. Due to ongoing and progressive cognitive and neurological changes from her multiple sclerosis, Jeannie is not involved in any elements of Luna’s care. Tanner initially sought to take a group class offered through the Humane Society that was free with Luna’s adoption, but he later chose to contact me for private sessions at his residence for logistical reasons. Jeannie’s cognitive changes resemble dementia, so it was difficult for Tanner to monitor and care for both Jeannie and Luna in a group class setting. Jeannie cannot be left alone, so private sessions were a better fit.
Housing: Luna lives with Tanner and Jeannie in a house with a partially fenced yard. Most of the yard is unfenced except for an 8-foot by 10-foot area of the yard outside of Tanner’s home office. The house has large windows and a fenced-in deck on the upper level where Luna greatly enjoys watching squirrels. Tanner and Jeannie are the only two people living in the home, though family members sometimes visit. Various caretakers for Jeannie and helpers such as housekeeping staff and an accountant also visit the home. Luna is the only pet in the home.
Diet: Tanner continued feeding Luna the same NutriSource Adult food that she was eating at the Humane Society and is feeding her twice daily meals.
I both worked and volunteered at the Humane Society that Luna was adopted from and had the opportunity to observe her behavior before she was adopted by Tanner. Luna was at the Humane Society for several months before Tanner adopted her and was likely passed over by potential adopters both because she was a bit older (she had some gray around the muzzle) and displayed dog reactivity (she would lunge and bark at other dogs). Luna participated in at least one BAT 2.0 session on the shelter campus as part of the volunteer BAT program that I ran. Her threshold at which she could observe another neutral dog but not show any signs of stress was approximately 75 feet. Luna made what we called “great choices” and would choose to disengage and move away from a helper dog during BAT sessions when given the opportunity to do so. Her body language at the shelter often was full of stress signs, including a lot of body and facial tension, stress panting, and tongue flicks.
When away from the other dogs, Luna was known to be very sociable with humans. Luna would often show her enthusiasm for volunteers by jumping up and down several feet into the air (not jumping on people, but simply jumping up and down in place with all four feet off the ground in a single bound). I used her as a demonstration dog during a humans-only class where we had participants teach Luna a new trick to practice their clicker mechanics, and she was eager to work with the class participants.
Tanner’s initial phone call and digital forms indicated that he primarily contacted me due to Luna’s dog reactivity. Tanner was taking Luna for walks that were about a mile in length one to two times daily in his neighborhood. He felt that he did not have enough control over Luna when out walking and was concerned about her running away if she was off leash. He was also concerned about what Luna might do if another dog approached them while they were on a walk.
Luna had been walked on a 6-foot nylon leash and a Wonder Walker harness (utilizing the front harness ring for leash attachment) at the shelter. Tanner reported that based on the recommendation of somebody from another training organization, he had purchased a Herm Sprenger prong collar for use with Luna on walks. Tanner had arthritis in his wrists and felt the front-attach harness did not give him enough control. He had also started to shake a penny can at Luna if she barked at squirrels out the windows of the home.
Tanner’s goals for Luna included that he wanted her to be more predictable and under control with dogs they passed in the neighborhood, to be able to follow cues even if she was excited or agitated, and to be able to stop barking when cued to do so.
Observations during initial consultation
When I arrived at Tanner’s home, Luna greeted me with her usual enthusiastic jumps several feet into the air while Tanner showed me around. Luna had a crate in the mud room but had the run of the entire house if she was left alone. Since most of Tanner’s forested property was unfenced, Luna’s outdoor off-leash area was limited to the 8- by 10-foot fenced area outside Tanner’s home office on the ground floor. I noticed that Tanner’s home had multiple large windows on his second story that looked straight into the surrounding forest. These windows were huge, running the whole length of the wall from floor to ceiling, and did not have blinds or curtains that might conceal squirrels. While we chatted, Luna alternated between checking in with me for attention and going to look out the window for critters. At one point, Luna spotted a squirrel and engaged in a flurry of barking out the window. I was able to call her away by making some high-pitched, interesting noises, and when I rewarded her for checking in with me with a treat, she was able to stay engaged with me.
I noticed that the fenced area where Tanner was letting Luna out into the yard had fencing that was only about 4 feet high. Tanner and I discussed that due to Luna’s dog reactivity, her impressive jumping abilities, and her extreme enthusiasm about chasing squirrels, having Luna either in a securely fenced area or on leash at all times was the safest course of action. I mentioned that I was concerned about Luna being able to jump the fence, and Tanner agreed. Tanner told me that he was planning on having a contractor add an attachment that was another couple of feet in height on top of the existing fencing, and I encouraged him to add “coyote rollers” to the top that spin so Luna could not gain traction if she tried to jump the fence.
During our session I noticed Luna shaking her head vigorously numerous times. I also noticed that the margins along her ears were tattered, and there appeared to be at least one bloody lesion on her ear. Luna’s ears had not appeared this way at the animal shelter. I asked Tanner about Luna’s ears, and he remarked that his veterinarian had diagnosed her with vasculitis. Tanner noted that sometimes he found blood on Luna’s head without a clear cut or source, and he thought it was from her shaking her ears. I encouraged him to continue working with his vet on this health issue and let him know that medical issues can impact behaviors such as reactivity.
When discussing Luna’s reactivity, Tanner noted that Luna would bark and lunge at some dogs when passing them on the street, but at other times she “didn’t even seem to notice the other dog.” The side streets in Tanner’s neighborhood were fairly narrow, approximately 15 to 20 feet across. These side streets led up to a main road with no sidewalk where walking along the shoulder would be required. I observed that since Luna’s previously observed threshold was approximately 75 feet, this neighborhood could prove to be a challenging environment for working on Luna’s reactivity, since walking down the street past another dog only 20 feet away would put her over threshold and result in barking. Tanner’s neighborhood was fairly quiet, and most houses were set back from the road and surrounded by bushes or trees. Leashes were required by law for dogs in Tanner’s neighborhood.
Luna’s barking out the window at squirrels seemed to meet the function of satisfying predatory urges to spot, stalk, and chase critters. It is likely that Luna is a vizsla mix based on her appearance. Vizslas were a breed that was developed for hunting, so her fascination with critters was not surprising. Due to Tanner’s need to spend a lot of time taking care of his wife, Luna was not getting as much exercise and enrichment in Tanner’s home as she was at the Humane Society (which has a very robust volunteer program as far as walking dogs several times a day, daily enrichment activities, etc.). In addition to breed-specific traits and predatory action patterns, I suspected that Luna was also engaging in her squirrel barking out of a bit of boredom and excess energy.
I was confident that Luna’s reactivity (lunging and barking at other dogs) was fear-based and served the function of getting other dogs to increase their distance from her. Luna’s reactivity that I observed in the shelter was accompanied by stress signs around the other dogs, such as stress panting, facial and body tension, and a lowered tail. She also chose to increase distance whenever given the opportunity to do so and would not lunge or bark if increasing space was an option. Tanner was also likely observing a similar pattern in his neighborhood, with Luna only lunging and barking at dogs that she perceived to be a threat (potentially based on a more direct angle of approach, the behavior of the other dog, etc.). These observations suggest that Luna was uncomfortable around other dogs and wanted more space.
The state of Luna’s ears and her head shaking told me there was possibly a medical change that had taken place with Luna since she came home from the shelter. I was relieved to hear that Tanner was consulting with his veterinarian and made a note to follow-up to find out how her treatment for the vasculitis was progressing.
The fact that I could easily interrupt Luna’s window barking by calling her was a positive sign, since some dogs can become extremely fixated on prey items. Luna’s history of choosing to move away from other dogs when given the opportunity was also a positive indicator, since dogs that choose “flight” when stressed tend to be safer to work with than dogs that choose the “fight” option. Also, Tanner clearly loved Luna very much and indicated that he was cooperative in regard to making changes to his home environment, the tools he was using, and his training techniques to help Luna succeed.
I knew that the presence of a new medical issue with Luna’s ears may be influencing her behavior. Certainly, having bloody, tattered ears couldn’t be comfortable, and it would be understandable if this changed her behavior. I knew that coordinating with Luna’s vet would likely be necessary for a positive resolution for her case. In addition, Tanner’s arthritis and lack of confidence with a front-attach harness meant we would need to find creative humane solutions as far as equipment that he could use to walk Luna. Finally, Tanner’s need to care for Jeannie for large quantities of time each day meant that while he was very invested in Luna’s well-being, he did not have as much time to dedicate to her training. Based on these factors, I knew that Luna’s case might require a longer and more intensive intervention, and that it might take a team approach to help Luna and Tanner.
Intervention recommendations during initial consultation
Discussion of methods and equipment
I knew that Tanner was using a prong collar and penny can with Luna because it had been suggested by another trainer. I hypothesized that Tanner likely didn’t know the possible fallout of using noisemakers as positive punishment or aversive tools. We had a respectful discussion about how the shake can producing a noise that frightened Luna could increase her stress or cause her to form negative associations (with him, with parts of the home, etc.) Tanner said that he was happy to follow my advice and that he didn’t want to frighten Luna, and that the shake can wasn’t working very well anyway. After we discussed a couple of examples of how the use of punishment and aversives can result in unintentional fallout, I asked Tanner if he would be open to trying a different sort of interrupter that did not carry the same risks, and he enthusiastically agreed. We agreed that we would use a “positive interrupter” to work on this behavior with Luna instead.
We also talked about the prong collar, and I explained how prong collars can sometimes increase reactivity in dogs (if they see another dog and then are potentially jabbed by the collar, they can develop a negative conditioned emotional response to other dogs, which can increase reactive behavior). I asked him if he would be open to trying different equipment set-ups rather than the prong collar for walking and training Luna, and he said he was happy to do so.
Safety and management
Tanner agreed to have Luna leashed outside until he was able to have the height of the fence increased and coyote rollers added to ensure Luna could not escape the yard. We also discussed that while Luna being off leash in some environments might be an option down the road with a lot of additional training, the safest option for Luna right now was for her to be in a securely fenced yard or on a leash at all times for the foreseeable future.
I encouraged Tanner to walk Luna at off-peak times of day and on routes where he did not expect to encounter other dogs in close quarters. The goal was to prevent Luna from rehearsing her reactive behavior and to make sure that they didn’t have dog encounters that were unsafe. We discussed strategies that Tanner could use to increase distance when he saw other dogs on walks. We practiced a U-turn cue where Tanner would cue “This way!” then change directions. He would then give Luna a treat for moving along with him. I also had Tanner use the cue “Find it!” and scatter a handful of treats on the floor, then praise Luna for eating them. I let Tanner know that if he saw a dog coming and retreating wasn’t an option, he could step behind a car or bush (a visual barrier) and play “Find it!” with Luna until the dog had passed. We were limited to practicing these cues inside the house because Tanner needed to keep an eye on Jeannie. I instructed him to practice this several times each walk in the absence of other dogs, and to practice when dogs were quite far in the distance.
We discussed advocating for Luna’s need for space and that it was OK to call out to other owners with phrases like “Please call your dog!” if the dog was off leash, or “My dog needs space!” We also discussed some “emergency strategies” that could be used should they be surprised by a dog at close quarters, such as throwing treats at the other dog and then moving away quickly with Luna while the other dog stopped to eat the treats.
I encouraged Tanner to continue working with his veterinarian to treat Luna’s ears and to keep me posted on any updates.
Behavior modification and skill building
We began teaching Luna a positive interrupter (we agreed on the word “Here!” in a pleasant tone) that could be used to interrupt any squirrel barking, and then reward her for disengaging from the squirrels. We practiced building this cue during our session, saying “Here!” and then delivering a tasty treat. After practicing this right next to Luna, we then increased our distance from her when saying “Here!” so she would practice coming a distance over to us and disengaging from the window. Some squirrels happened to present themselves outside, and Luna was able to disengage from the squirrels and redirect quite easily with this cue during our session. I encouraged Tanner to keep treats handy in the room with the large windows and to continue using this method with Luna on a daily basis as needed.
We did not have time to start behavior modification for Luna’s reactivity during our initial consultation session. Tanner needed to end our session after 60 minutes because he needed to attend to Jeannie.
Follow-up session #1: Behavior modification and skill building for reactivity
For this session, Tanner and I met in a nearby park that required leashes and frequently had leashed dogs walking by. Tanner had arranged for a caretaker to be with Jeannie at home. The park had large meadows, which allowed us to easily remain more than 75 feet away from other dogs (the amount of space Luna needed to be calm and non-reactive). This was more ideal than Tanner’s neighborhood, which had narrow streets and only the occasional dog.
I wanted to provide Tanner with an alternative to the prong collar that he felt was safe, effective, and provided him with enough control over Luna (which he had stated was one of his primary needs). We experimented with using a double-ended leash attachment (clipping into the front ring and back ring of Luna’s harness) during our walk to give Tanner more control. He liked this equipment set-up and stated he might look into a waist belt as an alternative option as well. This seemed like a potentially good option for Tanner, who was steady on his feet and fairly fit and active (his arthritis and weakness were mostly limited to his wrists). I brought up the possibility of a dual leash set-up with one leash linked to a waist belt and one leash held by hand. Tanner liked these ideas and said he would test out different options.
My main goal for this session was to get Tanner started on behavior modification for Luna’s dog reactivity using Alice Tong’s “Engage-Disengage Game”1. We started the session with me holding Luna’s leash and demonstrating the technique for Tanner. Each time Luna noticed a dog, I would immediately use her marker that we had previously charged (“Yes!”) and then deliver a treat. I repeated this for each look until the other dog had moved quite far away. This is the “Engage” level of the game. It accomplishes classical counterconditioning and works to create a positive conditioned emotional response to other dogs. In other words, by pairing a treat with the sight of another dog, it works to replace the discomfort that Luna was feeling with a happier emotion because seeing the other dog predicts great food.
The “Engage/Disengage Game” also teaches the dog that seeing another dog is a cue to turn to the handler for food. This “owner watching” behavior is a great alternative behavior that can replace the lunging and barking that the dog was previously doing. My plan was to continue simply marking and treating Luna for seeing other dogs until Luna started offering disengagements, and we would then reinforce those when they started to occur. I took care during training to ensure Luna stayed below threshold (she was not showing any significant signs of stress upon seeing the other dogs).
After modeling this with several dogs, I asked Tanner to take over the marking and treating while I continued to hold Luna’s leash (so he would not need to worry about leash handling and could just focus on the timing and mechanics of the training). Tanner was having some struggles with the timing, so I spent quite a while coaching him on this, first telling him when to mark and treat, and later having him watch the orientation of Luna’s head so he could determine and when she was looking at another dog (and therefore, time to mark and treat). Tanner was having trouble noticing other dogs while also keeping an eye on Luna’s head orientation, so I realized that increasing awareness of dogs in the surrounding area and identifying when Luna was actually looking at another dog were skills we’d need to develop together. We took breaks every few minutes in an area where Luna did not see other dogs.
I noticed that sometimes Luna saw other dogs and chose to look down and sniff around before Tanner had a chance to say the marker word. I brought this to Tanner’s attention that this was actually an example of “disengagement” from Luna and was a very appropriate alternative behavior to lunging and barking. We discussed and practiced praising Luna whenever he noticed her doing this. Luna was very interested in sniffing and smells. It’s likely that sniffing was interesting for her, served as a self-soothing behavior for any stress related to the presence of other dogs, and may also have served as a “cut-off” signal to let the other dog know that she was not interested in interacting,2 so reinforcing the sniffing behavior was ideal for a number of reasons.
Toward the end of our session, Tanner was able to take over Luna’s leash and the training at the same time. Tanner expressed that he was not confident with the timing yet in addition to the leash handling, so we agreed to meet regularly until we felt like he and Luna were off to a great start. Tanner indicated that he would continue avoiding other dogs in the neighborhood until he felt more confident with his handling and training skills.
I asked Tanner about how using the positive interrupter “Here!” was going with Luna when she was barking at squirrels out the window. He indicated that the frequency of her barking had not improved. I asked him to walk me through the steps of what he was doing (I could not observe directly because we were at the park rather than his home). Tanner informed me that when Luna started barking out the window, he had started saying the marker word “Yes!” to interrupt her, then giving her a treat. It was apparent to me that based on Tanner’s deviation from our plan, he was accidentally reinforcing Luna’s barking by using the marker word while she was barking out the window! We talked about how anything that you mark and reinforce, you get more of: Tanner needed to use our “Here” cue to call Luna away, then mark and treat her after she came away from the window. Tanner indicated that he understood how this little difference in timing was very important, and said that he would be sure to stick to the original plan.
Between sessions: Bite incident
Tanner contacted me before our next scheduled in-person session to let me know about a very surprising bite incident that happened between Luna and his secretary. Luna had been sitting on the sofa near Tanner. Tanya, the secretary, had been talking with Tanner, and then reached over the sofa from behind Luna to pet her on the head. Luna gave a growl and then bit Tanya on the hand. From asking Tanner additional questions, I assessed the bite to be a lower Level 3 bite on Ian Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale because there was a puncture and a bit of bruising.3
My assessment of this incident was that there was most likely an element of surprise that played a role in the bite, as Tanya had reached over the back of Luna. Still, Luna had never shown any sensitivity to touch either in the shelter environment or in Tanner’s home, so I found this sudden change of behavior to be very strange. I strongly suspected that Luna may have been in pain due to her ear issues and that this may have played a role in lowering her bite threshold.
I encouraged Tanner to touch base with his veterinarian about this incident and inquire about whether further diagnostics or treatment were warranted. I also chatted with Tanner about a plan to do muzzle training and counterconditioning to hands reaching for her, in order to lower the risk of any bites occurring in the future. I instructed Tanner to tell everyone entering his home to not to surprise Luna from behind, to make sure she heard them coming, and to be sure that she was showing that she wanted to interact and be petted before anyone reached out to pet her. I was not too concerned about Jeannie’s safety because Tanner indicated that Jeannie did not really interact with Luna and was not capable of reaching for her or petting her based on her mobility limitations. I encouraged Tanner to keep Luna separated from anyone who could not follow these instructions, such as children, for the time being.
Follow-up session #2: Behavior modification for reactivity
Tanner and I met at the same park to work on Luna’s “Engage/Disengage” behavior change plan. Like last time, Jeannie was with a caregiver at home. This time, Tanner spent most of the time holding the leash and doing Luna’s training. During this session, Tanner did significantly better at identifying when Luna was looking at another dog. His timing greatly improved over the course of our session, too. Tanner also was doing a great job increasing his awareness of other dogs in the area, requiring less input from me in terms of pointing out the other dogs to him. While Luna did not tend to offer disengagements in the form of looking up at her handler, she significantly increased the disengagements she was offering in terms of looking away from other dogs and sniffing the ground, which we continued to praise warmly. Her sniffing did not look like the “excessive sniffing” that might be seen from a stressed dog exhibiting displacement behaviors; it appeared she was relaxed and curious about her environment, following scent trails of animals that had passed through the area. We gradually worked closer to other dogs over the course of our session, with the closest distance we had another dog pass by being approximately 30 feet away, with Luna doing relaxed sniffing at that time.
For the later part of our session, we worked in an area where we did not expect to see other dogs on muzzle training. Using classical conditioning methods similar to those from The Muzzle Up Project,4 we started conditioning Luna to wearing a muzzle by showing her the muzzle, then immediately giving her a treat. After several repetitions, any movement toward the muzzle earned a treat. With continued shaping and gradually raising criteria, Luna was soon eating treats out of the basket of the muzzle. I left Tanner with instructions on how to continue muzzle training practice with Luna daily, as well as reiterating the safety protocols to make sure nobody petted or handled Luna by surprise.
We also reviewed canine communication and dog body language to make sure that Tanner could spot signs that Luna was uncomfortable and educate his family and staff accordingly. I emphasized not touching or handling Luna if she showed signs of stress or discomfort, and only petting her if she chose to come over and interact. I also taught Tanner the “five second rule,” meaning if Luna requested contact, people only petted her for five seconds, then stopped to see if she wanted to move away or if she requested that petting continue. Sometimes dogs have difficulty walking away when they are being actively petted even if they are growing increasingly uncomfortable, so the “five second rule” helps ensure that dogs can opt out of an interaction and take a break if needed.
Finally, we worked on some counterconditioning to reaches and touching. I would reach out toward Luna’s head, then immediately deliver treat. My hypothesis was that Luna was potentially fearful or uncomfortable about people reaching over her head or back, so counterconditioning would form a more positive association with this action and reduce the risk of future bites. During our session, I noticed a stress sign (mouth going from open to closed) when I reached over the top of Luna’s head, so I decreased the intensity of my reaches to be reaching only 6 inches toward Luna and stopping well short of her head instead of reaching over the top of her head. It was odd to me that Luna was showing stress signs with overhead reaches, because this was not something she had ever displayed before, and further supported my hypothesis that Luna’s behavior had changed because she wasn’t feeling well. I asked Tanner to let me know what his vet said about Luna’s bite incident and the current state of her ears. I also left Tanner with counterconditioning exercises for him to continue with Luna at home, emphasizing the need to watch her body language, move in small steps, and keep the exercises well under Luna’s threshold.
Neighborhood dog attack and aftermath
Several days later I received a very worrisome phone call from Tanner. Later that day after our session at the park, Tanner and Luna were approached by an off-leash, unattended dog in his neighborhood. Luna became reactive at the dog as it directly approached her (way closer than her threshold distance) and she barked and lunged at it. Unfortunately, in a state of panic, Tanner forgot about the emergency protocols we practiced and he opted to pick up Luna and carry her away from the other dog because he was concerned the dogs were going to fight. Tanner successfully whisked Luna away without any fighting between the dogs occurring, but he injured his shoulder in the process. This meant that Tanner would not be able to walk Luna while his shoulder was healing.
Tanner informed me that he had sent Luna to stay with his daughter Noelle while his shoulder was recovering. Noelle had a 9-year-old son in the home that was very determined to pet Luna. A bite incident had already occurred while Noelle was in the room with Luna and her son but was distracted on the phone. Upon following up with Noelle via a phone call, she told me that her son came to pet Luna and she growled at him. The son continued to pet Luna, and Luna air snapped at him. The son continued his actions, and Luna then bit his arm when he reached over her back. There was contact made, but no punctures (a Level 2 bite on the Dunbar Bite Scale). To make matters worse, Luna was fighting through the fence with the neighboring dogs on either side of Noelle’s house. Apparently, there was a rather prolonged fight that went on for some time before Noelle interrupted it. The injuries to the dogs were superficial due to the fence (Luna had some scratches along her nose), but I can only imagine the stress and regression this caused for Luna.
It was clear to me that Luna was in a very high state of stress from being in a new housing situation, potentially being in pain from her ears, being surrounded by dogs when outside, and not feeling that her communications were being respected by a child inside the house. I was extremely concerned about the safety of Noelle’s son in the home. I felt it was a strong negative indication that the bite incident with Noelle’s son occurred while an adult was in the room, and the adult did not intervene despite clear warnings from the dog. I had limited ability to advise and educate Noelle since she was not my client, so I asked Noelle to keep Luna completely separated from her son through the use of baby gates for the time being. I let Noelle know that I would reach out through my contacts to see if we could find emergency short-term boarding for Luna until she could go back to Tanner’s home.
Noelle didn’t feel like the level of supervision and separation that I was advising would be feasible in her household, plus Luna could not be in her yard for very long due to the neighbor dogs. I was very worried about what the outcome for Luna would be at this point, now having two bites to humans in addition to her conflict with other dogs.
I began reaching out to all of my contacts through the Humane Society to see if I could find a safe emergency boarding situation for Luna until Tanner’s shoulder had healed. There were many volunteers who had worked with Luna regularly and loved her. If I could find a behavior savvy volunteer who did not have children or pets and was willing to strictly adhere to a safety and management plan, then it could be a safe place for Luna to stay until Tanner recovered.
At the same time, I wrote to Luna’s veterinarian about my significant concerns regarding the changes in her behavior. We had still not heard back from them after Luna’s bite to Tanner’s secretary. I inquired about their re-evaluation of Luna’s vasculitis, whether this could be contributing to her recent behavior, and if further treatment options were available to treat or rule out a physiological component that may be influencing her dramatic behavioral changes.
I succeeded in finding a short-term boarding situation for Luna, but the following day, I was informed that Tanner was having Luna come back to his place and he planned on hiring a walker for her while his shoulder healed. I was concerned about the safety of having a walker work with Luna due to the recent bite incidents, and informed Tanner about my concerns. I insisted that a walker needed to be fully briefed on Luna’s bite history and how to safely manage her reactivity and minimize the risk of additional bites. Tanner was quite overwhelmed at recovering from his shoulder injury and caring for his wife, and asked for my assistance.
I was able to locate a savvy walker who was experienced with walking reactive dogs through my local dog training colleagues. I thoroughly briefed the walker on Luna’s behavioral history (including her bites) and her safety and management plan. Luna would be harnessed and leashed before the walker arrived so the walker would not be doing any reaching over her head or back. The walker knew to keep a large distance from other dogs and would carry citronella spray to deploy in the event that they ran into another off-leash dog in the neighborhood so that she could get away with Luna safely. The walker also agreed to keep a journal of Luna’s behavior for our training purposes and touch base with Tanner and me with any behavior or safety concerns.
Continues in the next issue
- Tong, A. (2014) The Engage-Disengage Game. Choose Positive Dog Training, last accessed 5/31/2022
- Rugaas, T. (2006) On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise
- Dunbar, I. (2017) Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale (Official Authorized Version) Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
- Muzzle advocacy, education, and training. The Muzzle Up! Project. Last accessed 5/31/2022.