Thursday, January 26, 2012

T-Touch for Fozzie

Despite having some small successes with a few techniques, Fozzie's reactivity when he sees another dog on leash has not changed substantially from when I first got him. 

When we go on a hike where we see other people and dogs--like to Great Falls or Harper's Ferry--it is a serious pain to manage him in all his lunging, barking strength and muscularity. We generally have to find a rock to hide behind. 

This is one of my main reasons for feeling that Fozzie might be best in another home, with a person who doesn't frequent popular trails or someone who has only Fozzie and so can dedicate more attention to working with him. But since the right adopter for Fozzie may never materialize, I have been racking my brains for a trainer who might be able to address his unique issues. I already know a fair amount about the techniques that work with many reactive dogs--those that are fear-reactive and will accept treats when on walks--so I needed someone who could bring us a really new perspective. 

I've been meaning forever to have a session with my friend Pam Wanveer of Woodside TTouch, but kept forgetting or putting it off because I thought Fozzie was about to be adopted. I decided it was time! 

Note stiff front left paw
Pam is so great. It was she who taught me and Tashi about the use of an anxiety wrap, and she reminded me how helpful that could be for Fozzie. She had some great insights about how he perceives the world.

Fozzie doesn't know how to relax. His skin all over is tight, showing just how tensely he holds himself. Even when he's resting, he tries to keep some part of himself stiff--like those front paws that stretch out and push against Florian's chest when they're cuddling. 

As she touched him, he started to sniff all over the room, rub against her, and then stare at me and whine. This is his way of processing anxiety--when he doesn't know what to do with himself, he gets busy. 

I, of course, am in the habit of petting him, comforting him, talking to him when he stares at me and whines, or climbs in my lap, or humps Florian's leg (one of his nighttime activities lately). 

So there are several ways that we can help Fozzie learn new ways of dealing with his anxiety. If I can resist the urge to respond when he demands attention by climbing, whining, or humping, then he will start learning that calm, self-controlled behavior is rewarding. 

If I do lots of massage around his head and his nose and mouth, we'll release endorphins and start to help him relax and get more grounded.

If I put a calming elastic on his face, he may start to feel less nervous around his mouth, and less prone to barking and mouthing (let's whip out those calming elastics for Sandy's mouthiness, Lamar's barking, and Florian's nonstop talking while we're at it!)

If I put an anxiety wrap on him, he may start to learn that he doesn't have to hold his muscles and skin so tightly.

After the first twenty minutes with Pam, during which Fozzie whined and moaned and paced around, finally he plotzed out on the floor next to her, wrapped in his Ace bandage and his elastic band, and was down for the count. Same when we got home. Now let's see if we can manifest that same calmness on a walk!


  1. Our friend had this problem. The pup even turned around and bit his mom twice out of fear. The mom hired a dog behaviorist. She made our friend and her mom walk with other dogs. No stopping, always walking. After 4 meetings and doing this with 5 dogs with the same problems, there was a 90% turnaround.
    Benny & Lily

    1. This is a really good idea and I need to do it more! Now to find the time and the willing co-conspirators!

  2. Taking Delilah to drop in class has helped her immensely. When we are on trail and I see a dog approaching I try to bring her off to the side and pet her and tell her she is ok. So far it all seems to be working.

    I so hope this helps Fozzie.

  3. I've heard great things about T Touch and wrapping, and Fozzie looks like living proof! I hope it does help him on walks, it must feel horrible to be so tense all time time.

  4. Very interesting (and very funny...the "let's rip out the calming elastics for all" comment). I applaud you for your dedication to Fozzie and the breed. You're doing very special work.

  5. We have the Thundershirt that definitely helps take the edge off. Izzy too has trouble relaxing. I swear sometimes she barks at the Thundershirt on the shelf, I put it on her, and she goes to sleep. Like she knows she has anxiety and needs help to calm herself.

    In terms of the walks, we've been working on a hard core "focus". Izzy does re-direct sometimes onto my leg, so its even more important to me that I'm in control at all times. We're on a roll right now, and if I say focus, she is on my right hip because she knows that's the pocket the hot dogs come out of. She looks at me, not the approaching dog, chomps quietly on her hot dog and we move along.

    We are joining up with a "pack walk" too with a trainer who works with reactive dogs. A few friends with very even, calm dogs have also offered to walk around with us to help spread their calm energy onto Izzy.

    I could go on forever about this since it has been such a huge part of our lives lately. Feel free to reach out if you want to talk about it more!

    1. Try to find dog walks in your area!

    2. Thanks SFK--I checked meetup, no pit bull or other dog walk groups near me. Apparently there are some great ones in Baltimore though; I may try to make it there. You are right that this is a strategy that demands exploration--it could be really good for Fozzie!

  6. Did she say if having him wear that on walks would help? I've considered leaving the t-shirt on kiba on walks... but i think he'd bark through it.

    1. We have another appointment tomorrow covering what specifically to do on walks--I'll post an update! That is a great question. So far she's only suggested using the head collar on walks, and I can see how that could be helpful though I was not thrilled with my previous instruction on using the head collar (which seemed aversive and correction-oriented).

  7. T-Touch is really awesome stuff ... amazing what it can do. I hope it continues to help Fozzie.

  8. Wow it sounds interesting. I hadn't heard of t touch

    Stop on by for a visit

  9. You mean I can put an elastic band around hubby's mouth and call it T Touch and it's all good? :P

    I don't know a lot about T Touch, but it sounds like it's doing some good for Fozzie! He does look pretty mellowed out there at the end!

  10. We took many basic classes with Nina(100 lbs) just to get her with other dogs in a controlled environment. The first few classes she was ready to react if approached but everyone had been instructed to ignore her. By the end of a 6 wks course she was relaxed. Our best result was the Nose Work Class where treats are hidden in the room and each dog takes a turn to locate the treat. The dogs were working and doing what they love - sniffing out smells. They had a purpose and were focused. Nina would not move a muscle when another dogs walked by sniffing the area. It was great. I will always take a class of some sort with her because socializing her will be an ongoing activity. Now when we meet other dogs on a walk she behaves. Dog parks are not an option for her. Each dog is different and what works for me may not work for others.

    Nina, Myska, Sasha, Betsy, Lucy, Phoebe and Lily

    1. A nose work class is such a great idea! I have thought about that a lot but not been able to commit to the one I know of. You are right that it sounds very worthwhile though!

  11. I'm glad you're seeing Fozzie relax with the massage. I hope you continue to see good results.

    I've also dealt with several reactive dogs. It can be so hard to deal with. I've become very interested in BAT. It provides set ups to build a dog's confidence before he reaches a threshold. There are some great videos of it on youtube.

  12. Rufus [you may not have met him, he was put to sleep last April] was a very reactive dog when he was young. At 70+ kilos [then], he was almost impossible to manage when he had reactive episodes. He would lunge at dogs across the street for just being there. He was the same when in the car - it was tough to manage a crazy giant dog in an enclosed space! He once raced across a field and up a hill just to pounce on a dog! [No damage done, other than a big fright, thank goodness.] Like you, we would hide behind rocks when on a path and there were approaching dogs!

    We had 2 dogs then - Rufus and Jordan. [Jordan was a complete sweetie.] Whenever we did walks in the reserve, we would walk in a line. The Other Half would be in the front, followed by Rufus, then Jordan, with me at the back. That way, we could keep an eye on what was behind and in front of us and both be in a position to tackle him down, if need be! This lasted for at least a couple of years and as you can imagine, our walks were pretty stressful.

    Rufus became an extremely placid and sociable dog later in life, after a leg op that lamed him for a few years and just maturing I guess. He got to the point where even littledogs could bully him without fear of any reprisals! I do believe that some things played a critical role in his change of behaviour -

    The Other Half's persistence and faith, and the other dogowners' understanding and willingness to let Rufus be in the parks off-leash [under close supervision] with their dogs. Meeting up with other dogs every single day just took the angst out of him.

    Georgia also had many reactive issues when she first came to us at 8 months, though she was selective about which dogs she didn't "like". She improved considerably after lots of park socializing and learning certain commands like "Leave it." and "Look at me." Since her 5 week "holiday" at the kennels last year, she's become a different dog - MUCH calmer and accepting of other dogs, even littledogs that lunge and bark at her [she used to react badly to those, hence the title of my blog ;p]

    Something that particular boarding kennel does is "pack therapy". Georgia didn't sign up for those classes, but perhaps the owner was familiar with her behaviour and therefore knew how to handle it. It was also the kind of kennel where the dogs are out all day in a pack [I think one of your earlier commentors mentioned pack work]. My best guess is that Georgia had to quickly learn how to be part of a varied and changing pack and that's a lesson she's brought home. Interestingly, the kennel owner left Georgia's little red jammie on her the first day [of her 1st stay there] because it apparently made her more comfortable.

    As for massage - I bet Fozzie loves that :) I do it all the time too, not just around the head. Georgia's legs and toes used to be really stiff [like Fozzie's], but after a few sessions, she totally relaxed them and now enjoys having her toes massaged and splayed. [She glares at me when I stop!]Sometimes I even smack her bottom or pull her tail so she gets used to being touched and handled everywhere and learns to handle it calmly.

    Sorry this is such a long "comment". I know how tough it can be to help a reactive dog and perhaps it's even more critical in your situation so Fozzie can find a good home. Good luck Kirsten and Swiss Guy :) x

  13. How good to see Fozzie relaxed. Hope the T touch helps him. Keep us posted.
    Have you read Patricia McConnell Fiesty Fido?
    Have a good weekend
    Big Nose Pokes
    The Thugletsx

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