Though I wanted to bring all the dogs to this TTouch session for help with their various issues, I was especially excited for the opportunity to see what I could learn to better manage Fozzie and help him feel less anxious. I knew Fozzie would really enjoy the chance to be in a big room with a bunch of people who would pet him liberally, although I also knew that it would be a challenge managing my big hunk of dog in a room with other dogs, and was worried that he would be disruptive throughout the course of an 8-hour day.
But when I registered for the training, the helpful people in Santa Fe told me that they welcome reactive dogs, and that it is always nice to watch them settle down over the course of the training.
The first day I came with Fozzie he helpfully showed the teacher, and the rest of the class, exactly what he needs to work on. After he loudly announced our arrival and proceeded to lunge and bark as I escorted him across the room, a couple of my wonderful classmates joined us and Lamar, whom I had brought as well, into our little enclosure.
Both dogs were happy to be in our safe spot with a couple of friendly humans, and Fozzie relaxed his vigilance once he realized the other dogs were a safe distance away.
The nice thing about Fozzie is that he'll make an intimidating, intense, nutty display like that, and then when a human comes along with good intentions toward him, he'll flop over and turn into a big puddle of brindle on the floor.
Fozzie loved being the demo dog. Linda showed us how groundwork, the other part of TTouch besides body work, can be incredibly helpful for anxious, reactive dogs.
As we learned in our TTouch session with Pam Wanveer a year and a half ago, a PVC labyrinth laid on the ground gives a dog something to focus on navigating through when he is in the presence of his triggers. As he focuses on moving his own body through the labyrinth, he is not focused on the trigger. Over time, this teaches him a new way to be in the presence of his triggers.
You can make your own TTouch groundwork setup very simply, with ropes or PVC laid in a labyrinth, tires laid on the ground that the dog can step in and out of, a PVC ladder that he can walk through, a board laid flat that makes him have to focus in order to walk along it. Walking through all these obstacles requires physical flexibility, and physical flexibility produces mental flexibility.
Fozzie adored the attention, and Linda worked on getting him to relax all those stiff muscles.
We learned how to wrap a dog up in a
"suitcase," which is a leash wrapped around the dog's waist in such a
way that he feels pressure around his hips and ribcage.
The pressure acts to help the dog focus in his body, and is calming. Like a container to his energy when it is in danger of exploding beyond his physical boundaries, or like swaddling a baby. The same idea as the calming band Fozzie was wearing around his muzzle.
It also gives you another place to issue a gentle "reminder" to the dog that you are present, if you're on a walk and he is so focused on his environment that he's forgotten about you.
Fozzie was certainly vigilant about the large dogs in the room--though he was quite calm about the small dogs--but he had no trouble relaxing when he was in his enclosure or when someone worked on him.
He and Diane were in love!
As with Lamar and Lady, this class was a wonderful opportunity for me to connect with Fozzie and reflect on what I appreciate about him.
Just like I knew he would be the first day I met him, he is a massive, powerful, overwhelming force of nature and a challenging dog in just about every situation.
What's changed is the fact that I fully accept that challenge, and I do so with a sense of joy.
I'm used to Fozzie, I know what makes him react. I know he'll make a big fuss when he sees a dog or a horse or a cat or a squirrel or a skateboard, but I know he loves people. I will continue to work on all these triggers, and use a head collar and a face wrap and treats and a suitcase and whatever else helps manage him until he gets better.
Linda remarked of Fozzie, as she watched him eagerly come forward to be demo dog, that he really wants help. I feel that from him, that he wants to learn to be calmer and easier and to go through life with less anxiety. We know he can relax, we know he responds well to touch and training, but for some reason he just carries himself on hair-trigger alert much of the time.
I just need to be consistent and calm in working with him.
So expect more Fozzie training and TTouch posts in the coming weeks!
You ready Fozzie?