We hit a milestone today for the fearful German shepherd who rushes people and barks. By the way both his ears stood up briefly today. At 5 months he’s still too fuzzy to look too grown up.
My friend Cindy and I made a stop at Menards following a movie. We were accompanied by the pup’s mentor, Til the border collie. Cindy handled Til in the store.
Dom made it through the shopping trip without barking or nipping at anyone. He did meet several people and allowed petting. He did a couple of sits and downs. I carried no food, and they didn’t hand out treats at checkout. It was a totally new location and no familiar people. Even Cindy was new.
I wish I could say that he skated through the whole day without barking, but when we first got to her house I had let them both out, off leash, to potty. Cindy stepped out the garage door and Dom ran in the garage up to her, barking aggressively. She stood still and told him to knock it off. He did stop and ran back outside looking for me. I told him, “There is no barking here.”
Now that he has a good idea of what to expect, I will start encouraging better behavior and normalizing encounters that don’t always involve food. I have been eliminating the barking attacks through a process called extinction; it means there is no longer a reinforcement for the behavior, so the behavior gradually goes away. (Any type of human reaction — screaming, jumping back, reaching to pet him, can constitute reward. The fact that the reaction is unpredictable and varies from person to person can be even more stimulating.) He has gotten very little reaction from the barking, even from people we meet, because I don’t react much. If the owner of the dog is pulling on the dog and yelling at the dog, it tends to elicit more of a reaction from the target person. By staying calm and not saying too much, the Handler is subliminally cueing the target person to do the same.
Now that the behavior is fading, and Dom is paying more attention to my words, I’ve started telling him to stop it. He cares more now about my opinion than he did when the training started.
That rush at Cindy was his last bark today. He had a long afternoon of riding around in the van. In the store he was well-behaved, no piddling either.
At the end of the day we took Cindy home. Til and Dom went with us into her house, then came out. I had left the back door of the van open and I told the dogs to go get in the car, and Dom immediately ran and jumped in even ahead of Til.
No throwing up in the car, no accidents, only one barking incident. We added one more marble into the scale of good experiences.