I briefly touched on my experience with Kitty, my Neapolitan girl in an earlier entry and thought I’d take the opportunity to expand on my journey with her. I bought Kitty for my 30th birthday in 2003. She came to me as a sweet 9 week old pup, who followed my everywhere and soon became a great companion.
I also had Bosco at the time. Bosco was a rare dog in that his aggression was caused by his enjoyment of scrapping rather than being fear based. He just enjoyed the buzz. Kitty, however, did not enjoy it and soon associated other dogs with Bosco having a rumble which she really didn’t like, so she would start to initiate fights herself in order to scare the other dogs away. This aggressive response was further compounded with me using either a choke chain or a prong collar in order to try to stop her reacting badly to other dogs, and at the time I did not know how much harm I was doing to them both.
I sought the services of a local behaviourist, who, although helpful in that she managed to persuade me to start using non aversive methods, misdiagnosed the source of the problem.
I started using simple counter conditioning and desensitisation methods by giving Kitty pieces of salami when dogs approached instead of correcting her on a metal collar. Over time and many, many repetitions, she began to associate another dog with me giving her treats and would start to relax and look at me. When she started doing this, I was then able to ask for her to sit and look at me when nearby another dog.
I would go to the park at busy times of the day, with my bait bag fully loaded, and I would stand and chat to other dog owners and feed Kitty from the bait bag while I was doing this. I knew we were getting the hang of it when Kitty would stick her nose under my hand and nudge it as if to say
“I’m being good Dad, sitting here, not lunging or snarling and you’re not giving me the treats fast enough”
My wonderful girlfriend H also helped with this a great deal, also doing daily work with Kitty. After about 7 months, I was confident of Kitty’s behaviour on leash around other dogs, so long as I could control the introduction, so began to give her a bit more freedom by letting her off lead after a controlled greeting. At this stage she play bowed a young Border Collie as an invitation to play and ran off in the other direction with the Collie chasing her. I could have cried with joy.
A few months after that, she was able to have an off leash introduction to another dog without reacting and play back and forth chasing and being chased by other dogs.
She still needed constant management and training for the remainder of her life and in her last year was becoming less and less tolerant of people rather than dogs, preferring our company than any attention of strangers, so this was something we managed for her. She taught me a huge amount in dealing with and living with reactive dogs and I am better able to empathise with clients because of this.