Cooper | Instinct Dog Behavior & Training

Meet Cooper

Anxiety Masquerading as Naughty Adolescent Behavior

The Situation

Recently adopted Cooper was exhibiting some behaviors that made his new family feel uncomfortable: nipping and herding the kids (ages 11 and 13 yrs), pulling strenuously on walks and being unresponsive to cues given by his family, and becoming highly overstimulated during family arrivals to, and departures from, their apartment.

Cooper’s family had done a wonderful job teaching basic skills in the month since he’d joined their home, but they were feeling like it was nearly impossible to get him to listen in “real life” situations.

During an initial assessment with Megan (Instinct Hudson Valley), we learned that Cooper’s lack of responsiveness and overstimulated behavior were due in large part to significant levels of environmental anxiety.

The Goal

To help Cooper co-exist peacefully with, and be responsive to, his family, so they could enjoy their lives together.

Program Design

Cooper’s family signed up for a series of In-Home Private Lessons that took place over several months. Due to the level of Cooper’s anxiety, his family also did a consultation with Dr. Emily Levine at Animal Behavior Clinic of NJ, so we had veterinary behavior support when needed.

Our objectives were to:

  • Help Cooper’s family become pros at reading his body language, so they could accurately identify when his anxiety was starting to build
  • Adjust Cooper’s daily routine and environmental setup to minimize his exposure to situations that made him feel highly anxious, so that he could be in a state to learn and adopt healthier behaviors
  • Teach Cooper simple skills and behaviors that allowed him to navigate everyday life more confidently and successfully

Cooper’s family learned to recognize body language and behavior that indicated Cooper was beginning to feel anxious: lip licking, heightened alertness to different sounds and movements, body stiffness, tail carriage, paw lifts, and more.

As they began to identify the situations that were causing Cooper distress, we coached them to make adjustments to their routine and environment to help:

  • a different walking schedule to avoid the busiest times of day;
  • different walking routes to minimize exposure to loud noises and congested spaces;
  • different types of exercise to better accommodate Cooper’s preferences. For example, the dog park was triggering lots of anxious behavior for Cooper, so they stopped taking him there.
  • different walking equipment and reward strategies (a head collar and a tube of peanut butter) to reduce frustration and improve his emotional state
  • a specific, predictable routine for arrivals and departures that included calm, relaxed behavior from his humans, and a brief “cool down” period spent on a tether or in a crate

Cooper’s family worked daily on reinforcing simple behaviors and teaching fun tricks as a way to build trust and cooperation.

“Cooper loves doing training games. Using the clicker is giving the kids a lot of confidence, so they are getting more involved. Our youngest child is doing 5 minutes, two times a day with Cooper, practicing come, sit, down, stay, and also hand feeding. We have seen a wonderful change in behavior.” -Victoria (Cooper’s Human)

Challenges

Living in NYC made it difficult for Cooper’s family to completely eliminate exposure to the environmental stressors that were impeding his ability to learn new, healthier behaviors. They did an awesome job adjusting their walking routine to help, but Cooper was still faced with daily situations where he was over-threshold and in emotional distress. Working with Dr. Levine to provide veterinary behavior support was a critical part of allowing Cooper to succeed; behavior medication improved his ability to cope with stress so his family’s adjusted routines and training efforts could be effective.

Outcome

Cooper is now able to relax on walks, and the amount of pulling has decreased almost completely (squirrel-sightings excepted). Cooper feels happiest when walking familiar and predictable routes at set times each day, so that’s what his family is continuing to do.

Cooper is thriving with his family. They are providing him the structure he needs to stay under threshold, and the extra support he needs when having novel experiences like going to a new place or to the vet office.

“We have experienced a calm, content, and happy dog, which means we humans are also feeling calm and content!”

Need Help Now?

Talk to an Instinct Counselor Today

Help us learn more about your dog and your behavior goals, and we’ll help you implement a custom program that lets you and your dog live happier lives together, filled with fun, freedom and friendship.

You can also call your local Instinct location to speak to a trainer.

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