Overcoming Fear After Trauma
Over the last year, 5-year old French Bulldog Violet developed a fear of being leashed by her dog walkers, although once she was leashed, she would happily go on a walk with them. Violet also struggled with being examined by veterinarians.
These fears developed during a year of immense upheaval, in which she endured 2 major leg surgeries and two moves. Unfortunately, her fear of being leashed by anyone other than her parents got so bad that they were unable to have a dog walker come to take her during their long workdays.
“Violet was completely incapable of being leashed in our home by a walker. She was truly a threat to herself from injury and hysteria. Months of unsuccessful trial and error with very kind walkers made our girl’s problem worse, and her fear-based trauma even deeper.” -Claire (Violet’s Human)
To change Violet’s association with being leashed by other people, so Violet’s family could once again have her taken care of by others – and ensure her needs for exercise, companionship, and mental stimulation were being met – during long workdays.
Violet’s family signed up for a combination of In-Home Private Lessons and Home School Sessions with Meredith (Instinct Portland) that took place over the course of about 3 months. Violet’s parents had also had a consultation with the team at Animal Behavior Clinic of Portland, so we had veterinary behavior support when needed.
We started by helping Violet build a positive, calm association with a specific mat (in Violet’s case a Yoga mat).
One of the most important elements of Violet’s mat training was that she was free to opt out of training if she chose to, and she was encouraged to leave the mat periodically. It was important to provide Violet with a feeling of choice throughout the process, in order to prevent anxiety from building up as we gradually introduced leashing and handling to her training. This mat work allowed trainer Meredith to establish trust with Violet, showing her that Meredith would not push her past her threshold of fear.
Once Violet was clearly looking forward to mat work with Meredith, we slowly introduced the leash, first just picking it up, followed by a treat, and repeating. We gradually worked up to being able to clip the leash onto her harness while Violet willingly stayed on the mat. This was a very exciting day!
We then brought Violet’s dog walker into the training picture to repeat the mat process and leash exercises with Violet.
“As owners, our deep love for our animal can interfere with our assumptions that we can best help them in specific behavioral situations. Having outside and incredible expertise to learn, at a deep level, what caused our dog’s fearfulness (and making a commitment during training to never trigger that) was crucial. Meredith provided us with calculated, methodical steps the entire way to get from point A to point B, and ultimately to where we are now, thriving.”
Violet was quite a stoic girl, and she was a bit difficult to read at first. It took time and careful observation to understand her more subtle body language and her ways of communicating happiness and discomfort.
With help from her parents who know her best, and with a little trial and error, we got better at gauging her subtle ways of telling us when she was ok with what we were doing, and when she was starting to feel nervous.
Violet now sits confidently on her mat to be leashed by her walker. Violet’s humans understand the process for introducing a new person (walker, family member, etc.) into the leashing up routine as needed.
“Violet now joyfully sits in her special place to be leashed with zero fear or threat perceived. We are so grateful to have been pointed to Instinct and Meredith to successfully allow our animal to be understood and worked with in a way that helped her at such a deep level.”
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You can also call your local Instinct location to speak to a trainer.