CONFRONT OR AVOID?

This evening our school had our term end gradings. One of the handler and dog teams was a lovely young girl with a very sweet Border Collie. This dog's progress has not been smooth due to a number of different handlers bringing the dog during the 3 month course and the fact that the dog is unsocialised. To be perfectly frank I was not very optimistic about the dog making the grade - 80% minimum, but we proceeded.

As we started gradings a storm started brewing. I noticed that the dog became anxious and so I questioned the owner about this. Their reply was that the dog had severe thunder phobia. Hmmmmm - decisions, decisions....

The dog was clearly stressed and did not want to be there. So, do we train and run the risk of a negative association with the storm or do we try work the dog through it and hopefully give him a new persective on storms? In other words do we avoid the "uncontrollable" situation or do we flood?

In my opinion flooding simply does not work. If anything it appears to entrench fear.

However, I decided to go with the flooding.

The dog also appeared to be drawing quite a lot of security from his classmates, none of whom were stressed and I thought that removing him from that environment would have denied him a very healthy learning opportunity.

I instructed the young handler to talk to her dog non-stop and to put her all into it. And boy did she! She was incredible and she really worked well with her dog. Their heelwork course was very good and the stays were excellent. The recall on-lead was a problem and I did not want to force the dog, so we simply skipped that part of the grading.

They ended up with 88% - the little girl was thrilled. I couldn't help but smile when I heard her call her mother on the phone and shriek with happiness that "We passed!". More importantly her happiness obviously transmitted to the dog who appeared to relax considerably despite the storm worsening. Bingo!

Despite my initial apprehension I think we made the right call tonight. Apart from a young impressionable girl having a wonderfully uplifting training experience, the dog also experienced a whole new set of emotions during a storm. Instead of anxiety and stress from his owner, he experienced joy and happiness.

The dog's fear of storms is in no way cured, but hopefully getting him to work through his fear has shown him that he can endure a thunderstorm and come out of it intact.