Weighing less than seven lbs., Quest is my tiniest Min Pin, but don’t let her size fool you. She is a firecracker that goes off with a “Bang!” A complicated canine, Quest is an extremely hyper-vigilant, reactive Miniature Pinscher. My journey with Quest has been challenging, to say the least. Countless times, I have thrown my hands up in the air as a sign of defeat, but I will never give up trying to reach Quest. A realist, I know that Quest will never be “bomb proof”, but hope to teach her that the world is not such a scary place.
I recognized that something was different about Quest shortly after acquiring the puppies. Beginning with “sit”, I began teaching basic commands to the pups within the first couple of weeks. While Aspen and Malibu were fast learners, Quest took much longer to grasp concepts, and it was about six weeks before she had a solid sit.
When the pups turned five months old my husband and I began to see signs of reactivity during neighborhood walks. In a short amount of time, it became too difficult to continue walking all three puppies together. Over time, individual walks, desensitization, and counter conditioning helped reduce Aspen and Malibu’s reactivity to a manageable level. Although identical methods were used with Quest, the results were not the same. The d/cc did nothing to reduce Quest’s reactivity, and she would bark, lunge, and spin whenever she spotted a dog.
There was no denying that I was in over my head. Quest was clearly a special dog with issues that I did not know how to address. By now, the dogs were almost two years old and no progress had been made with Quest. Beyond frustrated, I continued searching for ways to alleviate the anxiety and fear that accompanied Quest whenever we left the house.
Although I like and respect my dogs’ veterinarian, I decided to take Quest to a holistic vet to see if there was anything he may be able to do to decrease her anxiety. At our initial appointment, Quest had her first NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Therapy) session and continued to have this form of treatment at each visit. While I don’t feel that NAET benefited Quest, my online research showed that others (canine and human) have had improvement in both physical and behavioral conditions after receiving this form of therapy. Bach Flower therapy was also recommended, so I purchased various combinations of this liquid form of flowers. A chart illustrates all of the Bach Flowers and the specific behaviors that may be improved through their usage. Either I ordered the wrong formulas, or this too was another step in the wrong direction. After several weeks with no improvement, the doctor began Alpha- Stim treatment and let me rent a unit for use at home. Yet again, I was disappointed at the lack of results. Low Level Laser Therapy was the last holistic treatment that Quest received before I decided that this vet may not be able to “cure” Quest as I had desperately hoped.
Quest turned two years old and continued to be a puzzle that I could not solve. I was excited to learn about a Reactive Rover class that was beginning soon at a dog training facility about an hour away. Wasting no time, I signed us up immediately. Every Sunday for eight weeks Quest and I attended class with about five other reactive dogs and their owners. Desensitization and counter conditioning were the main techniques taught by the instructor and was a reinforcement to the foundation work I had previously done with Quest. Teaching calming behaviors to our dogs, including mat work and Relaxation Protocol, was another aspect of the class. Being the only small breed dog in the class, Quest was dwarfed by the much larger dogs. The barks of her classmates matched their sizes, some being ferocious and scary! This was the first time I appreciated Quest’s less intimidating bark.
Unfortunately, Quest did not do well in her Reactive Rover class. She barked a lot and truly demonstrated that she was indeed a reactive rover. Most of the other dogs were not quite as vocal as Quest and seemed to show improvement over the two months. Again, I was frustrated at our lack of progress. The instructor annoyed me during the last class when he stated, “You must be rewarding Quest’s barking for her behavior to continue without improvement.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but later understood why Quest was not successful in that environment. She was either on the verge of, or over threshold, the entire time we were at class. A dog like Quest cannot learn in that kind of environment. I was expecting something from Quest that she was simply unable to give.
For Quest to overcome her issues she needed to be exposed to dogs in an environment that could be tailored to her specific needs. Further “reactive dog” searches led me to Pat Miller’s website. I learned that Pat Miller would be conducting a Reactive Rover Camp in late June at her training center in Hagerstown, MD. The description of the camp appeared to be exactly what I was looking for in my endeavor to help Quest. First and foremost, Pat’s training methods were based on positive reinforcement. Further, every detail, from arrival to departure, was carefully planned in order to keep the campers (human and canine) as stress free as possible. A required reading list included authors Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Patricia McConnell, Pam Dennison, and, of course, Pat Miller. A diligent student, I completed the homework prior to camp.
Over the course of three days, Pat provided camp participants with invaluable lessons on everything from behavior modification to emergency escape plans. Pat proved to be a top-notch instructor who utilized various formats to educate my fellow campers and me on how to rescue our reactive dogs from the fears that have taken over their lives.
“Don’t give pennies when you need dollar bills”, Pat advised us during one of our camp lectures. Since hearing that tidbit of information, I have utilized it on a regular basis when training my Min Pin crew. Whenever you “up the ante” with your dog by training in a distracting setting, or even teaching a new trick, you need to reward behavior with treats of the highest value. Therefore, don’t give plain, boring kibble when you need a juicy filet mignon!
Field work was my favorite component of Reactive Rover Camp because it allowed Quest (and me) to practice real-world situations while remaining sub-threshold. That was a first, for us! For our final camp activity, Pat had all of the campers and their dogs walk figure eights around an arena. Quest’s participation in the walk was nothing short of amazing. She remained calm even though we were surrounded by dogs! I cannot thank Pat enough for designing a program that allows dogs like Quest to achieve success in such a short amount of time.
As camp concluded, Pat stated, “Quest started on Friday as perhaps the most reactive of the crew, and ended up a superstar! Attending Pat’s camp not only enhanced my knowledge of d/cc and supplied me with management skills, but also empowered me with a much-needed boost of confidence and gave Quest the chance to shine. The Reactive Rover Camp experience was the best thing I have done to help Quest thus far in our journey. I returned home from camp with a renewed sense of commitment towards Quest’s road to rehabilitation.
To be continued…