One step at a time: how a little dog made big leaps

We moved into our new home six months ago and is in need of professional help; it needs a lot of refurbishing and one of the things which needs replacing is my flooring. The previous occupants had installed cheap laminate flooring downstairs and tiling on the kitchen floor. These tiles get very slippery when wet and I will be replacing the flooring throughout all the house in time, I’m just useless at DIY so it’s not done yet. So over the summer the dogs have had the luxury of access to the garden and often come running in after a good play in the garden, all full of beans and excitement and sometimes muddy or grassy too! A few times the floors have just been mopped and they have all slipped a bit, Koda more than any of them. Sometimes with the doors open if the front door is open the back doors will slam and a few times this has happened when Koda has been eating. His feeding station is in the kitchen next to the back door.

Just over a week ago I noticed he was slipping and getting stressed and panicky when coming in from outside, I had cleaned the floors again as Tallulah is in season so mopping the floors a couple of times a day is nothing new. However this particular day when it was time for a walk Koda refused to come out into the kitchen then as the day progressed he would not come into the hallway either and stood shaking at the living room doorway for a few moments before returning to his bed. This was distressing for me to see but hoped he would be ok a bit later on. Teatime came and I had to carry Koda into the kitchen where he refused to eat; he kept looking at the back door and looking at me and making stressed noises, his fur became dull and his tail tucked up under his bum. The poor little lad seemed scared of the door which I could only assume had slammed one too many times while he was stood next it. The straw had broken the camels back and my own dog had a behaviour problem.

Not one I can’t fix though! Initially we all tried encouraging and enticing him with his favourite treats and toys, his meals etc but the fear was overriding the desire to eat and please us. Then I tried clicker training him using praise as a reward but still he would move from one rug to another but freak out, panic and begin slipping and skidding along the floor. I tried ignoring it and using over the top praise when he made any attempt to go into the house or into the hallway. Nothing was working. Over the week my ideas crashed and burned. Then I realised he  has a fear, I need to work with him like I would any other fearful dog. So I began initially walking behind him, literally walking him forward one step at a time physically moving his two front legs which brought his body upright a little and speaking in hushed tones. I was attempting to recreate muscle memory for him as he was seizing up his back legs, splaying his back feet up and then would begin shaking meaning his motor coordination was reduced. I then moved onto allowing him to do this on his own but with encouragement and physical help. Then came the magic. I got an ACE wrap which is thick elasticated bandage about 2 foot long and stretchy enough for me to use.

dog behaviour

What I did was simple yet effective. I put the wrap under his belly, holding it above his hips so that it supported his rear end. By keeping this end up it allowed Koda to walk, fully supported by the bandage which had enough give to tighten if I needed to give him further support but loose enough that it seemed he was doing all the work. I walked along slowly telling him ‘one step’ which I had previously conditioned and he could walk forward one step at a time without panicking and slipping plus it had the added bonus of me not actually bending over him as he walked. Within just three times of using the wrap Koda walking back into the house by himself and after the fourth time he was going into the hallway on his own. I was delighted for him! If he continues to improve and remembers to go slowly and one step at a time and not run (I have also taken the added step of removing the water bowl from the living room where I put it during this retraining period and also I removed the kitchen door to prevent it slamming!) then he should be fine long term and prevent a recurrence. What a result! I’ve filmed as much as I can as I can which once I’ve sorted out things with my new web design company will be available for everyone to see on YouTube. I’d love to hear if others have similar experiences!

UPDATE: Nov 2011-

In September I visited Tilley Farm for a client day where TTouch students can practise their skills on real animals. There I met another Bull Terrier admirer, the lovely Sabina from Holland. This is her website BullysCastle Sabina and Christine who acted as her translator gave me some great TTouch advice including changing Koda’s harness which I did as soon as I got home and began practising the TTouches immediately which Koda and my other Bull Terriers have always enjoyed.

Koda continued to improve using the conditioned cue and TTouch ACE wrap and TTouches. I also moved a small rug for the last hurdle as he would into the hallway on his own but would pull short of the kitchen and begin panicking again. The rug was removed 8 days ago and he has been walking into and out of the areas perfectly normally with no visible signs of distress. Go Team Koda!

He has since has surgery to remove a tumour on his elbow, which thankfully and much to my enourmous relief was benign. Thank you to my brilliant vet Martin Brice and his team at Emerson Vets who have once again helped me with one of my dogs with sincerity and professionalism most deserving of their Vet Practice of the Year 2011 Award.

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