Burrito Wrangling #1-3
Burrito Wrangling Update # 1, 2, and 3 (I apologize for the length): So, a multi-day fight occurred between Murph and Mila (Murph never calmed down after the original event - Murph was the transgressor, Mila was totally submissive). Everyone is ok, and what I think happened is that I let them spend too much time together too quickly and Murph eventually got overwhelmed. I also made the huge mistake of reduced his Prozac levels after we moved because I foolishly thought he was fine. There were also a few unrelated events that elevated his stress levels last week: 1) a scary and rude event with two unleashed out of control dogs; 2) Murph got kennel cough; and, 3) I never created a safe "den" for Murph to get away from Mila (i.e., a crate or kennel). Needless to say, this was a perfect storm of anxiety for Murphy, resulting in the "event". I've been getting all sorts of advice from people (some saying I had to get rid of Mila) and it's been very emotionally distressing but I would rather be shot than give up. So, for the moment, Mila is spending the day at Playcare at our wonderful and posh vet (Highland Road Animal Hospital) while I am at work, and Murph gets the house to himself so that he can start to feel normal again. We are doing the crate-and-rotate routine at night. I have brought Murph's Prozac dose back up to the original prescribed levels and they will remain there for at the very least a few months (or maybe forever).
2 - Reintegration/rehabilitation: First, I want to thank Kara @blackcanine (www.trainwithoutpainnj.com) for being AMAZING and saving my butt. She is a +R (positive reinforcement) trainer and has been giving me constant advice and wonderful information about reactive dogs and my situation. I have also been learning some very interesting things about dog training and behavior. I am 100% convinced that the classic alpha/dominance style of training that is very common in the US is complete garbage and often very dangerous, and that +R is the only scientifically supported way to train your dogs. The whole concept of "alpha" is actually an artificial construct based upon flawed data collected on wolf behavior in captivity from 1940-1980. Recent research demonstrates that they live in family units in the wild and only form an aggressive hierarchical multi-individual "pack" in captivity or when resources are limited. SO, the point here, is that there are various methods that exist in dog training and all sorts of "experts" out there, but we will be using +R exclusively because it is the only method fully validated by scientific research.
Reintegration will be slow and will occur with Kara's help (via FaceTime) - we can't get a +R trainer here to work with Murphy until he has a behavior evaluation by a veterinary behaviorist (and they are booked months in advance). The Burritos have been kept separate since the "event" and will continue to stay apart for a period of time (probably till next week) so that Murph's cortisol levels can fall back to normal (it takes a few days at the very least and sometimes up to 2 weeks). Murph has been given a safe den (a covered crate) that he is now obsessed with, AND we have an appointment for both Burritos at the veterinary behaviorist in Houston on Nov 25th! During the day, while I'm working and Murphy is getting free run of the house (and some alone time), Mila is at our vet's amazing doggy day care (Highland Road Animal Hospital; www.hrah.com), where she gets 5 hours of supervised play with other friendly dogs. Entry into "playcare" is determined by personality alone; there is ZERO breed discrimination! This way, while Murph's Prozac is balancing out, Mila is getting her confidence back with loads of safe and controlled socialization. If I can find a way to afford it, I might continue to do this for her on week days while I'm at work. I've already seen the difference in her demeanor each night as she comes home and goes happily into my bedroom where the "event that shall not be named" occurred. At first she was scared of that entire half of the house, so the first night post-"event", I slept with her on the couch. The second night I coerced her into the bedroom with a trail of treats, and lots of praise and massage when she did arrive. Now she will happily walk into the bedroom during the day (slower at night) and yesterday, was playing on the bed like a happy squirrel monkey!
On the suggestion of Kara @blackcanine, we have been doing sit-stay-treat with both dogs during their individual walks at every street corner (or if an exciting event occurs, including a super good smell). This is building up their confidence, giving them practice with control and increasing their trust in me under more exciting conditions than my kitchen!
I will continue to update you so that all of you that have fear-reactive dogs may learn from my mistakes and progress!