Not sure if any of this will be helpful but thought I’d share a few things that have really helped with Fenway lately. I’ve tried LAT and some of the other CU suggestions with limited results. I’ve also read Fired Up, Frantic and Freaked Out by Laura Baugh but it really seemed to be just clicker training and mat work - both of which work fine at home, but the minute we‘re out of the house the slightest trigger would set him off.
He’d get into a frenzy over something he saw - person, dog, squirrel, etc. and have a meltdown. Once he got into meltdown mode, there was no getting him back. It’s hard to work with a dog that literally doesn’t even realize you’re there anymore. Took a while to figure out that everything I tried (Halti, Sensation harness, pinch collar, etc.) stopped his front end but he could still lunge to some extent. So he’d see a trigger, launch, come up short, get frustrated, and have a meltdown. Then it was all over. Waiting him out was pointless, redirecting was impossible, it was basically manhandle him until we got back home; which was physically exhausting for me.
So I got a Horgan harness (http://horganharness.com/
) and it has been huge in maintaining control. Now when he sees something, he can’t get the energy going to lunge at it, he doesn’t come up short, so he doesn’t have the meltdown. No meltdown means he at least acknowledges my presence. Now when he sees a squirrel and starts freaking out I can get his attention back on me. He gets treats, and we continue with our walk. The key there being it’s a walk rather than me manhandling. He’s even got to a point where while we’re walking (and we’re not in a squirrel zone) he’ll come to a heel position and look up at me. This is a huge step in the right direction because now I have a dog I can work with.
I’ve also attempted a couple of other “sensory deprivation” techniques to help lessen his reaction to stimuli. I can’t come up with anything to block/limit scents. I attempted to block auditory stimuli by putting cotton balls in his ears when we go out, but all he does is shake his head and the cotton balls go flying. Since the sight of movement seems to be one of his triggers, he now wears Doggles when we’re out. They don’t block his vision completely, but they limit his peripheral vision and the smoked lenses make it a little harder for him to distinguish things at a distance.
I had also considered a prescription to mellow him out since the lavender oil and valerian root did absolutely no good. Pretty sure I wouldn’t have any trouble getting the prescription filled, at his last visit, the vet asked if Fenway had been raised by wolves.
Turns out melatonin has been very effective in taking the edge off. He gets 3mg in the morning and another 3 mg in the evening about a half hour before our walk. I’ve noticed a distinct change in his stress level since starting the melatonin and can tell when I’ve forgotten to give him his morning dose because he’s so wound up when I get home in the evening.
It’s only been 2-3 weeks but these little things have been huge. We’re taking it slow, so we’re still working on going to the park and facing squirrels. It will be a few more weeks before we start facing people and dogs. Although he’s no longer reactive when someone jogs past us in the park; I can get him focused on me before he sees the jogger and hold it until the jogger is past.
I know none of this helps with off-leash work, and I doubt I’ll ever be comfortable with him being off leash in public, but at least we’re lessening the meltdowns and increasing his ability to focus and work with distractions.