Training Success Story – Miss Crissy Goes “Batty”

Georgia Mally loves her pet parrot. But when she retired and had time to devote to another pet, she decided to check owning a dog off her bucket list. Her research led her to Crissy, a 4-year-old Papillion who was also retiring– from the show ring. Despite her diminutive size, Crissy was difficult to walk, because she lunged at cats, squirrels and lizards. Georgia was worried Crissy might view Plato, her African Grey parrot as prey. Crissy would also bark and lunge at other dogs she saw while in the yard or out on a walk. When I arrived to work with them, I found Crissy to be a sweet, shy girl who seemed to have limited socialization. She didn’t want me to touch her, but loved her toys, so I built her trust by playing fetch & retrieve.

Crissy wouldn’t lure into a sit or down, so we got around this by “capturing” those behaviors. Whenever Crissy decided to sit, down, make eye contact, or go to her bed, we clicked and treated, while applying the appropriate verbal cue, “Sit,” “Down,” etc. We also worked on “Leave It.” After a couple of sessions we were able to use a food lure to teach Crissy to make fast U-turns to remove her from situations that might arise suddenly. Once we had a few simple skills, we were ready to take a walk and work on her dog-reactivity. For this, we used a science-based protocol called BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training), developed by Grisha Stewart, MA, CPDT-KA, KPACTP. BAT is a method which allows the dog to encounter the trigger that causes the reactivity, in this case other dogs, at a far enough distance that they do NOT react. (Also referred to as working sub-threshold). The handler pays careful attention to the dog’s body language and responds to any calming signals (small body movements that indicate a desire to disengage). The dog is then given a “functional reward,” by being allowed to walk away, sniff the ground to get more information, or find a treat. Being responsive to the dog’s comfort level and giving her control of the situation helps to desensitize her to the trigger. The desired result is that the dog eventually seeks out social interaction. In Crissy’s case this was accomplished. In a recent article in the APDT Chronicle of the Dog, Grisha explains, “BAT is essentially low-intensity exposure therapy adapted for non-human animals. An important aspect of BAT is the controllability of exposure to the trigger.” As with any other training program, consistency and long-term expectations are imperative. Georgia recently updated me on Crissy’s progress, “I am continuing to implement BAT on our walks.

For the first time the other day, Crissy did not bark at the neighbor’s dog across the street. The neighbor remarked, ‘Wow, that’s better!’ As for the dog next door and those across the canal, Crissy will bark a few times but I can get her to come to me and we’ll go elsewhere in the yard. On some days she seems to be less reactive than others. All in all, I feel we are making progress and she is becoming less reactive. We also walked by three cats on separate occasions one evening with no reaction whatsoever!”

Crissy and Plato have gotten to be pals, and no longer require a baby gate between them. Plato, being the big brother, likes to get his little sister in trouble by “Barking” early in the morning.

Georgia is fascinated and pleased by the way the two species seem to enjoy interacting, “When Crissy walks past, Plato runs after her giggling. When Plato says “Hi” Crissy runs to the window to see what’s going on.”

Recently, Georgia shared an interesting anecdote about the two:

“I sometimes say to Plato “open mouth” when I hand feed him something. This morning I said to Crissy, ‘Here’s your treat.’ And Plato said, “Open mouth!” To be able to relate that phrase to the action of giving Crissy a treat shows that he actually thinks and doesn’t just repeat phrases. Aren’t all animals so smart in their own way!!”

“Thank you again for making this a success story!”