Transforming Monty's Guarded World: A Journey from Fear to Harmony
Ever felt like you're at your wit's end trying to understand your dog's behaviour?
Alicia and Tony, Monty's dedicated caregivers, found themselves in a similar situation. Monty, a 4-year-old German Shepherd, had two homes: one in the bustling city centre and another in the tranquil countryside. His behavioural issues manifested differently in these environments but were rooted in underlying fear, anxiety, and aggression. Despite the efforts of several trainers, sustainable change remained elusive, until
PivotalChange delivered unique and astonishing results.
Scaring Family, Dogs, and Service Providers
Alicia and Tony were primarily concerned about Monty's reactivity towards dogs, people, and strangers, especially within their homes. Monty exhibited a range of aggression types, including territorial and protective guarding. Both caregivers had witnessed aggressive attacks by Monty when strangers showed up on their property and noted Monty's reactivity towards other dogs.
360 Degree Assessments
A thorough and comprehensive review of the case was conducted, employing a multifaceted approach that integrates systems thinking, neuroscience, canine and human psychology, social physics and neurobiology research.
Systems principles and methodology involve identifying the whole system, meaning contributors across all systems surrounding a dog. It involves a set of easy-to-use-tools to break away from a conventional lens to systemic lens. This allows for complex, non-linear problems to be addressed.
Traditional training methods often look at problems in isolation. Our approach is different. We employ systems thinking, a holistic approach that considers all the factors affecting Monty's life. It's like shifting between a microscope and a telescope, giving us a broader view of the complex, interconnected issues at hand and then zooming into the microscopic contributors.
Findings: The Hidden Triggers
We scrutinized Monty's history. We reviewed his whole system for behavioural dynamics at play that were creating the persistent and unwanted behaviours. Neuroscience and neurobiology research linked underlying neural mechanisms directly to the shock collar and directly to the persistent behaviours. Psychological principles examined the mind at a system level, specifically, emotional and cognitive processes. Now informed of his social environment, neural mechanisms and psychological processing, we gained a nuanced understanding of Monty's behaviour, linking who he was as an individual, preferences, belief systems, through to his relationships and trust with his dog parents, Alicia and Tony.
Practiced by PivotalChange.ca, our approach ensures nuanced and well-rounded analysis, root cause analysis, and strategic interleaving, leading targeted and effective interventions.
Aggression Types: Monty shows territorial and protective aggression, worsened by service people and city walks.
Shock Collar Impact: The shock collar led to the creation of Monty's reactive behaviour and ended the walker relationship.
Several Attempts, Limited Gains: Multiple trainers achieved short-term gains that faded, while poor behaviours increased in intensity, frequency, and severity.
Psychometric & Sensory Factors: Poor focus and past pain contribute to Monty's learned reactivity.
Neural & Human Factors: Monty's intense reactions stem from neural processes and Alicia's unresolved trauma.
Monty's aggressive behaviour was not just random acts but a complex interplay of various factors. In the countryside, the presence of service people and frequent package deliveries triggered his territorial instincts. In the city, a dog walker's use of a shock collar had detrimental effects on Monty's sense of self, the development of his executive functioning and his role in the family.
Here's what happened:
In the city, a dog walker provided daily walks, and the parents were given great reports. Under this perceived success, the walking schedule increased to twice a day, five days a week. Behaviour changes were seen - several events with aggressive charging occurred in various scenarios. An interested party in Monty's success, video-taped the dog walker actively using a shock-collar on Monty several times in the course of a walk. It ended the relationship. Several trainers then worked on desensitisation and counter-conditioning. Desensitisation is a technique used to help dogs adjust to stimuli, gradually exposing the dog to the stimulus, starting at a very low intensity that doesn't provoke a negative reaction.
Training plans appeared to provide a short-term improvement and then Monty would return back to signalling aggressively and over time the intensity and area of guarding increased and the quality of life for the family decreased.
Psychometric results showed poor behavioural inhibition and inability to focus. Deep quality sleep was poor - Monty was only getting 10 hours of sleep.. The reactive behaviour was determined in large part by prior learning where he experienced sharp pain when taking in sensory inputs, such as smelling, tasting a sample on the street or seeing other people and other dogs. This occurred on busy city streets with loud trucks and vehicles roaring by, mapping to an auditory memory as well.
The dog's perception (sensory data) of what they are seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting is a blend of what is being sense in the moment and what they've learned previously.
In dog brains, like Monty's, incoming sensory data rises through their brain stem - 'bottom up'; whereas, past experiences that Monty had are sent from the top of his brain, in other words 'top-down'.
Monty's reactivity was created by bottom-up and top-down neural firings crashing together to create his reaction both intense and frightening.
But that was not all. The crash of 'bottom-up' and 'top-down' processes was also found in reactivity from Alicia, a contributor to a system that held and nurtured Monty's reactivity. She suffered trauma from a horrific dog attack on a family member during her childhood. Unresolved trauma can create a reactive top-down filter. When Monty charged, Alicia would become flooded with cortisol, and she would freeze or yell and pull.
It is a funny thing to step back and realise that in every system where a behaviour, even bad behaviour, has been optimised, supported and even nurtured.
"Monty is doing extremely well. He is no longer on medication - we weaned him off when we thought it was the right time.. He has come such a long way. He is gentle and calm. He shows no hint of aggression. He [sic] rests are lot more and is very docile. Monty is so much better with the service people, and friends feel so much safer around him. There is a sense of cooperation and we really think he understands what is required of him (and visa versa ... haha). Your methods have worked magic on the family and he is happier and is a confident dog!"
Our approach consistently employs interleaved learning, where we introduce new topics even as current lessons are being mastered. This method has proven effective in enhancing retention among adult learners. We collaborate with our clients to establish shared, measurable goals for the dog's future. The metrics we use to gauge the success of our strategy are specifically designed to quantify changes in behaviour, growth, and capability development for both the dog and the caregiver.
We reviewed and optimised markers for essential care like feeding, sleeping, enrichment and playtime. By connecting various elements through systems thinking,
Our comprehensive solution includes a Clinical Veterinary Behaviour Report, which led Monty's Veterinarian to diagnose him with poor behavioural response inhibition, akin to ADHD, as well as trauma-induced reactivity. We initiated a treatment plan involving both Clonidine and Fluoxetine, medications that have shown promise in similar cases. This wasn't an easy sell. Any veterinarian wishes to make an informed decision. At PivotalChange we take this seriously. Our detailed research and highly cited report allows a Vet to quickly view a table of all related conditions with probability metrics. It provides a neurobiology level review of those probable conditions. It also provides known medications to support the dog's condition. Using this informed Clinical Veterinary Behaviour Report for Monty, we established a medical intervention in partnership with his Vet and made it possible for Monty to learn, heal and thrive. And, that's not all, this medical intervention for Monty indirectly had a calming effect on Alicia by lowering the frequency of events, helping her feel safer and more confident as she developed her capabilities.
After identifying Alicia's past trauma, a therapist was engaged to assist her through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and we adapted our own approach to support her dog parenting under these conditions. Also, at PivotalChange we often facilitate sessions to establish partnerships, collaboration and cooperation amongst family members. I facilitated such a discussion with Alicia and Tony, gaining consensus, establishing consistent principles and values for raising and healing their traumatised dog. We agreed upon a shared quantifiable outcome for the entire family through Monty's lens. Alicia and Tony monitored the metrics daily. They assumed shared accountability for staying on course, raising a hand if there were challenges and making progress towards our shared goals.
Alicia and Tony created a structured daily schedule; and, when one wasn't coaching the other, they were teaching their dog coping mechanisms, relationship-building techniques, and self-calming strategies for heightened emotional states.
Committed to enhancing their skills, the dog parents enrolled in various courses covering topics such as communication signals, trauma basics, and response strategies. They mastered the roles outlined in the ACCEPT Model©, becoming Advocates, Caregivers, Coaches, Enrichers, Protectors, and Teachers for their dog. Alicia and Tony became more mindful planners, proactively implementing strategies to ensure Monty's days were successful.
As Monty adjusted to his medication, he became calm enough to learn. Alicia and Tony were eager to practice what they had learned and create 'shared understandings' of what was expected. They did so lovingly and compassionately with no intimidation, and extreme gentleness. This allowed Monty to trust them and he began to seek guidance from Alicia and Tony when his emotions were rising, and before extreme fear took hold. The medication allowed his brain to focus while Alicia and Tony worked to reframe sensory inputs as pleasurable experiences. Parenting capabilities, medication and the amazing brain's neuroplasticity converged into a successful transformation. But that's not all, Monty became increasingly curious about his surroundings. On average, he slept soundly for 13 hours, including daytime naps, no longer displaying hypervigilance to sounds or movements. To reduce risks and create a growth environment for Alicia as she worked through her own therapy, a muzzle was introduced in a joyful and positive manner and worn at random intervals. It was not solely associated with specific activities like walks or visitors, especially in unpredictable situations.
Navigating the complexities of canine behaviour requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach. At PivotalChange, we've crafted a comprehensive, human-centric methodology that addresses the unique needs of both the dog and the caregivers. Through interleaved learning, we've been able to enhance retention among adult learners like Alicia and Tony, equipping them with the tools they need to foster a harmonious home environment. Our metrics, designed to gauge behavioural changes, growth, and capability development, have been instrumental in tracking progress.
Our collaboration with veterinarians is another cornerstone of our approach. The Clinical Veterinary Behaviour Report we provided was not just a document; it was a catalyst for change. It enabled Monty's Vet to make an informed diagnosis and treatment plan, which had a ripple effect, benefiting not just Monty but also Alicia.
The human-centric approach extended beyond Monty to include Alicia's own healing journey. Through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and facilitated family sessions, we were able to establish a shared vision for Monty's future. Alicia and Tony became more than just caregivers; they became advocates, coaches, and teachers for Monty, embracing their roles with a sense of shared responsibility and accountability.
But the transformation didn't stop there. As Monty adjusted to his medication, a new world opened up for him. No longer held back by his fears and anxieties, he began to trust Alicia and Tony, seeking their guidance in moments of uncertainty. It was the power of 'shared understanding,' a concept that Alicia and Tony embodied through their compassionate and gentle approach.
In the end, it wasn't just about treating a dog; it was about healing a family. Monty's newfound calmness and Alicia and Tony's empowered caregiving converged to create a nurturing environment for all. The journey had its challenges, but the outcome was a testament to the resilience and adaptability of both dogs and humans when supported by a holistic, informed, and compassionate approach.
At PivotalChange, we believe that every challenge is an opportunity for growth, and Monty's case was no exception. Through a blend of scientific rigour, human-centric psychology, and a deep understanding of canine behaviour, we were able to turn a challenging situation into a transformative experience for everyone involved. And that, in essence, is the power of PivotalChange.ca.
Changing Behaviours. Changing Lives.