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TACT Case Study: Daisy
Daisy: The Family that Changes Together, Stays Together:
Sue Cluff, CDPT-KA, CAP 2, CTACT
As I write this my dog Daisy lays cuddled up next to me. Two nights ago we had a small impromptu gathering at our home. Daisy accompanied me in the car to the grocery store and upon arriving home we found quite a bit of hubbub. Everyone joined in to prepare dinner and a few new arrivals showed up. Daisy was happily part of this group, this activity. She was one of 3 dogs at the gathering. She did not bark at new arrivals, she did not lunge at guests entering the house; she was simply one of 3 dogs at the gathering. Last night, as happens most evenings now, I brought out Daisy's TACT mat and she joyfully wagged her tail and had a little skip in her step as she followed me down the hallway. I put the mat on the floor and she lay down. In less than 3 seconds she rolled all the way on her side, showing me her cute belly. I pet her with long slow strokes, using a pleasing pressure and before you know it she gave a big sigh and closed her eyes. Her body was now soft and malleable, totally relaxed. I looked across the room at my husband Ben and asked "can you believe it?" to which he replied "Yes, I can, but when I think of the dog she was, I am amazed".
Daisy has lived with us since she was approx 14 weeks old. The first day we met her there were
some warning signs of who she might be as she grew older. That day she was not at all "social" or focused on people. She ran in long sweeping circles at a rate that was longer and faster than the other puppies on the transport. Most of the other puppies would take a break and wiggle waggle up to folks. Not our girl! She ran. Most of you will ask "why did you take her?" The reasons are many, some apparent, some not so apparent even to us, even now. Suffice it to say we, like many pet adopters, already felt responsible for her. We had been through 2 home visits with the rescue organization through which we adopted her. We tracked her journey up from Tennessee complete with photos of the ride up. We thought she was the cutest thing ever. She was a cattle dog/blue tick coonhound mix and our beloved Henry, who has since passed, was still with us and he was a cattle dog/treeing walker hound mix and the best dog ever. That was all it would take, right? Having the same breed type mix would guarantee another great dog? Of course not, but in that belief, that delusion, we were no different from many pet owners. So, why did we take her? The simple answer - we already felt responsible for her.
For most of her life she has lived in our home with Ben and Sue (human), Henry and Annie (canine). More recently she has lived with Sue, Ben and Annie. For all of her life with us, she has been reactive. Reactive to most everything; dogs, people, riding in the car, wind, moon, falling leaves, blowing grass, household items such as appliances, movement, touch (she would only tolerate a scratch under the chin), motorcycles, cyclists, passing cars particularly diesel engines. If we moved furniture in a room, she would do one of two things upon entering the room; hide under another piece of furniture or stand just inside the room whining or barking until the piece of furniture was replaced. What more can I tell you? Well, we have seen the moon literally stop her in her tracks, literally frozen in fear. Jet planes, that were so high in the sky that they've been nearly invisible to Ben and me, have sent her into barking fits. All outings have had the potential for a reactive episode. Most outings realized this potential. When I use the term outings I'm talking about a trip into the yard for a potty break. She quite literally had full blown reactive episodes simply exiting the back door. We had been at the end of our rope. Exhausted and depleted the option of euthanasia was wide open for discussion and indeed was being discussed.
Since November 2008, when we began Reactive Dog Class with Emma Parsons and the early months of 2009, when we began TACT sessions with Julie Robitaille, much of this has changed.
Daisy has had a few nicknames in our home; from Crazy Daisy to Gidget, with a few nicknames in between. Crazy Daisy barked at the moon, howled in the car, bit the tires of the stationary tractors in the field, barked and balked if the water in the brook was running too fast, would not tolerate redecorating, would only allow us to scratch her under her chin. Gidget rides in the Jeep with the top down, walks nicely on a moonlit night, swims in the brook, doesn?t even notice brand new furniture, gets full body rubs and loves em!
There are too many changes and stories to recount but believe me when I tell you our lives are changed. The change in Daisy's behavior has improved her life and quite literally saved her life. Our home life and life on our property and in our neighborhood is normal. Riding in the car is a breeze. Most short outings are easily done, even a visit to our vet. Day trips take some planning.but so what! We are able to go on day trips with our dogs now. Recently, I spent a day away from home, nearly 12 hours, with Daisy and Annie. We visited a home she had never been to before and she was quite a lovely guest there. We stopped along the car ride for potty breaks at places she had never been to before. She explored these new locations as any other normal dog would. She waited in the car outside of a training center while 2 reactive dog classes took place inside, one right after the other, and she was totally quiet and happy to be there. Most notable is the fact that I, Sue, me alone, took Daisy out for the day. Historically, in the worst of times, Daisy was Ben's responsibility when out in public. By "out in public" I mean anything outside the house. Daisy and I didn't have a bad relationship, we had no relationship. We now have a great relationship.
Daisy is still reactive. If we slip up she will react to dogs, although she is better. She still would bite tractor tires if given the opportunity, but we are working on it.
Three weeks ago while cutting the grass; my son moved a garden bench. Daisy and I were returning from a romp in the field, as we walked into the yard she stopped. I gave the leash a bit of a tug. She was frozen. I looked around and spied the bench which had been moved about 10 feet forward off of the lawn. I asked my son to move it back to its original space - he replaced the iron legs into the ruts in the earth where they had been before. Daisy gave a little shake and continued on into the house.
We've made some mistakes in raising Daisy, no doubt about that, but we are not the cause of her reactivity. We've taken some well intentioned but bad advice. We believed the popular belief that it was a matter of obedience training and she'd simply be better. We've brought foster dogs into our home when we had no business doing so. We've exposed her to too many things, hoping she'd get used to them with practice.
We've also worked hard and been quite effective. We are no longer focused on an end point, that point when Daisy is deemed "normal" and we are "done". We continue to appreciate the evidence of change we see nearly each day. Even moments, such as with the garden bench, are times that evoke a feeling of gratitude. How proud we are of her in those moments when we realize how far she has come. How proud we are of ourselves that we have helped her get there. How grateful we are to Emma and Reactive Dog Class for starting us on this journey of calm. How thankful we are to Julie and TACT. TACT helped us deepen our relationship with Daisy.
It is my belief that the deeper relationship Ben and I have now with Daisy lends her more security in the world, so she may live more confidently.
We continue our Click to Calm and TACT work. It has been 1 year and 8 months since our first Reactive Dog Class. In total we attended 3 Reactive Dog Classes. We began TACT work in April 2009 and had 11 sessions between April and July 2009. We applied ourselves to the homework we were given in Reactive Dog Class and our TACT homework. We met Julie in different locations for TACT training sessions enlisting the help of different "scary stimulus" folks.
Before Reactive Dog Class and TACT, between 2006 and November 2008, our resources had been strained and drained in pursuit of what to do about Daisy. We began as pet dog owners who became CPDT-KAs. During this time we literally spent thousands (quite likely in the double digits), on obedience classes, seminars, education, books and DVDs searching for ways to alleviate our dilemma.
Daisy has been our greatest teacher. In my estimation the single best benefit of TACT has been the fact that we are now able to cuddle and pet and stroke and hug our Daisy girl. Clipping her nails, checking her ears and all the practical applications of touch have been great too but cuddling is the best!