Reub's journey

27 June 2011

Reub, the door bell, Jehovah's witnesses, and obedience class

 After two years of escalating and unpredictable aggression towards other dogs and a few people, Reuben continues to be our 'project" dog.
He has begun his second month on Prozac, and this week will be his second trip to intermediate obedience class. It's helpful to keep writing about it because it keeps me on track with the training program.

I've been working with Reub to lower his over-the-top reaction to the doorbell. Oddly, he suddenly stopped caring about it. He wouldn't even raise his head from a nap.

"It's just Kerry with her stupid little sweet potato treats," is what he was thinking, "I'm gonna wait for a real enemy."

You know, he was right. Truth is, hardly anybody has come to our door since I started this training. What's up with that? How can I train this dog without an Enemy Delivery Person, Evil Utility Worker, or Alien Girl Scout Cookie Seller? I can't.

That's why last week I was ecstatic when a Jehovah's witness rang the doorbell. Unlike the FedEx guy, who just dumps the package and runs back to his truck, she was perfectly happy to stand at the door. Reub, realizing that an actual Other Person had rung the bell, went from 0 to 60 in no time flat. I took the time I needed to claim the space by the door, backed him off firmly and treated him when he sat. Then I went outside, thanked the Jehovah's Witness, chatted briefly about dog training, and took her leaflet.

You know what happens when you thank a Jehovah's Witness? They re-visit you!  Yes. This time she knocked on the door, another huge trigger for Reub.  There was a tiny part of me that was a little sorry when he didn't come barreling up the steps on high alert; in fact he was a total no-show. I took the leaflet (without thanking her so warmly this time) and, hugely proud of my good dog, went to reward him. Damn, turns out I had left him sleeping in the sun in the back yard, completely unaware.

However, he did seem kind of interested in the topic: WILL HUMANS RUIN THIS EARTH?

This is an interesting tidbit from last week's obedience class:

This 30-second video demonstrates an exercise designed to teach Reub to hold back when he is in a "sit." Our trainer does not believe in the "Stay" command. That's because "Sit" is supposed to mean  sit-until-you-are-released.  Reub first sits, then the leash is pulled taut; when he holds back-a natural reaction-he is rewarded. We should practice this more frequently than I have been doing, but at least this is a good start.


  1. he is such a pretty boy. i'm glad his training is coming along. :)

  2. ok i was just wondering, do you really have him on prozac or was that just a joke????

    Thanks and yes great looking dog!

  3. Oh hey Leontien! I know by the way I write, that it's not always clear, but this is actually true. They have Prozac for dogs (cats, too, I'm told). It is rather expensive, and marketed as "Reconcile." It's widely used for dogs with separation anxiety, which Reub does not have.

    It is supposed to lower his general anxiety level so that he doesn't react quickly, in a bad way, to situations that scare him.

  4. Kerry!

    I never knew animals could be put on Prozac until reading this post!

    Do you notice a difference in his temperament in his day-to-day personality?

    He may be better behaved when the doorbell rings because of it but it might not be worthwhile if it makes him a zombie dog.

    Just curious!


  5. Hi Dean! Yeah we didn't know about Prozac for animals either until this intense thing with our dog.

    When he had been on the drug for about 2 weeks, it was sad; he didn't have any edge at all, and seemed drugged. I wondered: do I want a killer dog or a zombie dog? It's not just about the doorbell, you see. He has bitten two people, sort of, and that has to stop. I hoped it wouldn't be at the expense of his personality. A zombie dog is sad:(

    Giving the Prozac at night, not in the AM has helped, and also he seems to have adjusted to it. He no longer seems drugged.

    Seriously, he got sick of being tricked into going for the doorbell-person only to find it was just me. I think he still has it in for doorbell people despite the Prozac, and we have to keep training him.

  6. I LOVE the pic of Reub reading the Jehovah witness flier. How hilarious.

    He's so lucky to have you!

    Thanks for writing about him - I was just wondering yesterday how it's going.

  7. a dog on Prozac?
    OK, you said it's true, but my first reaction was to see it as a joke.

    Poor Reub, I hope he learns his lessons quickly and can come off medication again.

    He is such a sweetie.

  8. You are doing FANTASTIC stuff!!! I love the waggy tail in the video. I see a big change in his expression. Whether it's the medicine or the training or the combination, who cares? You are doing a great job!

  9. Well, I am glad the Jehovah's Witnesses came in handy for something! Reub is one lucky dog.

  10. Reya: Thanks for thinking of Reub. I know you can relate to a lot of this; thank you for your support.

    Friko: I wish this were a joke. The doc says he has to be on Prozac for the duration. She said that once we establish that it is working and we know the dosage is right, we can switch to made-for-humans Prozac, and finesse the dosage.

    Patience: I really value your opinion because I know what an experienced dog handler you are, and I imagine you have run into many kinds of training situations. I also think we have seen improvement with him, but there is no letting up of our guard on him. This weekend when we have a group of people coming over it will be very interesting to see how he handles it.

    Rebecca: I have never been this happy to see a Jehovah's witness coming down the driveway, never.

  11. You are right that he needs to practice. The more exposure the better. Can you have a couple of friends work with you, going in and out? He could wear a muzzle so they are not in danger and you would be more powerful if you are not worried about the outcome.
    My Abbey has started guarding my office and the door at home. We're doing the same space-claiming routine that you are. Abbey is so respectful of humans that I don't believe she would bite, but she intimidates with a worried look on her face. It's all about men. She relaxes with women and she drops the act if the men are confident with her and walk up and tell her she's an idiot. Everyone could show that confidence with your boy, if he had a muzzle. What do you think?

  12. English Rider: You're a mind reader. I have been thinking about getting a muzzle as an occasional training tool. It would certainly help me relax, but I worry that it would only increase his anxiety and negativity towards certain strangers. So much psychology going on here: I hadn't thought of the fact that it would make other people more relaxed around him.

    Anyway, I was just in town and picked one up at Petco. If I handle this right I think it could help in certain situations.

  13. Great! Now make a big play with treats and something fun related to putting it on. (Is he neutered, by the way?)


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