Updated: Mar 13
Every dog deserves to exercise and explore in an environment in which he feels safe. Most trainers agree that personal distance and space should be available to a dog.
Many trainers teach that distance and space should be available to a dog. A dog for instance that barks defensively at each dog or child or man or car, or whatever it is that aggravates her, is really saying, “This situation scares me and makes me nervous and I want to get out of it. I want space or distance from it.” She is trying to drive the thing away the only way she knows how.
It can be sufficient, if it is possible, to simply turn around every time you see a trigger approaching from a distance and walk in another direction, thereby teaching the dog reassuringly, “Don’t worry I know you don’t like this thing and you never have to be confronted with it.” But this is seldom a satisfactory strategy in the long term.
Especially in cases of trauma, or where desensitisation or counter conditioning are complex to achieve, where it is too dangerous to the dog or to the public, as in cases such as that of Hedgehog, distance is the best option. One form of distance is crossing the road or turning back the way you came to avoid contact or confrontation with a trigger. Your dog will appreciate that and be able to stay calm, thus avoiding having her system flooded with stress hormones that then take days to recover from. For real inner-city dogs, such as Hedgehog, this is simply not a viable option.
A second form of distance is to relocate the dog to a situation where he does not have to be confronted by the thing(s) that terrify him. In the case of Hedgehog, his equally tormented owner did eventually move to the outskirts of the city, after the so-many-eth bite, fortunately without reprisal, as far as her work would allow, to a far quieter neighbourhood, where he was able to start rehabilitation in a suitable manner and huge progress was made. (Largely by introducing principles such as those of Turid Rugaas, which I will discuss in the next post.)
Although it can be sufficient, if it is possible, to simply turn around every time you see a trigger approaching from a distance and walk in another direction, thereby teaching the dog reassuringly, “Don’t worry I know you don’t like this thing and you never have to be confronted with it.” Avoidance is not a permanent solution, you never know what lurks around the next corner, or who or what will come bursting out of the next front door just as you are passing. But it is a good way to build trust with your dog, then often, over time, desensitisation and counter conditioning can be achieved from this point on and the dog can gradually be a little nearer and yet a little nearer to her triggers, because of the trust that she has developed over months and years in you, that you will not force her into a situation she can’t handle. But crucially, just as with people, rehabilitation takes time, dedication and planning, and requires commitment, any small errors can create setbacks.