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Had I insisted on direct contact with Tessa at that point, I would have confirmed her fear that I was trying to "do something to her". Instead, I used an impersonal approach (not even making eye contact), to give her the opportunity to learn that choosing to interact with me was something safe for her.

 

I'll just respond to this. When you say you didn't even make eye contact with Tessa at that point, it sounds as if you're saying that was an extreme measure. I think it's absolutely essential when working with a new, fearful dog. Not making eye contact diminishes the fear reaction better than any other single step. Not coaxing, likewise. I also don't insist on direct contact, but I offer direct contact. It is entirely up to the dog if she accepts my offer. When she does, she finds that choosing to interact with me was something safe for her.

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I'll just respond to this. When you say you didn't even make eye contact with Tessa at that point, it sounds as if you're saying that was an extreme measure. I think it's absolutely essential when working with a new, fearful dog. Not making eye contact diminishes the fear reaction better than any other single step. Not coaxing, likewise. I also don't insist on direct contact, but I offer direct contact. It is entirely up to the dog if she accepts my offer. When she does, she finds that choosing to interact with me was something safe for her.

 

I believe a big part of the reason why tossing treats for a fearful dog is so popular right now is that it provides a way to incorporate a measure of clarity into this process (and very often speeds it up), especially when the treats are tossed in a way that actually increases distance between the dog and whatever is perceived as not safe.

 

It can be a powerfully effective technique that maintains the criteria of not pushing the dog to interact beyond his or her comfort level.

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I'll give just one instance where throwing food on the ground for my dog is a good thing. My BC, Sammy is pretty fearful and re-active of other dogs who are leashed. So on walks, when we approach another dog walker the routine is to get to the other side of the sidewalk (if necessary), put him in a sit and treat while the other dog passes on the other side of the sidewalk. Sammy's food motivated and treats get his attention, this is how I keep him under threshhold. But sometimes if that other dog is making noise or eye contact its a bit harder to get my dog's attention so in the case where he's just about to go over threshhold, I'll throw treats on the ground near his feet. He hears it and it re-directs his attention while the other dog is misbehaving, mine has his head to the ground playing "find it", getting rewarded and MOST important, staying under threshhold.

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I don't think it's a 'new' method. I can recall tossing treats about 20 years ago, to a very fearful dog. She wound up being a very happy dog every time I visited the household. The owners went to successfully use the tossing treats to get her comfortable with other family friends. Worked really well.

 

This technique has been a part of my 'toolbox' for as long as I can remember.

 

Ruth and Gibbs

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