E179: Barbara Lloyd - Living with Canine PTSD

Barbara Lloyd joins me this week to share her story, including that of her dog Didi who had a tragic start to life, but who has now traveled and competes with Barbara!  

Transcription

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we'll be talking to Barbara Lloyd. Barbara Lloyd is an Indigenous dog trainer from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, with her roots in the Saulteaux Nation. She has a special interest in behavioral issues in dogs, with a strong focus on PTSD and aggression.

Barbara holds a BA in philosophy with a specialization in ethics. She hosts a nationally broadcast radio show on CBC Radio called Canine Line, a call-in show. Barbara is an avid writer and a columnist for the internationally distributed Total Rottweiler Magazine. Barbara is a member of the Rottweiler Klub of North America (RKNA) and is the Chairman of the Board for the Rottweiler Klub of North America Community Affairs.

She is also the owner of The Dog's Den Training School in Regina. Additionally, she is recognized by the Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association as an expert witness in dangerous dog cases. Barbara was the fourth Certified International Dog Parkour Instructor in the world and she is also a Certified Mentor Trainer with the Animal Behavior College.

Barbara currently competes in rally, agility, tricks, parkour and herding, and she is also working through the Fenzi TEAM titles.

Hi Barbara, welcome to the podcast!

Barbara Lloyd: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Excited to talk. To start us off, can you tell us a bit about your dogs, who you have now, and what you're working on with them?

Barbara Lloyd: Sure. I have five dogs now, and they're all mutts, of course. My oldest is Little. He's 13 years old, and we actively compete in agility. He's little. His name is Little and he's very little. He's only 8 pounds.

Then I have Precious, who we affectionately call Girlfriend. We always say she's my husband's girlfriend. She is 10 years old and she's a retired service dog that I trained for somebody who had multiple personality disorder. When Precious was ready to be retired, she came back to us. She has a full-time job with us, which is keeping us orderly, because she's very much about order and structure and everything has to be a certain way. So she really does keep us in line.

And then we have Didi. She's one of the subjects of my PTSD webinar. She's 9 years old now, and she is a mutt. I adopted her when she was just over a year old. She had been tortured, and a number of other things had happened to her. But now, eight years later, we're competing in agility and rally and parkour, and she's really come a long way.

Then I have Brian. He is a big mutt. He's probably about 75 pounds, and we compete in Fenzi TEAM titles, as well as we do parkour and rally.

And then I have Dori-time. She's my baby. She's only 3 years old, and she's probably my most active dog. We compete in herding, rally, obedience, sprinters, chase ability, and she's got all of her trick titles as well, so she's a really fun little dog.

Melissa Breau: To take things back a ways, how did you originally get into dogs and dog training?

Barbara Lloyd: I think, like everybody else, I had a dog and I went to a local Kennel Club. We worked our way up through obedience, and he was a really good dog. His name was Artemus and he was a mutt, and he picked up on everything really quick. At the Kennel Club, of course, they were using compulsive methods, but I never really had to correct him because he was just in tune with me.

When we got to the Open level, he was like, "No way. I'm not putting that dumbbell in my mouth. I don't know what it is. Forget it." The instructor said, "You're going to have to pinch his ear and then shove this in his mouth." I looked at the instructor like she was growing a horn out of her head, and I said, "I'm not doing that." She said, "Then you're going to have to find another solution," and that's what I did. I found another solution, and it put me on this whole new track of a whole new lifestyle.

Melissa Breau: Tell me a little more about that. How did you get started down that positive path? Can you talk a little more about that?

Barbara Lloyd: Absolutely. It's kind of funny. My dog knew how to do mostly everything. It was just this darned retrieve. I couldn't get this retrieve.

I found out about clicker training, and as I was reading about it, I figured out that I knew all the theory behind it from university. I knew the theory of operant conditioning, but I had never actually seen it applied in real life. So I got Karen Pryor books and things like that, and I read them, and I was thinking, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.

I got a few clickers from a veterinary clinic here, and then I figured I need a few more of these things. So I phoned the number on the clicker, and the name on the clicker was Sue Ailsby. I thought, I'll phone and ask her for some clickers, because I thought she made clickers. I didn't know she was a dog trainer, because where I grew up in the city and where Sue Ailsby lived were fundamentally different places.

I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. I grew up in poverty, and we were really on the wrong side of the tracks. When I was a kid, my dog ran the neighborhood. There were no dog shows. I didn't even know people trained dogs to do things, except for police dogs, which we were all afraid of.

So I phoned the number and Sue answered, and I said, "I'd like to get a few more clickers." She paused, and then she said, "Who is this?" I said, "My name is Barbara Lloyd." She said, "Where did you get my name?" I said, "On the clicker I got, of course. You're the lady that sells the clickers, right?" She said, "Yes, but I do a little bit more than that." I said, "Oh, is that right? What do you do?" She said, "I train dogs." I said, "I'm trying to train my dog and I don't know what I'm doing." She said, "What do you want the clicker for?" I said, "I want the clicker to train the retrieve." She said, "Do you know how to do that?" I said, "No." She said, "Do you want to learn?" I said, "Yes." She said, "I think I can help you with that." I said, "Oh." She said, "Do you have any training background?" I said, "Just from the Kennel Club here, but no, not really." She said, "I'll make a deal for you. I'll get you clickers, but how about you and seven of your friends, you get seven of your friends that are interested in dogs together, and I'll put together a free seminar for you. You bring dogs and I'll show you how to train them using the clicker." I was like, "That sounds like a deal."

So that's what I did. That's how I met Sue Ailsby, and the rest is history, because that was twenty years ago. She mentored me. I went to this seminar and it was like a magic show. I had never seen anything like that in my life. After the little seminar I said to her, "This is absolutely fascinating. How do I learn more?" She said, "I'll teach you. I'll teach you everything I know. All you have to do is start from the beginning. You can't use the cues you used before. You can't use any of the methodologies you used before. You have to completely become a clicker trainer." I said, "That's not hard. I can do that, because I don't want to hurt my dog. I don't agree with that other stuff."

So every week we got together, every week she gave me homework, and I learned. She mentored me. She poured all of her knowledge into my head. Here I am twenty years later, my training studio is on her property, my training field is on her property, the sheep that I herd for training are on her property, and I handle her giant Schnauzer in herding now. So it all worked out.

Melissa Breau: It's funny to think that if you hadn't decided to call for more clickers, you might be in a totally different profession, a totally different path in life.

Barbara Lloyd: It would have been. Actually it really would have been, because in those days, I was very much invested in becoming a lawyer. So it was a huge career change. What happened was once I learned about clicker training and the possibilities that it held, I thought, I'm not the only person in this city that feels like this. Other people must feel like this.

The other thing that I noticed was when I thought about my Kennel Club classes, I thought about the high rate of dropouts, and I thought was because people were uncomfortable with corrections. I thought, I can offer this, and I can improve the quality of people's relationships with their dogs.

When I decided after I was trained … and in those days, Sue Ailsby's levels, there were a lot more levels. They really pared them down. But in those days there was a lot more to them, and there was a lot more conformation and things like that, so you learned everything, and I had to work all through those.

I did all that, and then I thought, I want to start offering this as a business, but I was afraid. I said to Sue, "This is what I want to do. I think I could do this." She said, "Definitely you could do it." I said, "I'm afraid if I run into a snag, what I can't help somebody?" She said, "I'm only a phone call away. If something happens, I'll come and help you. Don't worry about it." So she was kind of my insurance policy. She was the one that gave me that green light and the confidence to go ahead and do it, and I've been doing it ever since.

Since then, most schools, the Kennel Clubs and the other dog training schools that have started here, are all reward based. They're not clicker trainers, but they are reward based. That was why I started my business was I wanted to create a forward momentum and a force that would make people change in how they looked at animals. And it worked.

Melissa Breau: If I asked you to boil down your training philosophy and describe that for me, how would you do that? How would you describe what your training philosophy is these days?

Barbara Lloyd: My training philosophy is basically I look at all animals as sentient beings. And as sentient beings, I feel like I have a responsibility to understand that animal and bring out the best that that animal has, and improve its quality of life, and at the end of the day, do no permanent harm. In training there's always going to be some harm because dogs' feelings get hurt, but I am looking at long-term life enrichment and quality of life.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned early on a little bit about Didi's story. I was hoping we could get into that a little more too. Would you be willing to share some of her story?

Barbara Lloyd: Absolutely. I could definitely talk about that. It was a landmark case in Canada. It was one of the only cases where an abuser was federally charged. So it was a big case, but one of the things that differentiated her case from other cases was the fact that it was video-documented. They had video, so it wasn't just the injuries that the dog sustained that were being testified to. It was actual video, so you can't dispute that.

But what happened with Didi was, her story is really quite tragic because she was originally adopted from the Humane Society here as a puppy. What happened was, when she was about 6 months old, the people who adopted her decided that they couldn't keep her, and instead of returning her to the Regina Humane Society, they advertised her on Used Regina, and that's where her abuser got hold of her. He went and he took her from them, saying, "Oh yeah, I have experience with dogs, I know what I'm doing," and all of these things.

From the day that she was adopted from him, to the day that she was apprehended by Animal Protection and the Regina City Police here, she was abused. It wasn't just abuse. It was systematic torture, and it was the same thing every day, at the same time, and it was repeated. Her injuries were quite substantial, and three months later, when the Regina City Police and Animal Protection went in, arrested him, and took her, she required immediate veterinary care and then a thirty-day period of recovery.

She was at the Humane Society, and of course it was their fondest hope that she would be able to be adopted, because she had been through so much. She was just destroyed. They did an assessment to see if she was capable of being adopted, and of course she failed. She failed on every count. The head of Animal Protection was absolutely devastated. I knew the director of the Humane Society, so she personally phoned me and she said, "We have a case and we need your help. Can you come down and take a look at this dog?" I said, "OK, I'll come down."

I went down and they couldn't tell me exactly what had happened to the dog because the case was going through prosecution. They were building the case, and they didn't even have a court date yet. But what they did tell me was that the dog had systematically been abused and tortured, and that she was suffering from some physical damage and emotional damage as a result of that, and that she failed their assessment. So she was basically slotted for euthanasia if I wasn't able to help her and take her.

I saw the dog, and she oscillated from completely jumping up on me, like obsessively jumping up and nipping, and jumping and nipping, to all of a sudden just dropping to the ground in a complete catatonic state. Those are the only two things she did. It was just this back and forth, back and forth. They couldn't tell me what happened to her because the case was still open. Her coat was just a disaster. She's a Malinois or a Shepherd cross, and her coat was like straw. You could hear it go "tinkle, tinkle, tinkle," and fall off of her. That's how bad of shape she was in.

I said, "I think I can help her, but I need 24 hours to go home, tell my husband, and prep my house, because this is going to take some doing." I went home and I rearranged some kennels, put some gates up, talked to my husband about it and said, "There's this dog and it really needs us. My plan is to foster her until she can be adopted out." He said, "OK. You know what you're doing, that's OK." I said, "The thing is, she was horribly abused, and all that I know is that it was a male, so don't look at her, don't touch her, don't talk to her, don't go in the same room with her. We need to really take this slow." He said, "OK." My husband is a very quiet guy. He's an IT guy and he doesn't talk much to begin with, so he said, "OK, you bring her home."

I went back to the shelter and I had a little meeting with Animal Protection. The head of Animal Protection, Diana Bishop, said, "I've got to tell you a few things." I said, "What's that?" She said, "Whatever you do, do not tell anybody that you have this dog. Don't put it on Facebook, don't put it on your website, don't put it anywhere." I said, "OK. Is that because of the case?" She said, "No, it's for your own personal safety. The guy who abused her — I am afraid that he will come and find you and her and harm both of you, because he viewed her as property to be done with whatever he wanted, and he was pretty irate when she was taken." I said, "OK, if my personal safety is at risk, thanks for the heads up."

At the time, living in my home, I had a purebred Rottweiler who I imported from Germany, and I did a lot of protection work with him, and we also had a Great Pyrenees. If you know anything about Great Pyrenees, they're very territorial. So I had these two great big dogs. One had a super-strong guarding instinct because that's who he was, and the other one was protection-trained. I said, "I've got these dogs, I think I'll be OK. I don't have to tell anybody."

I went, and I couldn't leash her. I couldn't put a collar on her, I couldn't leash her, I couldn't do anything. I couldn't pick her up because all she'd do is go into fetal position. But I had another one of my dogs with me, and I said, "I guess we're going to have to take her out and see if she'll follow the other dog." Sure enough, she did. She followed the other dog right out to the car. I had my back opened and there were two crates. My dog jumped into a crate, and she went to follow and couldn't get in, but she ended up on the bumper and just went into the next opening, which was another crate. So I closed them both and off I went.

I took her home and I let her out. I opened the crate door and she looked, and then I opened the other dog's crate door and the other dog jumped out, and she followed it and went into the back yard. I'll never forget — she looked into the back yard and she thought, What is this? What are these sounds? and things like that. It's like she was shell-shocked.

And then the journey began. It was a steep learning curve for me. It was a real steep learning curve for me. I'd never dealt with a dog like that. As trainers, all of our instincts are desensitization and counter-conditioning and praising and luring. If you want a dog to do something, you have to lure them, and things like that. You couldn't do any of that with Didi. Luring was a direct threat and she would just go into a catatonic state. Any emotional eruption, she would just drop to the ground.

What I had to do was sit and watch her and figure out what were the things that make her feel safe. One of the things that was extremely insulating for her was the presence of another dog or several dogs. So I always made sure she was in the presence of other dogs, which was good because I had several dogs.

I remember the first time I went to feed her. At the shelter they had said, "She showed quite a bit of food aggression, so you better be careful." I thought, If she's showing food aggression, what am I going to do? Because she won't eat by herself because she doesn't feel safe in a room with a human being, but if she's food-aggressive I can't have her eating in the presence of other dogs. I was at a loss, and I thought, What am I going to do?

What I did was I put up an x-pen, I put myself in the x-pen, because I couldn't put her in the pen because she was too scared, I put myself in an x-pen, I had already fed all my other dogs, and I had Gabriel, my Rottweiler, in a down-stay. You know what Rottweilers are like — they can down-stay for three hours, and if you forget to release them, they're still there. So there he was, Gabriel, in a down-stay at the edge of the kitchen. I was in the pen, and I thought the best way for me to get any kind of a relationship with this dog is because she loved food, she absolutely loved food, and I needed to get her over the food aggression.

So here I am in the x-pen and it's got one of those little trap doors, you know the x-pens that have the trap door in it. I open the trap door, I had the food, and I feed raw food. Gabriel is in his down, and she's looking like, "What's going on here?" But she's got him for security, and I just started handing her food through the trap door and she started eating it. For months, that's how I fed her. I would put myself in the x-pen, I'd have Gabriel in a down, and for months and months, that was how I fed her. And honest to goodness, she never once showed any food aggression, and she never has shown any food aggression.

So I believe that the way that I went about it, for her, worked, which was hand-feeding her. I wasn't having full-body contact. It wasn't a forward thing. I was sideways, so I wasn't even watching her eat. I was just putting my hand out of the thing. I remember the first time I did it, I was thinking, Oh, good Lord, I hope my hand comes back. Because you don't know. But what I did know was that full frontal body pressure was not going to make this dog feel good or safe.

It was a big learning curve, and they couldn't tell me what happened to her, so I had to just observe her and see. All they could tell me was, "Don't put a leash or a collar on her." I said, "OK." But they did tell me that two of the injuries she had were she had a dislocated hip that had to be surgically put in, and she had a partially collapsed trachea. I deduced from that that she had some pretty severe trauma to her hip, because dislocating a dog's hip is really difficult. And when they're saying, "Don't put a leash and collar on," I assumed that she probably received some pretty bad trauma from a leash and a collar.

I just proceeded from there. She was no leash, no collar, she was always insulated by other dogs, and I remember thinking, It's OK. She never, ever is on a leash, that's OK. I have good relationships with my veterinary care, and things like that. I thought if all she ever does is hang out in the back yard and comes for long hikes with me and the other dogs, and she's happy, that's good enough.

Then, of course, what started happening was you get a bit little more into your career, you get a little more money, and you have money to travel and you want to go places. Well, I couldn't go anywhere, because I had this dog and I was the only one she trusted. So she became quite the traveler. Everywhere I went, she went with me. She's seen the Grand Canyon, she's been to Palm Springs, she's seen the casinos in Vegas. For years, everywhere I went, I took her with me because I was the only one that could care for her.

But as she grew and she matured and her confidence got better, now I can leave her at my sister's house when we travel. We're quite the world travelers, so when we're gone away for a month or whatever, she goes and stays at my sister's house and she's quite content there and she's all good. So I'm very, very grateful for that.

But her PTSD hasn't gone away. It didn't disappear. It's still there. I was just telling a friend the other day, "That poor Didi. Maybe four times a month we'll all be in the back yard, getting ready to go into the garage. I'll open the garage door and all the other dogs are sandwiching through the door, trying to get in there, to get into their crates in the car, in the SUV, and for whatever reason that day, Didi looks at me and says, "I can't go. I can't go through that door with you."

What I do is I load everybody else up, I start my SUV, I open the big garage door, I pull out, and if she comes out and stands beside my door, then I open up the door that leads to her crate, she jumps in, she's happy as a clam. But then other days she runs to the back of the chain link fence and she looks at me and her tail is wagging. That's her cue to say, "I'm staying home today." I don't pressure her. I just say, "That's OK, honey," and I go and I close the doors and I take the other dogs.

So there's still events that occur in our life on a daily basis, like things drop suddenly from on top of the fridge, where everything seems to get stacked. Before, what she would do was she would hit the ground and go into a catatonic state, whereas now she has a normal startle response, where she startles like a horse and she maybe takes two or three steps, but then she comes back and she looks and she says, "Is it a treat or is it a toy? Which is it? Because I want either one."

But like I say, it's taken years, and there's still triggers that come about. But it's funny, because certain things that other dogs find very distressing and very uncomfortable, for Didi they're not. Any kind of novelty for her is exciting. Anything she hasn't experienced is exciting.

I remember the very first time I took her to agility. It's literally a three-ring circus because it's in an arena and there are three classes going on together at one time. So there's usually about anywhere between thirty to forty-five dogs or more at the building at a time, and it's chaos.

They give you this little talk about "Your dog is probably going to be distracted, and they won't be able to do this and do that" the first few classes because of all the stuff that's going on. Well, for Didi, the more dogs that were there, the more she could concentrate. So it's kind of ironic that things that would normally stress the dogs don't stress her.

But the other stressors that she still has, she's still very, very sensitive to, like, if we were in a class and if somebody was cross with their dog — some people lose their temper or they yell at their dog — she hits the ground still. For her, that's like, "I didn't sign up for this, and I'm sure something bad is going to happen to me next." As a result, I guess I'm a little bit barracuda-like, in where I will and won't take her and what I expose her to, because with a dog with PTSD, it's not just the event where they have a reaction. You also get ripple effects from that and there's a lot of fallout.

I remember once we were at agility, and I was with my friend Gail and we lost our car keys, and Gail was in a tizzy. I said, "They'll turn up." My nickname, she used to call me Bubbles. She said, "Bubbles, we've got find the keys!" I said, "Oh my goodness, they're going to turn up. Don't worry about it." I'm a visual person, so when I lose something, I put it in the back of my head and then a picture shows up, and it's a picture of where the thing is that I lost. But she was just in a tizzy. I said, "I'll go look outside" to see if I could find these keys. While I was outside looking, sure enough, the picture comes to my head. I had dropped the keys in amongst a bunch of water bottles in the back of my vehicle.

I found the keys and I'm going back in, but I had been out for quite a while. I go back into the class and everybody in the class is kind of acting weird and they're kind of quiet, and I'm thinking, What is it? Sure enough, it's my turn, so I get Didi out of her crate and she's acting really weird. I thought, She's just acting weird because Gail and I had a little bit of a spat, and she'll be fine. And then the instructor comes over and says, "Just let Didi do whatever she wants." And I thought, That's weird.

The class goes on and we leave, but Didi's not wanting to get into her crate, and I thought, That's weird. So whatever, I didn't make her go back in her crate, because if she didn't want to do something, I never made her do it, because I never wanted fallout.

Then we're going out to the car. I open up the door, and I'm like, "OK, come on, honey, up." She looks at me, and if she could shake her head and be like, "Uh-uh," that's what she did. She looked at me, gave me the look, and I said, "Oh, goodness, that's not good." I asked her again, she said no, and I said, "That's OK." I went to the other side, because I would always take Didi in to places on a harness. So she always had a harness on and I always kept a spare dog seat belt, just in case something happened. So I connect her into the car and she's happy. She's sitting in there, she's not in a crate. I figure tomorrow will be a new day. We'll go out for a hike and she'll get in her crate. Oh no, no. She would not go near that thing.

A few days later, my friend Gail and I were out and about, being up to no good probably, and Gail says, "I've got something to tell you." I said, "Oh yeah? What's that, Gail?" She said, "Remember that night about the keys?" I said, "Oh yeah, how could I forget? Didi hasn't gotten into her car crate or her collapsible crate since. She just won't go in it. I don't know what happened." She said, "About that — I've got to tell you something that happened." I said, "What happened?" She said, "You know how upset I was. One of the other people in the class, I thought maybe the keys fell into Didi's collapsible crate, so they unzipped her crate and they went in it and she lost it on them and came bolting out of her crate."

I said, "What?" Because I worked so hard at getting that dog to be OK in a crate, because when she was apprehended she was in a crate and it was a disaster. I said, "What?" She said, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." I said, "Thankfully for yourself, you didn't tell me that night, because I can't imagine how upset I would have been, but now at least I have perspective and I can laugh about it and it gives me a reason why Didi's acting like this, so I feel better knowing that it wasn't something that was just superstitiously triggered. It was an actual event." She said, "I feel so bad."

I had to get her a brand new agility crate and I had to get her a brand new car crate. There was no way. And those are the difference between a PTSD dog and just a dog that's afraid of something. Eventually a dog that's afraid of something, with some desensitization and counter-conditioning, you can pretty much get over almost anything. With a PTSD dog, it's done. You've just got to move on and you've got to let it go. It's like, "No, that's done. We've got to go and we've got to get something else."

Melissa Breau: Was it Didi that got you interested in PTSD in dogs?

Barbara Lloyd: Oh yes, it was. It really was, because I had never seen a dog like that before, ever in my career. I had seen dogs that were afraid of things, I had seen dogs that were aggressive, I had seen dogs that were over-excitable, but I had never seen a dog go into a catatonic state before. I remember the feeling of helplessness. I remember researching and I remember thinking, There has to be an answer to get this dog through this, and there was no information available.

I remember when I first started taking her out when she was OK where I could get a harness on her and I could put a leash on her without her staying in a fetal position, and taking her out to other places where there were other dog trainers. They would say, "All you need to do is just counter-condition and desensitize. She'll be fine." Of course that's not what the dog needed, and thankfully I always thought I knew more than they did, and I never did do any of that with her.

As time passed and I started really paying attention to what her triggers were, what her insulators were, the other thing that I did, I started to research PTSD in people, because people could give account of what it was and how they felt. I talked to people psychologists, and I said, "I've got this dog. What exactly does this mean when she does this? What do you think?" They explained it to me. They explained to me about flashbacks and things like that and that it's like a hijacking of the brain. I said, "That makes sense. It's like a nightmare you can't escape, you can't wake up from."

What I did was I looked at all the things that Didi loved, and the things that made her happy, and the things that would empower her. Every single day, I took opportunity to create events that were empowering for her. As a result of that, it didn't fix the PTSD per se, but what it did do was it gave her confidence in a way that she never had before. Because when she first came to me, she was suffering from learned helplessness, so no matter what it was, it wasn't good. No matter what happened, it really wasn't good, other than food and eating.

And then, being the type of dog she was, her prey drive eventually came out, and I took every opportunity with that prey drive to make that a big thing. We spent a lot of time in the woods with her being able to chase rabbits with the other dogs. Fortunately we have a lot of squirrels in our neighborhood, and so when she would be barking her head off at squirrels and climbing the fence, instead of having a conniption fit, I would go out and I would be a part of it with her. I would support her in it and tell her she was a good girl, and I eventually was able to transfer her drive for squirrels to stuffed squirrels to start having her playing tug with me and playing with me and getting her to follow me and transition into things like that.

It was a very slow process, and so much of the time I felt like I was in the dark. Sometimes when you're dealing with a case, you have to figure out, "I am the expert in this right now. This is all this dog's got, and I have to do the best that I can possibly do, and minimize the harm that I'm going to create. Because every single day with a dog with PTSD, there's things that you're going to have to do that are really hard on that dog. For a lot of PTSD dogs, doorways are traumatic because something happened on the other side of that doorway that they don't like, or that they're anticipating, so even just getting the dog in and out of the house, or going from one room to another room, and things like that. Most days I really tried to take my time, but some days I had to leave, so I would have to pick her up, and I would have to move her from one room to another, or take her from outside inside. I always knew that there was fallout associated with that, but at least I knew where the fallout was coming from.

And then I started paying attention to what really bothered her and what did she really like, and I always tried to stack getting to what she really liked, to minimize the episodes. As time went on I got really good at it, and I started to realize and pinpoint what most of her triggers were. Still some days I think we still get some triggers that I'm not quite sure what it was, but overall I believe that we've managed it very, very well. It was never a head-on. It was always from the side. It's always been building confidence.

I remember when I first started training her, like, working with her, as in giving her food for something other than just sustenance. I thought, She's at that point now where maybe she can handle some clicker training, because she wasn't sound sensitive. But keep in mind I always had to have another dog or two around when I would work with her. So then you can potentially have some food aggression. So there were always these tightropes that I was walking.

But the very first thing that I ever, ever rewarded her for was tail set, because her tail was always so far up under her belly. What I did was I had her in the kitchen with me with some of the other dogs. I could get the other dogs happy very easily. I'd just talk funny or whatever, and they'd wag their tails, or some of them I have it on cue: Wag your tail. She would lose herself and her tail would drop a little bit, and the moment that her tail would drop and her ears would get a little bit better, I would click and feed her. Eventually I was able to shape her to bring her tail up and wag it. So that was the very first thing that I ever did. After that I shaped her for her ears to go from Yoda ears to normal ears. And then it was both. It was the ears and the tail.

In a word, she's kind of frenetic. She loves movement and she loves to move, and my house isn't that big, so the other thing that I shaped her to do, which she absolutely loves to this day, is to stomp her feet. So she can move without having to run around. She stomps her feet, and I've got it on cue. I'll say, "Stomp your feet!" and she stomps her feet. She does this little tap dance and she's so happy. That was something that I shaped her to do.

And then there were behaviors that were really hard on me that she would do. One of the things that she did — and it would be like an anxiety attack — what she would do is she would start jumping up at me, but clawing at me. It was like she was desperately clawing at me. I couldn't push her away, I couldn't turn away, I couldn't do anything because she needed my support at that moment. So I started learning how to dress appropriately, kind of like in Kevlar, and let her do it until she could calm down.

As I started working with her more, and everything was being shaped that I did with her, then what I was able to do is I was able to interrupt her with the clicker and food, and I changed the behavior from obsessively jumping up on me to jumping up and touching my hand. So she's still got the jumping up, the vertical up and down, but then we were able to transition it to a target, which was my hand.

I used my hand as the target because I always have it with me. So when I notice that she's starting to get a little antsy, I can say, "Touch, touch," and she'll jump up and obsessively. She can jump up twenty times as high as my head and touch my hand. But instead of trying to stop the behavior, which is something she needs to do at that very second to expel whatever anxious energy she's got, all that I did was I changed it to something else that she could do that wasn't going to hurt me.

Those are the kinds of things that I think with PTSD dogs that you have to really think about. They're doing this behavior, it's not all that fabulous, is there some way for you to modify the behavior where the dog is still going to get the release that it needs at that moment to feel safe. Because, like I say, coming from a training background, we're all about training the dog what we want it to do, and replacing behaviors, and things like that. So with her, it was all about looking at who she was and what she was doing and why she was doing it.

I think the biggest word that I had to say to myself every single day was "accept." Accept this, accept that. You have to accept her behavior in this respect, you have to accept her behavior in that respect. You have to accept that she is the way that she is, and you have to move forward with that. It doesn't matter how much you wish she understood how much you love her and that this is a safe environment. You have to accept that she is afraid. You have to accept that sometimes you're not going to understand why she is afraid, that what's triggered her, and move forward like that.

That's another one of those things with PTSD that the sooner you can accept that dog, given those circumstances, you're going to move so much more forward faster with that dog because you're not getting hung up on things and you're not personalizing it. That was the other thing that I had to learn how to do was not personalize her behavior. She wasn't doing something because of me. It was just who she was and her life experiences. Something was happening internally, cognitively, and emotionally with her that I couldn't reach her. So being able to accept that was another big deal.

The other thing that was really hard that I had to accept was here I am, Barbara Lloyd, this big-time dog trainer, I have a radio show, I do all this stuff, and I'm in public with this dog that is not behaved, and I had to take her places. I didn't want to tell people exactly what happened to her or where her circumstances originated. So there were many times when I took her out in public to other classes because the only time I could ever work with her was in a class.

Owning my own business, I'm the teacher, so I couldn't take her to my own classes. I always had to take her somewhere else. I would have to park my pride outside, and take her in and accept whatever it was that she was going to do, and pick it up on my way out, knowing that whatever I did, I did for her. I just had to get to a point where I didn't care what people were saying about me. "Oh, gee, she's supposed to be this big-time dog trainer. Did you see how badly behaved her dog was? It wouldn't stop jumping up on her."

It's things like that when you really have to look at what is best for the dog and why are you doing what you're doing and feel good about that, and forget about what other people are thinking. Forget about what other people are trying to tell you to do, because a lot of the time I actually think that a person's innate instincts are correct when it comes to their dog. I think if their instincts are telling them the dog just needs space right now, the dog needs space. I think that if people listen to that a lot of the time, they're probably going to do the right thing.

As a society, we're so invested in telling everybody what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and how everybody should behave. But I think anybody who lives with a dog that suffers from emotional trauma, and they have an open heart and an open mind, I think that if they really listen, they know innately in that moment what the dog needs.

Unfortunately there's a lot of trainers out there that say you're just babying that dog, you're just this, you're just that, you're just whatever. You've got to get a thick skin and you just have to say, "Thank you for your opinion. I'll think about that," and you leave.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

Barbara Lloyd: It's true.

Melissa Breau: I didn't realize, until I started doing some research for our call, that they've observed signs analogous to PTSD in all sorts of animals. They've seen it in mice and in rats, and obviously dogs as well. I know PTSD usually requires some pretty extreme trauma. We've talked about that a little bit. Is there any sense of how common it is in dogs?

Barbara Lloyd: Not really. It's kind of that thing that people really don't talk about because it's one of those things in training circles that "You're just trying to humanize the dog." So it really isn't talked about.

The other thing is I think that even though as far as we have progressed as Fenzi people, and in other venues and other people we train with, I still believe that there is still a heavy, heavy influence from way back in Descartes' day. Rene Descartes believed that any animal other than a human being didn't experience any pain or emotion. Therefore, there's a lot of false beliefs out there about animals being only in the moment, and therefore the behavior that is being exhibited in that moment is very much just for that moment. So I think it isn't discussed because it's not accepted.

The other thing is because people don't know about it, and they don't understand it, they're reluctant to talk about it. It's like that in human circles as well. Even in human circles, people say, "PTSD is all in their mind." Yes, it is in their mind, but guess what — it has profound effects on their quality of life, and just because certain people have never experienced it, they lack the empathy to be able to understand what somebody else is going through, and that includes animals, I think. So there isn't a lot of discussion about it.

So when I was given the opportunity to talk about it on this venue, in an international setting, I jumped at the chance, because I thought, There's people out there that have these animals and they don't know what to do with them. They're lost, and they're getting bad advice, and they're being told they're spoiling their animals. Or they're being told to do things that is actually making the PTSD worse, and they know that the animal is getting worse, but they don't know what to do.

So I was so pleased when I was given this opportunity. Ninety percent I was very pleased, but there was also a ten percent in me that was petrified because I was going to have to revisit everything about Didi. There's so many things that I put to rest over that case, but I'm just so pleased that I get the opportunity to talk about this, because I really think that we can have a positive impact on handlers and their dogs by talking about this topic, because there is so much that's not talked about. So thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. For those out there listening who have a dog that's dealt with some sort of trauma, or they have a dog who they're struggling a little bit to find the right path forward, do you have some words of advice or some words of encouragement to help them out?

Barbara Lloyd: I think that the biggest thing is to first off give yourself a break. When you're dealing with an animal that has an emotional trauma in their background, it is exhausting for an owner/handler because you're always on. You're on as much as that animal is on, and it is exhausting. You have to give yourself permission to take a break, and sometimes that just means putting that dog in a bedroom behind a closed door, or putting it in a crate, and you watching a movie without you having to worry about what is the dog going to do.

The other thing, I think that the biggest piece of advice that I can give most people about a dog that's suffered an emotional trauma is less is more. Let the dog be. Don't smother it. Any kind of attention oftentimes that you give a dog that's suffering from PTSD, any attention, it doesn't matter the intention. The intention can be complete love and compassion, but the fact that you're projecting that energy onto that dog is putting pressure on them, and oftentimes it becomes a punisher instead of a positive, and really what they need is they need freedom to look, observe, and be, without being noticed. The biggest thing they need almost is invisibility, and granting that animal the capacity to be invisible and be in the environment without you paying attention to them.

That's really hard as trainers, because most of us that come to this, we are trainers, or we're trainers at heart. We might not train for a living, but you're a trainer at heart and what you want to do is you think, I can fix this, I can fix this. And sometimes the fix is doing nothing.

Those are the biggest pieces of advice I think that I would give people, just off the top of my head.

Melissa Breau: You're doing a webinar for us on this stuff for us on the 20th. Is there anything else that folks should know to help them decide if that's something they might want to join?

Barbara Lloyd: I think the biggest thing for people to join, if you are involved in any type of Humane Society, or you are involved in any type of rescue, I think this would be a relative topic for you. If you happen to have a dog, or a family member has a dog, that seems to have some emotional difficulties that are extremely resistant to counter-conditioning and desensitization, this is the talk for you. This really is the talk for you. Because dogs that are resistant for counter-conditioning and desensitization, that's one of the hallmarks of PTSD, because it doesn't matter what you do when the dog is afraid, whether or not you bring something out as a low-level stimulus, dogs with PTSD are always resistant to counter-conditioning and desensitization because there's no way to desensitize it because their brain is being hijacked.

Or if you are a pet professional and you do get inquiries about dogs, and you have worked with dogs like this in the past, but you feel like you would like to know more, or you want to be in a more supportive environment, sign up. I do not have all the answers, but I certainly have worked with PTSD dogs, Did being my known first, and since, I've also worked with other PTSD dogs.

Some of the other dogs that I've worked with that have PTSD are dogs that came from a hoarding situation that were adopted by the same couple but six months apart. In my talk I'm going to talk about the differences between those two dogs because of their first six months experience in the outside world and how it was handled. To this day, they are fundamentally different dogs because of the early experiences that they were subjected to. So it's quite fascinating that how you interact with these animals in the beginning, and the amount of pressure you put on them, how much of an impact that has.

Like I say, if you work in rescue, if you're in a Humane Society, if you are interested in working with behavior — not just mechanical behavior, sit, down, come, teaching skills like that — but if you have an acute interest in dog behavior and helping people with difficult dogs, this talk I'm sure you would find beneficial.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. To wrap things up, there are three questions I usually ask guests the first time they're on. The first one is what's the dog-related accomplishment that you're proudest of?

Barbara Lloyd: Oh my goodness. I think that the dog-related accomplishment that I am most proud of is my herding with Dori. She is a mutt. She is a bona fide mutt from a reservation and she's got no pedigree, and yet, oh my goodness, can that dog herd. I just feel on top of the world every time I walk out into an arena with that dog and I herd with her. I think that's amazing.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. My next one is what's the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?

Barbara Lloyd: Train the dog in front of you. I think it's cliché, probably 99.9 percent of trainers say that, but it's the honest-to-goodness truth. If you don't train the dog that's in front of you, you've got nothing. You're not training the dog that you had yesterday, or the dog you had last year, or even the dog you had two minutes ago. You've got to train the dog that's in front of you, and that's the only way forward.

Melissa Breau: The last one here is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Barbara Lloyd: Sue Ailsby. She was my mentor. She has gifted me with more knowledge, more patience. It is amazing. I couldn't probably make a list of all the things that she has done for me. So definitely Sue Ailsby.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Barbara! This has been great.

Barbara Lloyd: Thank you for having me. This was just awesome. Thank you so much.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with our new FDSA alumni moderators to talk about their backgrounds and a bit about their new roles.

If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. 

Credits

Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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