Diego: Overcoming Obsession

Diego:  Overcoming Obsession

Lacey and Alison contacted me about their dog Diego, a beautiful silver grey standard poodle. Diego had lived with them most of his life. They said Diego was a wonderful dog, but had issues with the dogs in the neighbor’s yard next door.

When I connected to Diego, I first asked him to show me how he felt in the house. He showed me that he was calm and happy and he said he loved his family. He said that he knew his people would love him no matter what and would always love him even when he was stubborn about things. He also made a point of telling me that he was very smart — he was very proud of this fact! Lacey and Alison confirmed that Diego was very smart and laughed about what Diego said about being stubborn, which they said was so true!

But when I asked Diego what it was like when he was out in the yard, he gave me a completely different picture of his behavior. He showed me that he was always on high alert in the yard. The yard was not a place for fun and games to Diego. I asked him what made him so tense in the yard and he showed me the fence between his yard and the neighbor’s yard. But it wasn’t the fence that was the problem — it was the neighbor’s dogs behind the fence. When I asked more about the neighbor’s dogs, Diego showed me that the dogs were small, but they appeared to be quiet and not aggressive at all toward Diego. Lacey and Alison confirmed that this was true — they said all the aggression came from Diego.

I asked Diego how he felt about the neighbor’s dogs — he said he “hated them and wanted to scream at them!” He showed me that he only had to smell the other dogs outside and he would completely loose control. Diego showed me barking relentlessly, running the fence line and attacking the fence in an attempt to get at the dogs next door. While he was doing this, he was completely oblivious to anything going on around him — including Lacey trying to get him back into the house so he could quiet down. Lacey and Alison confirmed that this was exactly what happened. Sometimes Diego would knock Lacey over when Lacey tried to get him into the house because he was so focused and relentless about attacking the fence.

I was concerned about Diego’s compulsion to attack the fence — I was afraid he would injure himself. Lacey said that they were concerned too and in fact had built a second temporary wire fence 4 feet away from the wooden privacy fence so Diego couldn’t get too close to the neighbor’s dogs. Despite this, Diego was still trying to get at the neighbor’s dogs.

Lacey and Alison confirmed that the neighbor dogs had never done anything to upset or attack Diego. My feeling was that Diego’s reaction was related to past experience, before he came to be part of Lacey and Alison’s family. When I asked Diego if he’d had a bad experience with other dogs, he immediately showed me an incident that happened when he was a puppy. His person at the time had taken him to the dog park and he was cornered and attacked by 2 or 3 small dogs. He could not defend himself and it was a terrifying experience for him. It was clear that he would never, ever let that happen again.

It is sometimes difficult for people to believe that experiences that animals have when they are young have such a big impact on their later lives. Diego’s original person may not even have seen this episode as a matter of concern. But an animal’s perception and reaction to things may not be the same as our own. Also every animal (and person) is different — episodes that have a profound impact on one may not even register as a problem for another. For Diego, the episode of being attacked as a puppy had a profound effect on him.

I told Diego that the dogs next door were not the same dogs that attacked him. But to Diego, they were the same — or close enough that he might be attacked again. I reminded Diego that he was a big dog now and that the neighbor’s dogs were little — that had no impact on his feelings. He said, “I have to tell them to back off!!” I asked Diego if he felt he had been telling them that. He admitted that yes, he has told them very clearly. I assured Diego that the dogs next door knew and understood that they should stay away from him. I asked Diego if the neighbor’s dogs ever tried to come through the fence. He admitted they did not. I told him that the dogs next door were scared of him and would never try to come through the fence.

It was clear to me that Diego understood everything I was telling him . . . but every time I asked him to show me what he would do in the yard when the dogs next door were out, he showed me extreme agitation and attacking the fence. Diego was obsessed with the dogs next door.

I told Lacey and Alison that I did not feel that explaining the reality of the situation to Diego was going to help him stop or moderate his behavior. Instead, I felt we should focus on giving Diego something else to do when he was outside. I reminded Diego that he had told the neighbor dogs to stay on their side of the fence and that now all he needed to do was make sure they did that — by just watching the fence. In fact, watching the fence was Diego’s new job when he was outside. I assured Diego that the fences were VERY strong and would keep the other dogs out, so all he needed to do from now on was watch the fence. I told him that if Lacey or Alison came out in the yard, they would watch the fence too and make sure he was safe. I went through this over and over. Diego was able to show me that he understood, but I could still feel a great deal of tension and stress from Diego regarding the neighbor’s dogs. Diego kept saying, “They better stay on their side of the fence!” I continued to reassure Diego that he would be safe — that Lacey, Alison and the fence would keep him safe.

I told Lacey and Alison that they should continue to talk to Diego about his new job (just watching the fence) and that they could help him by monitoring him outside and providing reassurance. They were more than happy to do this!

Lacey contacted me about a month after our chat with Diego. They saw an immediate improvement in Diego’s behavior. At first, when the dogs next door were out and Diego was out by himself, he would bark sharply at the fence two or three times. When Lacey came to the door, Diego would immediately begin to calm down. If Lacey asked Diego to come away from the fence, he did so — which Lacey said was “unimaginable before we talked to him!”

As long as Lacey or Alison is in the yard, Diego won’t bark at the fence. They can even leave Diego in the yard alone for a few minutes, reminding him that the fence is strong, that he is a good boy and all he needs to do is watch the fence. Diego will be quiet and relaxed in the yard — even when the dogs next door are outside — for a few minutes. Lacey stated, “This was just not possible before!”

Lacey reported that Diego laid down to watch the fence . . . then just relaxed! He ate some grass, scratched and enjoyed the sunny day. Lacey says that Diego no longer exhibits the behaviors he’d had for so long — charging the fence, trying to knock down the fence, frantic running along the fence. Instead, if Diego does bark at the fence, he is happy to come inside immediately if Lacey asks him to — and sometimes he asks to be let inside on his own. Lacey observed that, “Now that Diego isn’t compulsively reactive to the neighbor’s dogs he’s making a conscious choice sometimes to remove himself from the situation. It’s a level of awareness that I’ve never seen from Diego before. I’ve been telling him how good he’s doing and how proud I am of him for changing his behavior and becoming a smarter poodle.”

Update 4 months after Diego’s first communication session: Lacey tells me that Diego is exhibiting some of his former fence obsessed behavior. Obsessive behavior — in humans or animals — is difficult to eliminate. I am hopeful that with occasional communication session reminders and possibly distance energy work, we can get Diego back on track.

“We got so much out of our session with Sky. This was a behavior I’d almost given up on changing and now Diego’s improved so much.” — Lacey M., MN.