Phoenix is our Featured Aldaron Dog for May. Welcome, Phoenix! If you've ever lived with a highly intelligent but reactive dog, I think you'll find Phoenix's story encouraging and inspirational.
A 3 ½ year old Belgian Tervuren, Phoenix is owned, trained and adored by Carrie Hrichack of Pennsylvania. Phoenix developed stress- and anxiety-related reactivity during adolescence and ended up labeled as reactive and fear aggressive. With good training, a dedicated mom, and some help from Aldaron Essences, Phoenix has come a long, long way in a relatively short time. Let’s hear his story!
AE: Tell us a little about Phoenix’s background.
Carrie: Phoenix came to our home at 8 weeks of age. He was not happy about the 11 hour car ride with us, but settled in nicely. He demonstrated some reserve with new people, but there were no red flags about his personality and he did fairly well in puppy K.
He did great with other classes and was really a shining star with Rally Obedience up until about 11 months old, when he started showing some signs of "stranger danger" and fear aggression, culminating in him muzzle punching a judge at a Rally-O competition when I dropped the lead for the last sign. (He had won first place that morning in the first competition). I have had dogs all my life, but had never had one like Phoenix and missed all of his tells leading up to this that his stress and anxiety were building to the critical point.
I tried to keep taking Phoenix to classes where he had both human and canine friends, but as the class make-up changed and new people/dogs were added and we were at the point that we should be moving to level 2 off leash, I realized that the stress on both of us was not worth continuing. I had also tried him in Agility, but he would get over stimulated very quickly and I feared that again, he could attack someone if we were in a competition setting. I had truly hoped Phoenix would be my sports dog since our last Belgian grew up with my children and I did not have time for activities outside the family with him, but realized that this was not meant to be.
Phoenix was labeled a "reactive dog", an "aggressive dog", and other combinations of the same sentiment. I wanted to get him totally away from the atmosphere that labeled him and to see what I could do to help with all the tools I had gathered. Courtney Huther our agility coach, was the one who first recommended Aldaron and it did seem to help tone down his anxieties and soon I had a medicine cabinet full.
AE: That had to be a really hard time for you.
Carrie: I became so frustrated as Phoenix is the smartest dog I have ever personally known and is incredibly loyal, loving, and affectionate. I have watched him create games with neighbors and he can actually make people do his bidding quite quickly. I saw this dog who loved those he included in his "pack" with unwavering adoration, but was intent on scaring away anyone from the outside, canine or human.
AE: What approaches had you tried before Aldaron Essences?
Carrie: Positive training with several different trainers, reactive dog classes, Reiki (another energy therapy), and commercial "calming treats".
AE: Which flower essence formula(s) did you find most helpful?
Carrie: Phoenix's custom blend, along with Calm, has made by far the biggest difference. Before that we saw positive changes with the use of High Anxiety, Very Scary Things, Social Ease, and Easy Rider. Focus did help when we tried it before his classes, too. Over the past year, he’d made incredible strides, becoming less anxious, but he was just not "there" yet.
I contacted Julie with Phoenix's residual list of issues: occasionally becoming very reactive to the cars to the point where he would screech and jump at my face, lunging at strangers who approached directly or too quickly, anxiety with longer car rides, etc. Julie made a custom essence for Phoenix and recommended the addition of Calm. The rest of the pieces have fallen into place!
AE: Can you describe the differences you’ve seen, and how it’s helped you and him?
Carrie: Phoenix's overall anxiety has diminished considerably. He still shows occasional stress signs, but can now pass strangers on walks with no reactions at all. No more lunging at people, dogs, or cars. He can stand calmly at my side while I hold conversations with strangers. He is calm in the car for rides up to 3 hours and waits patiently in the car for me when we run errands. Phoenix has made more and new friends of both the canine and human varieties. He no longer looks at the world as a scary place that is going to hurt him.
At the same time, I have been working on my own stress issues and our relationship and I can honestly say, I see a bright future for the two of us!
AE: What was the most helpful training or lifestyle change you made?
Carrie: Honestly, taking the labels off Phoenix and seeing him as a dog who needed extra support, love, and calm, learning his tells and being able to head things off before they became an issue, not forcing him into situations that would increase his stress.
Also through our journey, I had taken Phoenix on hikes in the woods, usually near water as he loves both. I realized that he and I were most relaxed during these walks, so we began to do them more regularly, twice a week, early in the morning when there are few other people around. I kept up our neighborhood walks, switching to a loop lead which seemed to be the one that he responded to best.
During this time, 2 of our neighbors adopted puppies and Phoenix, after showing them who was boss, became great friends and have regular play dates several times each week. We have had up to 4 dogs in our yard at one time and there has never been an issue!
AE: Did you use any other alternative therapies that helped?
Carrie: A friend is a Reiki master and she has worked with both me and Phoenix to balance our energy. She let me know that Phoenix is claustrophobic which has helped greatly. In the car, the window is always cracked to let in fresh air and I no longer force him into a crate for classes.
AE: Phoenix is obviously very smart and has made tremendous strides. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Carrie: His ability to make new friends and tolerate situations better. Last week, he even took a biscuit from our new mailman who he had never seen before! I was stunned!!
AE: Any future plans or goals with Phoenix you’d like to share?
Carrie: We are taking a dance class on Wednesday night with his favorite former trainer just for fun! I hope that maybe one day, we can get back to some sports in a relaxed way. After all, he is only 3 and hopefully we have a long, happy life ahead of us.
AE: Would you like to share any words of advice for people experiencing similar issues with their dog?
Carrie: Be patient. Learn your dog’s tells and stress signs. Be willing to change your goals to accommodate theirs. Phoenix and I are much happier now that our goals are aligned. Dogs are as individual as our human children are and we need to recognize their strengths and weaknesses in the same way. This has been an amazing journey and I have learned so much. I cannot wait to see what else Phoenix has to teach me.
Thanks so much, Carrie, for sharing Phoenix's story! You have had an amazing journey already. We're looking for many good things from you guys! And thanks also to Courtney Huther of Up n Over Agility for referring Carrie and Phoenix to Aldaron Essences!
Julie Cantrell BSc CDBC
Owner, Aldaron Essences LLC