The most typical questions at this stage are below. Let's troubleshoot!
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN OUR DOG SENSITISES INSTEAD
Every time we leave our dog alone longer than they can handle, we cause the panic to increase during future absences. This is called sensitisation.
However, it can also happen during the process of Systematic DEsensitisation...unfortunately. We run the risk of going in the opposite direction.
Some dogs are prone to this and some dogs aren't, so we watch closely in the early days.
What does it look like? While working through early Missions, our dog gets more and more upset, rather than less upset. Even if we scale back our criteria. Even if we take a break. Even if we do everything by the book.
If this happens to you, pump the brakes. Take a day or two off and regroup. Try a Mission that is really easy (seriously - like Mission 1, for example) and see if that makes it better. Find a "split" like Mission 1.5, for example, where you take the difficult Mission and the last Mission and find the middle ground by decreasing duration OR decreasing the number of PDQs.
If this continues to happen, reach out for support - you've got your village!
WHAT IF I WANT TO PUSH IT?
We are only human! We tend to see progress or a glimpse of hope, and we want to push to "see how far we can go". This is very natural, however, when it comes to working through this protocol, it can easily backfire, and often does.
There's a fine line between getting greedy and being too conservative.
We want to walk the line and be mindful. This is where observing your dog is crucial. There are times where we may push and our dog can handle it, and there are times where we may push and the muscle snaps. Pushing too hard (getting greedy) can be more detrimental than being too conservative, however, being too conservative can keep you at a stagnant point for too long. Not necessarily high risk, but simply "annoying".
Stay the course; try not to get greedy. Keep asking your dog "how is this for you?" as you work through the steps. Their body language and behaviour will give you the answer - you just have to be able to read it!
If it's too hard, make those harder steps a little easier; for example, instead of 1-mississippi, make it 1-miss- and return, then build to 1-mississ- and return, then build to 1-misssip- and return, and so forth. This is called splitting the criteria as you are quite literally doing just that - splitting it into smaller steps that make it easier for your dog.
WHAT DO I DO DURING THE REASSESSMENT?
During your reassessment, stay close - out of earshot, sight, and not close enough that they can smell you under the door or through the window. Definitely do NOT drive away or get on an elevator - we're not quite there yet! Just monitor with your timer and be ready to come back in when necessary.
WHO SHOULD BE RUNNING THE REASSESSMENT WITH ME?
Run your reassessment the way you've been running the majority of your Missions, but don't be tempted to run a number of reassessments with all the variables. We can over-assess and that can sensitise our dogs. Let's stick to one plan for reassessments and make it the one that means the most to you for now. One reassessment is best!
SHOULD I RETURN WHEN MY DOG IS BARKING?
Sure! As long as we're not doing this all the time, it's perfectly fine.
Yes, if we do this every time they bark, they will learn that barking makes you come back. If it works, they do it. However, if we reassess once a week and that's the only time they're ever pushed past a threshold, I'm not worried about them developing this behaviour chain.
We're also going to learn more about our dogs' vocalisations; some barking is frustration and short-lived. We can wait that out for a few seconds and see if they settle themselves and go lie down. If they don't and the barking escalates (higher pitch, more staccato, incessant vs intermittent) then we should come back and give them relief as it is more likely to be stress.
This is a learning curve, so don't expect to know the difference right now.