Saturday, October 16, 2010

Whatcha doin'?

(Originally posted on Oct 10, 2010)

Boy, it's about time for an update, isn't it?

I was looking back over old entries, and I want to clarify something quick. It seems to me that I spend an awful lot of time not working with B because I don't feel good, or I'm too tired, or some excuse like that. Here's my defense: when training dogs, it's important to be at the top of your game. Remember which end of the leash good dogs start from? (and which end of the leash bad dogs come from?) When doing any type of training session, I should be mentally alert, physically comfortable, and emotionally relaxed. These factors become crucial when working with one of my reactive dogs. After all, it's one thing to misjudge when to fade the lure while teaching roll-over; it's quite another to misjudge a potentially aggressive dog's body language and intent. In order to handle Rubi at her worst, I have to be at my best, and I'm not ashamed of this. I still get her out three times a week and practice at home regularly. It's an excuse, but it's not an excuse that is detrimental to our training regiment. Just the opposite, I believe. There are only two feelings that a dog trainer needs: patience and a sense of humor. With these, all manner of things are possible.

Speaking of patience, I'm well past the point of picking out our next class, huh? I'm still rather ambivalent on the subject. On the one hand, I thing B has come far enough that I could streamline her into a regular level two or three class pretty easily, thanks in no small part to the obedience work Brit put into her before she came to my house. It'd be good for her, I think, to get working around other dogs in a more normal environment. On the other hand, there's Changing Attitudes. Put simply, Rubi is just not where I wanted her to be at the end of this class. Oh, she's made huge progress - for the last two classes, we haven't had to go inside our box even once. Quite the change from the beginning when we couldn't spend more than thirty seconds out of the box, isn't it? But as I've said before, my goal isn't just to have her manageable around other dogs. I want Rubi to be able to relax around other dogs. And B just isn't there yet. So I think running her in CA again - with new dogs and new faces - would be beneficial as well.

What to do, what to do . . .

In an ideal world, of course, I would have been born a rich heiress with nothing better to do than collect dogs and create sex tapes - er, I mean, model. In that perfect world, I would be able to do both CA and a regular class. But alas, I have three other dogs, all who have their own training plans and goals, so I cannot afford to spend all my resources on B. There's no rush to get anything done with Rubi: I don't have to "fix" her quickly so that we can get her adopted and save another dog. There are no deadlines other than the ones we have imposed on ourselves. So I think we will take Changing Attitudes again, and hope that a mysterious, wealthy relative will die and leave us lots of money.

And a hobby farm.

Meanwhile, here in the real world, life goes on. Rubi's at the point where I can start to pick out trends in the dogs she will react to. Most reactive dogs have certain dogs (or people) that they will react worse to than others. Maus, for example, does fine with people. Unless they are high energy, small, wearing funny hats, wearing sunglasses, children, have dark hair, try to touch the top of his head, stare at him too long, jog, wear skirts or loose shirts, and, well, you get the picture. Maus's list is pretty long, but he's got one, so I can pretty reliably say which people he's going to react to and which he'll ignore. Here's Rubi's list so far: dogs that are on leash. Big dogs, little dogs, fluffy dogs, black dogs, dogs with floppy ears, dogs with docked tails, type doesn't seem to matter (which is a bit unusual - most dogs don't like dogs of a certain body type or body language . . . kind of racist of them, isn't it?). But once you slap a leash on a dog, B still has trouble keeping it together. Oh, she still keeps an eye on dogs in their yards, but she no longer loses it over them. We get rushed by off leash dogs about once a week, but B isn't much phased by them unless she feels threatened (also: *&%$#$@! ). I suppose this goes a ways toward explaining her troubles in class - that is a lot of on-leash dogs to worry about.

So what do we do when we see trouble coming our way? I've got a few plans. If I don't think the other owner is in control of their dog (or themselves), or if B is sending off huge, "not cool! NOT COOL!" vibes, we, ah, advance toward the rear, as they say in the military. That is, we run away. If I can't set up a situation to be successful, I will do anything in my power to get out of it. If I think the situation is workable, Rubi and I stop moving. Like many dogs (and people), I have trouble thinking and walking at the same time. We stop before B has locked on to the other dog but after she notices it. Then we practice watching the other dog - see the dog, click, see the dog, click, see the dog, click. If we get to the point where I worry B is about to lose it, we create more distance. More distance = less stimulus. Less stimulus = less reactivity. I can body block her backward - that is, put myself between her and the other dog and using my physical presence to push her back, marking and rewarding every time she looks up at me. I can also use an emergency retreat, hand touch, lure - but I try very hard not to use the leash to move her. Why not? Because then the leash is tight. A tight leash communicates all matter of anxiety and frustration to the dog, and I try to avoid it whenever possible. B seems particularly attuned to tension in the leash and the slightest pressure is often enough to tip her over the edge. That's not to say my leash is never tight: shit happens, as they say. But I always try to give the dog enough leash so that they have the option of working on a loose leash. And dragging her back by the leash does not give B that option. Once the other dog has passed us and is on it's merry way, I stop giving B treats. She only get treats when the dog is moving towards us. Here's that counter-conditioning thing again: dogs coming toward us make good things happen. Dogs going away are boring. Whew! What an awful lot of work, huh?

As a final thought for the day, I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes - one that seems to apply a great deal to my relationship with Rubi. It's from Colonel Potter on television show M*A*S*H: "Listen, when you love somebody, you're always in trouble. There's only two thing you can do about it: either stop loving 'em, or love 'em a whole lot more."

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