When I first got Rubi and people would ask how we were doing, my standard response was, "Well, this is the part that sucks." There's nothing good about being at the other end of the leash from a scream, upset, out-of-control monster.
Rubi and I have come a long way in the last sixteen weeks. For those of you who don't follow her facebook page, Rubi achieved her first CGC-style greeting with a strange dog in class two weeks ago. That doesn't mean that I'm ready to put money on her doing it again quite yet, there's still a lot of work ahead, but now we have a solid foundation of calm behavior to build upon. I'm terribly glad I made the decision to run Rubi through Changing Attitudes a second time. She's learned to relax, and this has made a huge impact on her ability to greet other dogs. There's a fine line between arousal and aggression. A dog who's highly aroused the way B was in the beginning will often start a fight out of frustration or anxiety or whatever it is that runs through their little doggie brain when they're doin' the banshee act. As B's ability to relax and control herself around other dogs has increased, so has her ability to greet other dogs and then walk away. This is huge since 99% of the times she meets other dogs will be in passing. It's not perfect, but it's there, and I'm pretty excited about it.
I've also learned much more about my dog in the past few months. Rubi is not Maus; in fact, they're about as different as is possible for two beings. Working with both of them, I've come to have a new respect for the spectrum that reactive dogs cover. Even through their differences, they have a lot in common – after all, they're both still dogs. The root body language is still the same. For example, both lip lick a lot as a calming signal. I noticed in class and in training that when Rubi gets excited, her eyes get really dilated. I had known about this behavior in dogs in general, but I'd never really noticed it in one of mine before. Because I started seeing it in B, I began looking for it in Maus – and sure enough, when he's uncomfortable, his pupils dilate. More over, since I was watching his eyes, I noticed that when someone is staring at him, he gets "whale eye." Whale eye is when a dog's eyelids peel back so far that you can see the whites. It's harder to see in Maus since his eyes are a light color anyway (hey, look! An excuse to show you a picture of Maus's eyes – aren't they gorgeous?).
Around the same time Maus gets whale eye, he has a hard time looking away from the person - his eyes slip to once side, then back to the person, then flicker to the other side – but he never really loses intensity. And then he reacts. It's maybe not an earth-shattering revelation, but you never know when a subtle bit of information will be important. Maus gives a lot of warning before he becomes reactive, so long as I'm paying attention. B goes zero to sixty at the flip of a coin, so reading the subtle stuff is all the more important.
Rubi's at the place in her training that I think is the most fun. It's more challenging for me, certainly. I'm no longer just holding her leash hoping she gives me something I can work with. Now that we have a foundation, we can really invest some energy into those castles in the sky. I can make goals that are bigger than "be better around other dogs." Where do we want to go? How do I juggle sport training with reactivity rehab? What do I think we'll be good at, and how do I get there? Anything is possible really; the world is our oyster.
Welcome to the part that doesn't suck.