My husband was late dropping Rubi off for class yesterday, so I was able to watch the everyone else assemble without her. Rubi is one of four dogs in the class, and two of the other dogs are reactive. I get along with most people, but one of the reactive dogs is handled by a woman I genuinely loathe. (She went to the club leadership and told them that Piper Ann attacked her dog in a class – as if Piper Ann would do such a thing even if I let her! Yes, I know, I hold a grudge, it's not one of my better qualities, I understand that.) I considered pulling Rubi from the class right then.
Suck it up, I told myself. We made it through that first night of Changing Attitudes, we can do this.
I set up a barrier in one of the obedience ring's corners and set-up B's mat so we would have a place to escape to. Zach arrived a few minutes later, and I met Rubi and him in the lobby. He and I took a few seconds to catch up – he'd gotten lost on his way in – and I claimed B and turned to go to class.
And there was Loki right behind us.
Surprised the heck out of me. Rubi knows Loki from CA, he's the first dog we ever did a CGC-style greet with. B clearly knew he was there, he was only a couple of feet behind me, but she'd given me no indication that there was another dog so close. And in the lobby, no less!
We're off to a good start. B and I make our way into the ring. She's a bit distracted, but nothing too ridiculous. We've been working on going through entry ways for a while now. I actually started this way back when she was still a foster dog. We approach a doorway or ring barrier and B has to sit and look at me. Once she does so, I release her to go through the door. Going through the door is B's reward for staying and paying attention, although every once and a while she gets a treat for it. Here's the important part: once we go through the door, she has to reorient to me before we proceed into the room. She always gets rewarded for looking back at me when we go into a new space, because I want this habit to be very strong. And it's a difficult exercise for her. Think of it this way: when you go into a new place, would you rather check it out or look back the way you came? I let B look around and check out her surroundings, but I want her to understand that she needs to check in with me before she can explore. We practice this check-in a lot: going through doorways, going through gates, going outside, getting out of the car, getting out of the crate.
And tonight all the hard work pays off. We go though the gate into the ring, B does a quick sweep to see where we are, and then she looks back to me for her reward. Good job! While I've got her attention, I ask her to move into heel position. If I just release her into the ring, she's going to get herself into all kinds of trouble. So we heel over to our little area behind the barrier. Class almost always begins with some lecture and introductions, and I don't want B to just sit there and stare at the other dogs, working herself up while everyone talks. I ask her to go to her mat; she trots over to it, lies down, and proceeds to start talking at me.
Oh, hai, lobby dog.
She can't see the other dogs, and none of them are chatting it up, so she can't really hear them, either. I wonder if I've possibly poisoned the "go to mat" command by letting her whine and protest on it. If "mat" means go "lie down and cry" instead of "go lie down and settle," I'll have to retrain the command. But she doesn't do this anywhere else, and up until today, she didn't do this when she couldn't see other dogs.
Rubi baffles me sometimes.
Instead of having poisoned the command somehow, it's more likely that lying on the mat isn't taking up enough of her brain space or energy (there's that energy thing again). It's too easy for her, and she's yelling at me because she doesn't having enough to do. So we do a few minutes of the relaxation protocol. This is our abridged, on-the-road version: Step back, reward, step back, reward, walk 1/3 around the dog, reward, wait five seconds, reward, step back, reward, and so on. Rubi's response is near instantaneous. Her eyes soften, her body relaxes slightly, her cries go from heartfelt lungfuls to soft whimpers and then stop all together. How did I ever get along without the relaxation protocol?
Well, for one, I never had a dog that I needed so badly to be able to settle on cue. And it is on cue; I always start with a step back. It doesn't seem to take much more than that for B to go, "okay, I got this, we're doing controlled boredom, time to chill and let her feed me." After working the RP for about five minutes, we step outside our barrier and watch the other dogs. It doesn't take long before B starts to unravel. She's not crying again or ignoring me, but I can see her tighten up again. I want to change her gears before she does loses it; I want to set her up to succeed. So after maybe two minutes of watching the other dogs, we go back to the mat, and I run her through the RP for another five minutes.
After that, B pretty much settled down for the rest of the class. We worked on heeling, variations on down, stands, retrieves, and, of course, lots of watching the other dogs. I even felt secure enough to work her without the gentle leader for a while, which was good for the both of us since we can't use it for the CGC. The highlight of the night was when my arch nemesis's dog started staring and growling at B. Rubi looked at him, and I could see her think about it for a second – and then she turned to look at me instead of volunteering to run over and rearrange the other dog's face! Jackpot! *
At the end of class, Rubi, the class instructor, and I stuck around to tell one of the other handlers about Reactive Rovers. Of course, once the handler left, the instructor and I hung out and talked dog. I mentioned that Rubi's next big goal was to pass the Canine Good Citizen test, but I wasn't 100% sure what our plans were after that.
"Oh," the instructor said, "you two should get therapy dog certified."
Oh, happy moment. I'm not sure if my future plans for B include therapy certification for a variety of reasons. To be honest, I'm having trouble seeing beyond the CGC right now. I'll probably have a crisis of goals if we ever do manage to pass it. But it's awfully nice to know that someone else sees Rubi's inner charms.
* While Rubi is not aggressive, she doesn't tolerate rudeness well. She feels that any dog that is out of line needs to be shown who's really Queen B of the World.