Monday, February 14, 2011
Baby, It's Cold Outside
For those who might not know, it is really hard to work with a reactive dog when it's cold enough outside to freeze the spots off your leopard print. Needless to say, Rubi and I haven't been hitting our goal of training outside the house three times a week – a goal I made when it was considerably warmer outside. I've discovered that we need to get out at least once a week or our training starts to deteriorate. We've been managing twice a week, one day being class, of course. The other day, we get creative.
When trying to generalize behaviors, I routinely tell my students to practice in their front yard or driveway. It's convenient, and yet it's not a place we tend to spend a lot of time in. The driveway is a place we pass through on our way to somewhere else: familiar to a dog but not ordinary. Obviously, the driveway becomes a much less desirable place to train when it resembles the frozen tundra (only colder), so Rubi and I practice in the next best HEATED area.
We hang out in the car.
I think vehicle manners often get overlooked. It's hard to train a dog and drive at the same time, but it's pretty easy to manage car behaviors. When I first got Rubi, she went into the crate, I threw a sheet over it so she couldn't see anything to react at, and away we went. However, with a shortage of heated places to train, the car has become a regular haven. We started out practicing relaxation exercises in thecar in the driveway. Sit, down, and stand can all be comfortably done in the passenger seat. So can touch, shake (right and left), zen doggie, and several of the impulse control exercises like treats on the paws and the name game. Once we mastered these things while sitting in the driveway, we moved into store parking lots. We practiced at the bank, at the grocery store, at Target, and once while getting the oil changed. Basically, if I'm running errands, I pop Rubi in the car and we take a few extra minutes to train everywhere we stop. We can also practice auto watches on the people and occasional dog that passes through our area. Now, we can even do auto watches while drive passed other dogs: Rubi sees the dog, looks at me, I mark her with a word and pass her a treat.* Just like in class!
Now that the weather is turning toward thoughts of spring, literally everyone and their dog seems to be out enjoying the warmth (welcome to the Minnesota heat wave – a whole 38 degrees above zero!). This gives us a plethora of practice with dog-dog interactions, but it limits the amount of off-site non-dog training we can do. I feel that non-dog training is as important as the reactivity rehab. We need time to work with each other without the added stress and seriousness of being around other dogs. I've had the pleasure of using TCOTC a few times when it was empty – one of the perks of being an assistant – but since I have trouble convincing myself to get up before the butt crack of dawn to train my dogs on the other side of town, I've been rather inconsistent with using the club during off hours.
Yesterday, I did what was convenient for me. I took Rubi with me to the library to drop off books, and we spent some quality time in the parking lot practicing obedience. It was nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs a bit, plus the multitude of people going in and out of the building was a great distraction. Not as intense as other dogs in a new area, but super interesting to Rubi (and in a few cases, pretty distracting to me as well). Perfect! We did heel work, stays, sits, downs, stands, and touches - basically, nothing too difficult as this was a new place to work in. In addition the easy stuff, we practiced watching people the same way we practice watching other dogs: look at the person, look at me, mark, get a treat. This is much easier for B than watching dogs in a new place, so she did great. All in all, an awesome training session on a beautiful day.
What more could you ask for?
* Please note, Rubi is ALWAYS properly secured while I am driving. She's doing really well with car manners, but I'm not willing to bet both our lives on it.