Thursday, February 24, 2011

Good Bad Days

Sometimes, it's good to have a bad day. It keeps me from getting complacent.

Rubi apparently used up all her good behavior at the CGC test and had none left for class last night. Right away I knew something was up because Rubi was taking treats a little harder than usual. A hard mouth is one of her more subtle cues that her head isn't screwed on quite as tight as it needs to be. She was also really hyperactive; not really reactive, but like those little kids you see playing and think, "oi, they make me feel old just looking at them." On the other hand, Rubi is usually a little wound up at the beginning of class, and we can normally work through it in a few minutes. So we started with a little relaxation protocol, and then moved on to warm up heeling with the rest of the class. This is about the time I started wondering if my husband slipped B some expresso before class as revenge for making him clean out the basement. Heeling went something like this:

Me: Rubi, heel.

Rubi: Heel? Oh, I know that one, did you know I can heel at eye level? *leap in heel position, leap in heel position, leap in heel position* Hey! A ring mat! Oh, look other dogs – what are we doing? Right heel, I know that one! *boing, boing, boing* OMG, LOOK! LINT!!!!!!

Me: *face palm*

The class then left the ring to go practice stays in the lobby. At this point, I think you can imagine how that went. We lasted about two minutes, around five seconds of which Rubi actually spent in stay position. I decided to go back into the ring for some alone time with the mat before B could do something to really embarrass me.

Back in the ring, we did another cycle of the relaxation protocol, and that did seem to help her take it down a notch. I still wasn't thrilled with the idea of actually moving with her, so once we finished that, we moved on to some of the impulse control exercises. We did some Zen doggie, and then my favorite torture trick, treats on the paws.

Somewhere between the relaxation protocol and the impulse control, I figured out part of what had B so worked up. Last night was the first night the Really Reliable Recall (RRR) class was in the ring next to us. I've never taken RRR (although I sometimes fantasize about taking it with B), but it seems to be a lot of running across the ring screaming with dogs bark for extra emphasis. Good fun if you're in the class, less fun if you have the reactive pit bull a plastic barrier away.

I've mentioned before about how B seems to have issues with hearing other dogs. I don't think this is a new problem. More likely, it's something that's always been there, and I'm picking up on it now that her other issues are becoming more manageable. Kind of like you might not notice you have a headache if you just broke your arm; but once your arm starts to heal, your head starts to really bug you. So I increased my rate of reinforcement (aka, gave B more treats) for whatever we were doing when dogs were running in the next ring, and it didn't take long before B began to settle down a bit. Not fantastically calm, mind you, but workable.

After stays, the rest of the class had gone into the meeting room to practice . . . well, I forgot because I wasn't there, but they went somewhere I couldn't see them to rejoin them, so B and I worked on a new version of "leave it." B does pretty well at ignoring treats when I ask her to as evidenced by her fluency with zen doggie and treats on the paws, so I changed the rules a little. I had Rubi sit next to me, and then I threw a treat on the ground a few feet away. I didn't let her go get the treat, and when she looked back at me to see what the deal was, I marked and rewarded her from my hand. Then I threw another treat, and she looked back to me a little faster, because she's not entirely stupid. Pretty soon, she was barely glancing at the treat when I threw it, so I started throwing it closer to her. By the time the rest of the class rejoined us in the ring, I was actually throwing the treats at Rubi, and she was ignoring them.

Tell you what, start throwing treats at your dog, and they really start to think you're more interesting than floor lint. Apparently, you don't even have to let them eat the treats.

After that little victory, Rubi and I managed to get through the rest of class without too much trouble. I didn't push her – we definitely didn't do any of the more difficult exercises like heeling off leash, but we were able to do sit stays right next to the RRR ring. I kept increasing my rate of reinforcement when the other dogs were running, and I did that throughout the night.

We hung out in the lobby after class and watched the other dogs leave, and by then B was about back to normal. She even managed not to scare the ever-livin' daylights (ie, lunge) out of the little dust mop whose owner let wander into our bubble (hallelujah!). But the brightest silver lining of the night came when we were leaving and ran into another dog on the path to the parking lot. The path is about four feet wide and has high snow banks on either side, so there's not really any room to retreat. B was able to hold it together while a large, black dog passed next to us on the path. Admittedly, she wasn't happy about it, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted to do it off-leash, but we managed the whole thing with only a touch of whining – a big accomplishment for my little reactive rover.

So overall, a good bad day.


  1. Hi Rubi,

    It was nice meeting you last night and reading about you today. Feel free to check me out sometime.