Over the past few months, I've tried many new things to get an edge up on B's reactivity:
Play dates: Rubi's had several play dates over the summer, plus had our return to fostering, and all of these have been more or less successful. They weren't always pretty, but there wasn't any blood shed. We also haven't had to crate and rotate anyone on a regular basis. Everyone, for the most part, gets along. When i was very young, a dog trainer gave me an extremely valuable piece of information: when you have more than one dog, always expect that sometimes there will be fights. As a result, the Voice of Reason and I are vigilant with our prevention, but we also don't freak out at the occasional scuffle. Dogs are dogs, and their teeth are a valuable communication tool. Suddenly, this seems like a good subject for a later post, so I'll stop.
As a result of our play dates - including the occasional disagreement - B's canine social skills have grown immensely. B and I have this much in common: neither of us is a native speaker of the canine language. My first language is English, and B seems fluent in crazy. As a result of her many new friends, B is able to much understand what other dogs are telling her. Perhaps the biggest area where this is evident is with calming signals. B is now usually able to understand the difference between "IT'S ON!" and "please don't hate me." This is evident in how she handles strange dogs. Her thresholds are much closer for non threatening dogs, and she tends to freak out more easily with more aroused dogs. Trust me, this is an improvement. She's no longer freaking out at all dogs.
Dismissed: I vote in favor of the dismissal cue. The trouble for me is that it's counter-intuitive. The dog is up, happy, work with you, and you dismiss. Traditionally, that's when I want to keep working and keep rewarding. After starting to use the dismissal cue, I have noticed an increase in B's attention span and willingness to work. It also gives me a handy way to tell her that I'm not going to be rewarding her anymore, so she just as well not waste her time staring at me. It's like a "stop begging" cue - very nice.
Tethering: Meh. Rubi is a fairly easy dog to live with. She doesn’t have generalized anxiety like Maus. She’s pretty much only difficult when there are other dogs or squirrels. She doesn’t pace around the house, scream incessantly, or seem worried or upset on a day-to-day basis. She doesn’t even really follow us around the house, not if there’s something even remotely more interesting to do. She’s pretty content to just chill and let life go on around her. The only thing that tethering changed was that she can go over to the window to when she thinks she hears other dogs go by. Dogs pass our house maybe three to five times per day, and B doesn’t always hear them. When she does, we’ve got a routine: she goes to the window, sees them, and then comes back to me for instruction. It works well, so I’ve decided to stop the tethering.
No Freeloaders: This works for B. I know this works for B. I apparently just need to remember to do it when it’s so much easier to be lazy. Since tightening up our NILIF program, B seems happier in general. I think this is because she actually gets more attention (at least, it feels like I’m giving her more attention – more likely, I’m just noticing how much attention I do give her). She also has more control over her environment. Want piece of celery? Lay down outside the kitchen. What to go outside? Sit by the door. Want on the couch? Lay down and sigh dramatically. Rubi doesn’t have to try and figure out how to get what she wants; I’m telling her what she needs to do. It’s clearer communication, so she’s listening more closely to what I have to say. We’re finally back to where we should be with her reactive dog rehab.
Something New: On our list of new activities we’re trying, I’ve stopped using the Gentle Leader on walks. This is less impressive than it sound, since I don’t actually use it for training. The GL is there because it gives me physical control over her when I need it. I use it primarily because I only have the one good arm. Earlier this summer when my wrist was particularly bad, I started walking B on a leash attached to my wait so I wouldn’t need to use my arm at all. I have control over her with or without the GL. The GL now just allows my to be lazy about loose leash walking.
Now she will walk nicely on a collar like all the other dogs. Laziness be gone! Rubi's never been particularly bad on leash, but not letting her pull should reinforce her impulse control. We need all the help we can get with B's impulse control.
Finally, I have some picture proof of how dangerous pit bulls are:
This is what happened on Wednesday when Rubi and Mikey collided at full speed. There was much blood. It was very impressive. I think B may have gotten a new face scar out of it, particularly consider how many times in a single day she's run into something and opened it up again (she has happy head?). Oh well. Of the many words I've used to describe Rubi, I don't think 'pretty" has ever been one of them.