Wednesday, February 15, 2012

If I Had to Do It All Over Again . . .

Last week, I was asked to go out and see one of the dogs currently in an ARLP foster home. "You'll love her," Rachel told me. "She's just like Rubi." Rachel actually said this as if it were a good thing. I contacted the foster family (Hi! Jess and Dan), and they told me that they'd read the blog and agree with Rachel - this girl is just like Rubi. I spent the week racking my brain, trying to decide where I would begin if I had to start training Rubi all over again. Then, we settled on a day, and I went out to meet the little clone.

Everyone, meet Tulip:

And I have great news: Tulip is not Rubi.

Thank God.

Rubi, for all her strength and vivaciousness and passion, has not been an easy dog. We've come a long way - compared to where we were. Compared to other, average, "normal" dogs, we're still pretty F'd up. I wouldn't wish Rubi on anyone, let alone such an awesome foster family.

I was pretty relieved to see how different Rubi and Tulip are. This is silly because all dogs are different, let alone reactive dogs. While Rubi and Tulip are the same breed, size, energy level, and general temperament, there are subtle but important differences between the two. For one, Tulip is maybe two years old. This means she's had a lot less time to practice her bad behaviors. In theory - and so far, in reality - this should make it easier to teach her alternate ways of behaving (hold on while I go find some wood to knock on).

Thus far, Tulip issues seem primarily related to her low frustration tolerance, with a little lack of exposure, insecurity, and under-exercise thrown in for color (the two week shut-down is not kind to dogs who need a lot of physical exercise, plus Tulip just got spayed). In comparison, Rubi's issues are mostly improper/lack of socialization, plus a whole bunch of other crap that would depress me just to list. The result is that, at first glance, these girls look an awful lot the same.

For instance, both turn into wailing, screaming, flailing banshees when they go over threshold. But Tulip has a threshold, a point at which she can be in the presence of other dogs and not flip out. When I got her, Rubi did not. Tulip is also much faster to try new behaviors in order to get what she wants, whereas that is something I spent a looong time conditioning in Rubi. Tulip also seems to lack the poor dog-dog socialization that Rubi and I have spent so many hours trying to overcome. Tulip's canine body language is pretty good, and she can use and respond to subtle calming signals with other dogs - a skill that will definitely come in handy as we start to wok her more out in the community.

Rubi and Tulip do share one pretty big issue: a low tolerance for frustration. When they're not sure how something is suppose to work, they get upset. When they get upset, they throw tantrums. For Tulip, this shows up not only in the presence of other dogs, but also in crate training and during meal times. A big part of helping Tulip to deal with her frustration will be to teach her alternate behaviors. Screaming and flailing is not going to get your food bowl on the floor any faster. Sitting quietly and politely will. It'll be a longish, hardish process, but Tulip's a smart cookie and her foster parents are intelligent, dedicated (awesome, supercool, friendly, loving, patient) people, so I'm sure we'll get there.

The other part of increasing Tulip's frustration tolerance will be impulse control, impulse control, and then a little impulse control. Poor frustration tolerance and lack of impulse control is a very common problem in most terrier breeds. Historically, terriers (the name of which comes from the latin word terra, meaning "earth") were created to chase other animals - often bigger animals - underground and then contain their prey until the dogs' handlers could dig them out or the terrier killed the other animal. Can you see where making quick decisions was important in this line of work? Having second thoughts, a reluctance to "go to ground," could mean that a dog was removed from the gene pool, either by the people who owned them or the game animal that sensed weakness in its hunter. So poor impulse control was bred into the terrier breeds - great for hunting, less awesome in the middle of the city.

That said, Tulip actually has pretty good impulse control. With only a few days work, she can already hold a stay while a high level distraction flaunts his kitty butt passed her. It seems that Tulip issue is less that she can't control herself and more that no one's ever asked her to control herself. Either that, or she's a lot smarter than I give her credit for.

Add in some manners practice, structured exercise, counter conditioning, and desensitization, and Tulip should be all polished up for adoption. Now let me just go find that piece of wood to knock on - the dogs do so love making me eat my
words . . .

And just in case you were wondering, if I had to do it all over again with Rubi - I totally would. In a heartbeat. I love the hell out of my big blonde bitch.

Hint: all the good picture on the blog were by Paige Reyes.

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