Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Putting Humpty Dumpty Together Again

When I first got Rubi, I'm was pretty torn about how to handle the few days after a meltdown. On one hand, I know that nasty stress hormones stay in a dog's body for around three days. This often manifests in a lowering of thresholds and increased hyper vigilance. On the other hand, Rubi does not handle "having time to think" very well. Keeping her away from other dogs invariable creates more problems for us down the road. Desensitization has been a huge part of Rubi's training - dogs just aren't as interesting when she sees them all the time.

Through trial and error (and some more error), we've got recovery down to a science. I do keep Rubi away from strange dogs for a while, thereby allowing her stress hormone levels to decrease again. But I don't let her stew. We took this opportunity (isn't it great when you can think of being attacked by another dog as an "opportunity"?) to go back and do some more thorough desensitization of a few variables. I was throwing new stuff at Rubi pretty quickly, and new variables always have the potential to change behavior. As the old idiom goes, dogs don't generalize well. For Rubi, I added "walking with another dog (Piper)" pretty quickly after "wearing a backpack." While Rubi has been handling both pretty well, since we're not doing anything else . . .

To get her more acclimated to the backpack, Rubi get to wear it every time we left the house. She loves going adventuring, so this was a sure-fire way to create a positive association in her head between the backpack and good things. Rubi's car manners have remained excellent ever since we worked on them almost exclusively two winters ago, and most of my day-to-day errands don't involve going to places frequented by dogs.

"OMG, lady! Why are you so slow? Let's go!"

We also did a few days of front yard obedience. Working in the front yard is a nice balance between new places where dogs might appear out of anywhere and places that are really familiar to Rubi such as the house or the back yard. This time around, we discovered a new advantage to working in the front yard: with the arrival of warmed weather, everyone has let their dogs outside, and there are dogs barking freaking everywhere. Rubi and I got some solid work in counter conditioning (dog bark = cookie) her to the sound of dogs barking, and she's now the best she's every been. She can actually ignore other dogs barking!


I addition to the individual training, I also volunteered to pup-sit for a few days. Ducati is a teenager, and developmentally, he's about where Mikey was: rude with a side of dumb boy. Rubi has come a long way in the short time since Mikey was here. Watching her play with Jai is gorgeous. She picks up signals and gives them back appropriately, can initial a break when she needs to calm herself, role trades and rough houses with the best of them. She no longer looks like the awkward bully on the playground. Watching her play with Jai is like watching a comfortable conversation between old friends. I honestly never thought she'd come this far.

This is what beautiful looks like. 

As if being able to watch Rubi play like a normal dog weren't enough of a gift, she's taken it farther than I could have ever hoped. With Ducati, not only is she able to give and receive signals and respond appropriately, she's also gained the ability to give a proper correction. She no longer feels the need to bite when a simple snark will do. And when she's in over her head, she's happy to come back and let me sort it out. There are not words for how proud I am of her. 

"I am Queen B the Awesome, and these are my minions, Thing One and Thing Two. 
And also my court jester. 
You may now worship me. "


  1. Beautiful photos! I especially love your caption on the last one!



  2. You have definitely found at least ONE of your callings in dog training and rehabilitation, Laura! Your dogs are so LUCKY to have you as their owner! - I love reading your Ruby blog,and I ALWAYS learn something or two :)
    Cindy & Cosi

  3. It's so great to read about all of her progress!