Thursday, February 21, 2013

Almost a Real Dog

It’s not hard for me to remember how far Rubi and I have come, and I constantly find myself underestimating her ability to keep it together. There’s just something about Rubi that screams, “Get your wild and crazy right here, w00t!!!!” I have the opposite problem with Jai; I’m constantly forgetting that he has special needs and hasn’t lived with me forever.

For those of you who don’t remember where we started, Jai is my dog with no past. He came from SPAC, an area of town notorious for breeding some pretty “special” pit bulls, both physically and mentally speaking. Physically speaking, Jai’s doing pretty well. He’s a little straight in the back end, conformationally speaking, but not nearly as over done as a lot of the pit bulls these days. At sixty-two pounds, he probably doesn’t even deserve to be referred to as my “ghetto bull.”

Of course, that’s not going to spot me from telling people that’s his breed.

Behaviorally, Jai’s got troubles. Not to put to fine a point on it, but I’m pretty sure someone beat the hell out of him in his past life. He’s afraid of tall, thin men with glasses and dark hair – an extraordinarily narrow profile that doesn’t quit fit with the typical under socialization phobia patterns. When I got him, Jai would pancake to the floor when ever anyone would walk into a room he was in, or if they touch him and he wasn’t expecting it, or if they used the word “no,” even in general conversation.

So you can imagine how last year’s visit was utterly nerve wracking. Jai has some fascinating body language. Any time he feels the slightest amount of stress, his tail goes utterly limp. He also freezes very low on his threshold scale – typically, freezing is something that occurs right before a bite. At this point, I know that Jai would rather chew his own leg off than bite someone, but this is knowledge that came with time, and I don’t blame the staff at that first vet visit for wanting to muzzle him. He was a pretty scary looking dog, even if - looking back - I now know he didn’t mean anything by it.

What a difference a year makes, though! Jai is a health young man, so this month was our first vet visit since seeing the rescue’s vet last month. Both vet appointments took place in novel environments with complete strangers. My vet is a tall, slim man who occasionally wears glasses. Jai thought Dr. Jim was awesome and possibly made of sausages. He climbed right up in Dr. Jim’s lap, tail wagging, and licked him like a meat-flavored lollipop. The only uncomfortable part of the exam was having light shined in his eyes, and even then, he forgave quickly with the thoughtful application of peanut butter and lamb lung. I don’t think Jai even noticed his vaccinations or blood draw.

The icing on the vet visit was when we were in the lobby paying for the appointment. I had Jai sitting next to me, and another dog came in. Off leash. Because it’s totally normal to take your off leash dog to the vet or something. The dog, an elderly black guy, came within about four feet of Jai before being intercepted by the staff and ushered into a waiting room. Jai, for his part, willing stayed next to me and didn’t break his sit even once. Of course, the liberal application of peanut butter probably helped the situation, but I’m certainly not going to complain.

You see, while Jai can be reactive toward other dogs, the larger issue for him is sudden environmental changes. Even six months ago, during our Growl Class with Pawsabilities, Jai could freeze and disconnect for upwards of ninety seconds after a flock of birds would fly overhead. Any attempt to reorient him only caused him to get lost longer the next time, and it would take a minimum of forty five minutes for him to adjust to any new environment – a length of time that did not seem to reduce no matter how many times we had been to that place. People or dogs coming in to a new environment would make his poor brains melt.

I think the biggest factor in Jai’s progress toward becoming a normal, non-reactive, non-brain-melty dog has been careful remedial socialization and desensitization. We’ve gone to many new places in the past year, and I always try to ensure that the environment in one where Jai can succeed. I push, but I don’t push hard, and if when I screw up, I try not to make my dog suffer for my pride. In order for new places to be less shocking to Jai, I not only need to expose him to new places, I need to expose him to new places in a way that he enjoys. So, lots of trips to the pet store during quiet hours, training classes for special needs dogs, letting him get used to places and people at his own pace, and – of course – the liberal application of peanut butter – have helped him get to where he is today.

Two weeks ago, Jai went with me to the orientation session for Rott ‘n’ Pit Ed’s winter session. The first day of class is no dogs - so, of course, there was three other dogs there, as well as about thirty students all ready to get their learn on. And Jai was all, "What evs, I got my mat, we're cool." He did flinch when the instructor screamed "NO!!!" (as an example of what not to do to your dog), but he recovered within seconds. After class, he spent sometime flirting with the people who pointed him out to ARLP when he was at St Paul Animal Control. They were envious of how awesome he is, which is just as it should be.

"I know they all came to see me, so I'd better pretend to be as normal as possible. "
After two hours at the orientation and two hours in the car, Jai came back out to play Cyber Rally with me. It was just me and him in the building when our friend Tania came in. Jai looked at her for a few seconds, and then looked back to me. I gave him a cookie and told him to go say hi. Jai chose to stay with me instead which is ridiculous because if someone told me to go say hi to Tania, I'd be all over that because Tania is fantastic and possibly made of bacon. Did I mention Jai was off leash? And he thought I was more interesting than Tania? And he'd been doing stuff all day and was probably tired and therefore less able to control himself? 

Jai also started normal classes this week as well. We tried normal classes once, back in April of 2012. It was a disaster. Now, it ain't no big thang. Where it used to take at least forty-five minutes to settle into a new environment, it now takes less than five. At our most recent class, Jai was a little more distractable than normal, but, well, it certainly wasn't anything to be ashamed of.

Cookies in front, dogs behind, eyes on me, and ears up. 

Behaviorally speaking, Jai is a much different dog than he was a year ago. And I haven’t really done anything to force him to change. I have not discouraged his zombie watching, or required him to keep up with me on walks, or insisted that he be with me at all. I simply put him in situations where he could succeed, and then allowed him to set his own pace for recovery. This method required me to be more patient that with Rubi or Maus as I wasn’t trying to influence the choices Jai was making – I knew, unlike with Maus and Rubi, that given the appropriate set-up, Jai would come to the socially acceptable behavior on his own, and all I had to do was mark and reward it when it happened. (Can you imagine the screaming that would be involved if I just waited around for Rubi to make a choice I approved of? Eesh!) Jai’s training has been, without a doubt, the laziest behavior training I’ve ever done.

Not that I’m complaining.

1 comment:

  1. Way to go Jai! What type of harness is he wearing in the last photo? Is it a no pull harness?