Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summertime Fun

My big goal for Rubi this summer was to get her good dog behaviors more generalized, and boy, have I been sucking at that. None of the dogs are in classes right now, and I'm not teaching, so you'd think I'd using all this spare time to take Rubi out and work on her issues in the real world.

Yeah, not so much. 

I think part of my reluctance to train Rubi stems from frustration. May marked the end of Rubi's first year with us, and I think I was subconsciously telling myself, really? a year? aren't we over this crap yet? I have hereby ordered myself to put on my big girl panties and get over it. I need to train the dog I have, not the dog I wish I had. So far, the tough self-love seems to be working. The last week or two, I've found more time for working with B, and I have more patience when we are together. If only all our obstacles we so easily defeated. 

Not surprisingly, between all the not-training and the not-seeing other dogs, Rubi's behaviors have backslid a bit. One of her big issues right now hearing other dogs. I've been using my old friends counter conditioning and desensitization to help with this. I'm trying to get Rubi out for walks four times a week. I've noticed that the longer the walk, the more B tends to get hyper vigilant. She starts out okay, but by the end of the walk, she's trying to grow eyes in the back of her head so she can see everything all at once. I've drastically reduced the length of our walks to try and limit over-stimulation; we've been averaging about a quarter to half a mile each walk. Each time a dog barks, I mark and reward with her with extra tasty just-for-other-dogs treats (we're using hot dog right now). There's nothing fancy about this technique. Dog bark = food. This method worked really well for some of Maus's issues, so I'm hoping it will work as well with B. She's always been excessively auditorily reactive (she reacts when she hears other dogs - don't worry, I made that term up), but it's been hard to work with at class because there are so many dog things to be reactive at in class. With the relative quiet of the suburbs, we're getting a lot more practice in.

Rubi's other big issue this summer is other dogs on leash (dogs behind fences are okay, go figure). Last summer, Rubi could manage pretty well to a distance of about fifteen yards - that's across the street. Right now, her threshold is right around twenty-five to thirty yards. This is still a huge accomplishment. When I first got her, her threshold was at around 3/4 of a mile for other dogs on leash. So with this issue, I'm confident that we'll actually get somewhere now that I've gotten off my butt. No surprises here with how we've been working this one: see the other dog, click, get a treat. I relaxed my criteria with this one because it's been so long since we've worked on the issue. I'm not asking for autowatches, just for her to look at the other dog. So far, so good. 

Lastly, there is the issue of those damn squirrels. Rubi fervently believes that if she squeals loudly and lunges hard enough, the squirrels will surrender and jump into her mouth to be eaten. Actually, I've come to think that this is the honest belief of most dogs - some are just better at hiding it than others. Anyway, I've been using an old loose-leash walking trick against this particular brain demon. Squirrels are more predictable than other dogs. Seriously - is that dog going to bark at us? stare? lunge? walk by like nothing is happening? Squirrels pretty much always run from the crazy dog. As long as B is stalking them quietly, she might actually catch one. You know, when pigs fly. If Rubi screws up and lunges or otherwise has a freak attack, we turn around and go the other direction - away from what Rubi wants most. Once she gives me eye contact, I mark, and we turn around and walk toward the squirrel again. Rubi can manage about eight feet now, which is about as close as any non-suicidal squirrel is going let her get anyway.

And because I can't think of a better way to end this entry, a lesson in cute: the world makes more sense when you look at it sideways.


  1. I totally understand what you mean. I've had Maisie for two and a half years now, and she is definitely still a work in progress. many days I wonder if I will die trying to make her into the dog I wish she was!

  2. It is ridiculous how similar Skye sounds to Rubi- at least when it comes to her lack of progress and lack of dog etiquette. Unlike you, I have yet to whip myself into shape and stop whimpering like a puppy about it. I'm (moderately) more motivated to establish an actual training plan for her, thanks!