Monday, January 30, 2012

Here's the Thing . . .

As of today, Jai's past does not matter. I can't undo what was done to him. There's no way for me to find the people in his previous life, and even if I could, there's no way for me to prove what happened. I can't prosecute on a hunch. After all, Jai could just be under socialized and genetically . . . afraid of the word "no" . . . ?

Anyway, whatever did or did not happen is over and out of my control. More importantly, it has no effect on my training plan. Jai is who he is, and it's up to me to prepare him for the rest of his life. The question isn't "What happened?" The question is "Where do we go from here?" Working with Jai is different than working with Mikey is different than working with Rubi. Each individual dog gets a unique training plan based on what issues need addressing at the moment.

Jai's training plan starts with relationship. At the risk of beating that dead horse, I'm going to say it again: relationship is important. It is the most important. All hail the power of relationship. Jai needs to be able to trust someone, and it looks like I'm it. A common mistake people make with shy or abused dogs is to spoil and coddle them. Jai doesn't need spoiling, although he will certainly get a fair amount of it. He needs structure and fairness; he needs a world that makes sense to him. This doesn't mean being allowed to do what ever he wants. It means knowing that there's a logical way to influence his environment. And that way is through me.

The next part of Jai's training plan will be confidence building. Each adult dog that comes into my house goes through a "two week shut-down." At first, he's not allowed any contact with the other dogs. This gives the people in the house a chance to start a relationship with him before he gets a chance to fall in love with Rubi. Dogs, for the most part, bond more easily with their own species than with humans. The shut-down gives us a chance to slowly introduce everyone. I've heard that my horde can be a bit over whelming (go figure). I found that by letting everyone get used to smelling, hearing, and then seeing, and then hanging out, and then playing, our lives go more smoothly in the long run. If a stranger suddenly appeared in your house and your significant other said, "hi, get over it" how well would you handle it?

Another part of confidence building will be training - a lot of it. Jai is immensely eager to do the right thing, and as a result, training has been going well. I like to use a lot of shaping with shy/nervous dogs. When Allister and I get going, we can hit forty clicks in a minute - that's forty times in one minute that I've told him that he's done something right. Jai is quite a bit slower, but he doesn't seem to have been worked with at all and is happy to offer me behaviors. So far, I've shaped "sit," "touch" (right and left hand), "jump into the tub," and we're working "mat." We're averaging about ten to twenty clicks in a minute. Can you see why this is ego boosting? When's the last time that someone told you that you'd made a good choice twenty times in one minute? If that doesn't make me a fun person for Jai to hang out with . . .

Once we've got our relationship and some training under our belts, we'll be working on socialization. I'm starting to believe that socialization is one of the trickier skills used by the general training community. Socialization has come to mean "expose your dogs to as many new things as possible." It's a big, scary world, full of confusing, scary things. Pushing the dog out into this world with the advice "deal with it" is not only a good way to screw up the relationship, it's also a good way to screw up a dog's brain. So Jai and I will be doing structured socialization. He's going to meet lots of new people - but I'm not going to force him to interact with anyone he doesn't want to. If I don't think a person can treat Jai with the gentleness and respect he deserves, then I'm not going to allow that person to interact with him. Socialization is not novelty for the sake of novelty; it is exposure with security.

Of course, mice and men both know that plans change. I have an idea of what needs to be done, but we'll be flexible as well. The important part is to prepare Jai as best as possible for his new home. We can't get hung up on the past or the details or what might happen. As Jodi Hills said:

"What if it doesn't happen?" People are so quick, almost eager, to prepare you for the worst. If I give you nothing else, I'll try to prepare you for the BEST, and maybe, just maybe you'll believe it's OK to hope for it, work for it, wait for it, and embrace it when it comes . . . I'll be the one saying to you, and myself, "The BEST could happen . . . and what if it does? WHAT IF IT DOES!"

1 comment:

  1. We can spend a lot of time getting wrapped up in our dogs stories. I know this first hand with a "formally" abused dog. At the end of the day, I wish he didn't have those experiences, but it doesn't define him. It doesn't give him a free pass when he's being pushy or cute. Seeing where your dog is in the present will only help to define the future... And that is the best gift we can give to our dogs.