Monday, September 24, 2012

When Things Go Wrong

Jai's encounter with off leash dogs didn't go as well as Rubi's. In fact, we haven't had a good time outside the house in about two weeks. (Just in case anyone was wondering, it is not Off Leash Dog Month. It is just September). But even before this month happened, we had sort of plateaued anyway, so we're probably over due for a ruthless examination of our training plan.

I did switch Rubi out for Jai in their Growl class, and I'm really glad I did. It's been fantastic having another set of educated eyes looking at my dog. Having someone see him from another angle has been invaluable.

Because from this angle, I tend to get distracted by all the sexy.

One of the things we picked up on is that Jai's real problem isn't other dogs. Other dogs are just what tip him over the edge. Jai's major issue is actually agoraphobia - a fear of new places. It's not even neophobia (the fear of new things, like Maus has). New objects are inspected with confidence and curiosity. But any new place is subject to suspicion because zombies could jump out of anywhere and eat us. After about forty-five minutes in a new place, it's like someone flicks a switch and suddenly Jai is ready to get down to work. And he is a beautiful worker, capable of doing all the exercises he does at home with precision and accuracy. But until he decides he's safe, he needs to obsessively watch everything around him, and trying to refocus him only makes him anxious.

Jai also has a lot of trouble with sudden environmental changes. Not objects, objects are fine. But people and dogs coming into a room once he's there require careful observation for sign of zombism (spell check says that's not a word, but whatever, I can make up words if I feel like it). Jai does much better coming into a room full of dogs than he does if he's already in a room and other students come in. As an observer, this is fascinating behavior. As a trainer, it poses some unique challenges. And as an owner, it makes me hurt for my dog's brain.

I can help Jai. Exposure therapy is already working for him. Taking him to new, safe places, and letting him watch his environment until he realizes that he's safe. But I can't control other people. I hate it, but it's true, and it means that the off-leash dogs aren't going away. Still, I can't think of many other ways to help Jai's agoraphobia then to take him places. And the places I can take a great, big dog are places where other dogs are. Rock, meet hard place. Of course, I'm too Irish to give up without a fight.

I train Jai roughly every other day. What I mean by that is every other day, I sit down or go out with him and we learn stuff together.  I taught him to lay under the table. Shake and wave. Roll over. Heel. Silly things, mostly, that serve no other purpose than to reinforce our relationship and entertain each other. So instead of doing this at home, we're going to go to our park. The one I take Rubi to that's a block away from our house. We're going to do our little fifteen minute training sessions there because there are rarely off-leash dogs there, and even if there are, that's where the hockey rink is.

And God help the "owner" whose off-leash dog harrasses us in our park because after heaving that seventy pound dog into the hockey rink, because that's a lot of work, and I'm going to be hungry, and I'm going to hunt that person down and eat them for dinner. 

Jai's new zombie-hunting collar.
Poor dog doesn't know about his owner's cannibalistic tenancies. 

I've put a lot of thought into where best to take Jai for classes. I really don't feel that he needs another Growl class, but the quiet and calm of such classes suit him. I've decided that we should look into nose work classes. The sport was originally developed with reactive dogs in mind, and most classes are still organized around the idea that their student are not going to be 100% okay with other dogs. For Jai, this means a quiet, calm class that will encourage him to check the environment out - just what (I think) he needs.

And so progress is made! One baby step at a time . . .


  1. Hella-to-the-yeahhhh on nose work!

    Seriously. Do. Nose. Work.

    It's been simply amazing for Tesla. We've been able to take nose work "on the road"... allowing him to safely explore new areas. This summer, we joined a class that had a big, unfamiliar man come into the room during Tesla's first search. Someone he had never met before. In the past, this encounter would have tossed him over threshold. He lifted his nose to acknowledge the stranger and went right back to work. Nose work has been a critical step on the path that is leading to Tesla 2.0.

    I think we all had an awesome take-away from the last growl class. I already knew that he was hypersensitive to changes in environment (as evidenced last year in a Tracy Sklenar seminar). But I didn't realize how aroused he got simply by hearing other dogs whine/whimper. Wowzaaa.

  2. Where did you purchase this collar?!

    1. The top one is from Ella's Lead and the zombie collar is from Collarmania.