A leash reactivity epiphany

So. I feel like a terrible dog guardian. But I also feel kind of hopeful about this discovery, even though it rankles the feminist in me.

Context: Kari recently got to meet Ian Dunbar (jealous! But thanks for the tip that he’ll be in Fredericksburg in May!), and he apparently said that men are better at walking reactive dogs than women, because men just “don’t give a shit” about what people think of them. Reading this made me feel some womanly outrage and immediately jump to counterpoints. Men also care what people think of them! Women aren’t the only ones. And surely this is a crass generalization about the sexes.

But on a recent family walk, I wanted to put Dunbar’s theory to the test.

#vscocam queen of all she surveys
Obviously not on a walk, but I don’t have another illustration of Pyr at the moment, so you’ll just have to imagine her, walking, not reacting.

I’m always the one who walks Pyrrha, because she’s so bonded to me, and Guion always walks Eden. As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes get jealous of them, because they get to be the “friendly, normal” pair who gets to walk in front of us and have happy interactions with strangers and/or their dogs.

This time around, I told Guion to walk Pyrrha, and I took Eden. It was a warm, sunny evening, and so there were tons of people out on our walk, with their dogs and children. Trial by fire, husband! I gave him the bait bag and wished him luck.

We passed six or seven dogs on leash. And we walked by the House with the Scary Dogs, where Pyrrha always loses her shit, like gets all paws off the ground with fear and fear-aggressive displays. The Scary Dogs were throwing themselves at the fence toward her.

Guys. Pyrrha had NO REACTION to any of this. Like, none.

She was still a little tense, but she never made eye contact with the dogs (either the leashed ones or the Scary ones), and she was taking treats from Guion the whole time. No barking, no lunging, no growling. Calm, contained walking.

Why did this happen? I’ve been asking myself this question since, and we’ve taken other walks where the same thing happens (Guion walks Pyrrha; no outbursts at all).

My basic theory is that Guion is just a calmer person than I am. I’ve mentioned before that I think my nervousness just amps up Pyrrha’s anxiety on walks. Guion doesn’t worry about anything, ever, and I think Pyrrha was picking up on his projected confidence. I have tried to work on this, and I try to put myself in a calm, confident mindset whenever I take Pyrrha on a walk, but clearly, some of my anxious self is still seeping through.

So, Dunbar’s theory has held true in this case. But my response to Dunbar would be that if men “don’t give a shit,” it’s because they’ve been cultured by our society to believe that “giving a shit” about their dog would come off as fussy, feminine, and silly. It’s NOT because having a penis makes you an inherently better dog walker. Women “give a shit” because culture allows us to be worrisome, apologetic creatures. And, for better or worse, both approaches rub off on our dogs.

At the end of the day, though, all I care about is that Pyrrha isn’t reacting in fear on walks. That is HUGE. Huge, you have no idea. Guion is still going to practice our classical conditioning protocol with her, but for now, he’s Pyrrha’s walker, and I’m Eden’s. It’ll be so interesting to see how this develops, but I have hope — even if it’s tempered by some of my feminist anxiety.

Walk with these 3 crazies. Sweet shades, @jfarkle.
Men! Walking dogs! My dad and Guion.

What do you think about all of this? Are men better at walking reactive dogs than women? If you have a leash-reactive dog, have you ever tested this theory?

Sunday walk by the river: Reactive vs. confident

We had lovely, unseasonably warm weather this past weekend, which was very welcome. The dogs got a ton of exercise, and they were very calm and content. They seem to enjoy each other’s company more when they get lots of exercise; both of them were getting along beautifully, initiating play sessions appropriately, with no disagreements to be had.

Babies on front porch after #dailywalk. #germanshepherds

On Sunday, we took them on a long walk by the river near our house. As I’ve mentioned before, on the busy stretches of the trail, our strategy is to have Guion walk Eden in front, and I walk Pyrrha behind, working on our classical conditioning protocol the whole time. Because of this, I get to enjoy the walks less, because I’m constantly on high alert for her two triggers (other dogs and small children), but I think it’s been a good strategy.

River walk
Eden and Guion, trailblazing.

There were LOTS of dogs out on Sunday, as I expected, and Pyrrha did pretty well, all things considered. She only had one outburst, when two women with four dogs came close to us and let all the dogs stop and stare at Pyrrha, and I had nowhere to turn (except into the river!). (The dogs were friendly, but Pyrrha just can’t handle the proximity.)

I’ve been taking the clicker with me when I’m working with her on walks, and I think this has been helpful in signaling to people that I don’t want them and their dog to approach us. I hear people say, “Oh, she’s working with that dog,” and then they keep moving. Sometimes, when we stop to let dogs pass, some people seem to assume that we’re waiting for them and their dog to come greet us. The clicker seems to be helpful in communicating that this is not the case, and that we are training here.

River walk

Pyrrha’s anxiety lessened as the walk went on, too, which I was glad to note. Even though we kept passing dogs, near the end of our long walk, she was far more relaxed about them passing and was accepting treats a lot more gently and readily.

River walk

Eden continues to be unfazed by everything! She met kids, a man in a wheelchair, other dogs, and other people on the walk. I’m thankful for the abundance of good experiences she’s had so far, as they continue to increase her confidence and her already firmly held belief that the world is FUN and AWESOME and EXCITING.

I confess that I sometimes get jealous of these two, Guion and Eden, who get to lead the way and have happy interactions with people and dogs. I get stuck behind with Pyrrha, trying desperately to keep her from reacting. And if she does react in fear, she just looks like “another aggressive German shepherd.” Sometimes I want to wear a signboard on walks that says, in big letters, “SHE’S JUST SCARED; SHE ISN’T A KILLER.”

The confident, stable family members at the river. #rivannatrail #ediebaby

I try to look on the bright side. At least she’s not reactive to adults or teenagers. Pyrrha loves being outside and taking walks. And she actually loves other dogs — just not when everyone is leashed. And at least we have one shepherd who can be our breed ambassador, the friendly, goofy baby who loves everyone. Sometimes it’s hard to stay encouraged, when Pyrrha’s progress seems so microscopic. But I just have to keep believing that she is getting better. And take a deep breath. And just enjoy walking the dog.

Dog life lately

We’ve been having fun with our pups, even when they drive us crazy. I’ve so appreciated hearing from so many of you with your tips and tricks on puppy raising, daily walks, and allergies. Collectively, you have a wealth of knowledge, and I’m always so thankful to receive your comments.

Home security system
Home security system.

Here’s what’s been happening lately in our new multi-dog household:

Pyrrha the disciplinarian

Home security system
That side eye from the baby.

I’ve known this about Pyrrha, particularly with our younger fosters, but she likes to play the role of school marm/elder sibling disciplinarian with puppies. It speaks to her inner dog, which is really just a curmudgeonly old lady. If I chastise Eden, Pyrrha likes to follow up on my admonishment by chasing her down and growling/grumbling in her face. Sometimes she grabs Eden’s scruff too, by way of a larger warning.

Essentially, I’m not sure if I should intervene when Pyrrha displays this behavior. Pyrrha lays off after a few seconds, and Edie is always unharmed (and then will usually just go back to whatever unwanted behavior she was carrying out). My best guess is that this is a behavior that older dogs exhibit toward puppies, and I imagine it will fade as Eden matures, but I don’t want to unwittingly let them fall into a bad habit if I can stop it now.

What do you think? Is this problematic? Do your dogs ever “discipline” each other?

Eden the disc dog

Work from home
Guys. I am biased, but she is CUTE. Even with her raggedy tongue.

We have discovered that Eden loves playing Frisbee! She has a high retrieving drive, so my husband made a good guess that she’d enjoy chasing a disc. She’s addicted! Eden is still learning how to jump and catch it, but she’s learning the game very quickly. No shepherd can really compete with a border collie or aussie in this realm, but I think it’s going to be a game that she can enjoy for a long time. Guion was so inspired from teaching her that he went and immediately bought her $40 worth of the high-end dog discs (Jawz, by Hyperflite). Ha! #spoiledpup

I don’t have any good photos or videos of this yet, so for now, here she is with her other favorite toy: an old gourd, left over from Halloween.

Little Miss Packrat's favorite toy: an old gourd. #weirddog #ediebaby #vscocam
Such a packrat. Not a disc but an old gourd. And one of my socks.

Fence as a frustrating barrier

Our new yard is bordered by unfenced yards. In particular, our various neighbors on the left have several small dogs (an ancient maltese, some tiny poodle mix, and a Jack Russell terrier, from what I can tell) who they let roam (without leashes) through various yards and straight to our fence. This drives Pyrrha CRAZY. Her behavior is a mix of reactivity (frustration mixed with fear) and some desire to play. Eden is just excited to have visitors! We’re trying to figure out when these dogs are released, so that we can time our potty breaks differently, to avoid outbursts. Meanwhile, it’s kind of frustrating.

Daily walks

Daily walk
On a walk.

We’ve been working on daily walks, something that I confess we didn’t do with Pyrrha. Yesterday, we walked for an hour on the trails near the river, which is always heavily populated with dogs and children (Pyrrha’s top reactivity triggers). Overall, I’d say it was a successful visit. As usual, Guion walked Edie, and I walked Pyrrha and looked like a total lunatic, armed with my treat bag and clicker and my constant scanning of the horizon for kids or dogs.

Edie walks in front of us, so she gets to encounter people, kids, and dogs without watching any fearful reactions from Pyrrha. This strategy has worked well for us so far. Eden got to meet a laid-back, friendly hound, and the introduction went very well. The hound was on a retractable leash, however, so I kept Pyrrha very far away from him. There were lots of dogs out, but we were able to avoid any reactive outbursts, which is a victory in my book for Pyrrha. Edie continues to be bothered by nothing, which is an encouragement and in keeping with how we have perceived her personality over the past few weeks.

I really love walking our girls, even if Pyrrha’s fears occasionally mean that we have to cut our walks short, take weird routes, or appear rude to children or dog-walking neighbors. I’m thankful that we have a reactivity protocol in place to help her, and I’m always thankful for days in which she has no outbursts. And, of course, we’re also thankful for our new, confident little baby, who balances the scales.

Playing with Fiona + shifts in Pyrrha’s play style

Play date with Fiona! #doglife @sallie516
Playing with Fiona!

In our new house, we live even closer to Fiona, so it’s been fun to have play-dates with her. So far, Fiona is the only play-date guest we’ve had in the new house; we need to get out more invitations!

Something I’ve noticed with Pyrrha’s behavior with Fiona: Since bringing Eden into the family, Pyrrha has markedly changed her play style with Fiona. She is frankly kind of a bully to little Fi. Fiona is extremely submissive, and she spends the first 10 minutes of every play-date on her back, belly-up, lying very still and letting our bossy girls sniff her to death.

Once she starts to run, however, Pyrrha chases her and rough-houses in a way that she doesn’t with other dogs; she even humps Fiona, which is a behavior Pyr rarely exhibits. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s a definite change. Eden and Fiona, meanwhile, play beautifully together, as they have similar (high!) energy levels. Eventually, Pyrrha just lets them chase each other in circles and then just goes and does her own thing.

Have you ever seen your dog change his or her play style? What do you think caused the shift?

Synchronized sleeping. #babies #doglife #vscocam
Synchronized sleepers.

We’re thankful for our girls, issues and all!

Big challenge coming up: We’re hosting a housewarming party with 50+ guests in two weekends. Socialization gauntlet! I think Eden can handle it; Pyrrha could if there are no children and no one wants to mess with her; but we’re going to have the crates and a quiet room ready just the same. Whew!

Hope your weeks have been going well!

Puppy punk
This photo also says a lot about their general demeanors.

Training goals for January

Attentive ladies

Have you heard? January is Train Your Dog month! Of course, training should be happening all the time (and it is, even when we think we’re not training them to do something), but it’s nice to have time set aside to really focus on those specific training goals.

Accordingly, here’s what we’re working on in our household:

January Goals for Pyrrha

  1. Curbing jealousy directed at Eden. Pyrrha only exhibits this behavior when I’m present, but she can get sassy/cranky (growling, body blocks, scruff biting) with Eden from time to time. *I* seem to be the resource she’s guarding (it’s not exhibited over a toy or food; she never acts this way when Guion is around), and so I confess I’m not entirely sure how to work on this. Anyone ever dealt with jealousy when you’re the guarded resource? What helped the jealous dog?
  2. Crate-exiting calmness. She’s gotten better about this, but we can still work on her waiting patiently during crate exits. Related to her jealousy issue (above), she can also redirect her crate-exiting craziness on Eden (with growls and body blocks).
  3. Avoiding leash reactivity on our walks. Continuing all that we learned from our reactivity class, via classical conditioning. I think she’s making progress, however subtle it may be. We’re also hopeful that Eden’s bouncy, confident presence will be calming to Pyrrha.
  4. Classical conditioning protocol for seeing small children. Pyrrha is frightened of children (about toddler age up to pre-teens), and so our trainer has recommended working on the same classical conditioning protocol that we did with leash reactivity when we see kids. Baby steps right at first (working far away from kids, just when she only perceives them, and then gradually closing the gap)!

January Goals for Eden

  1. Sitting to greet people. We’ve been working on this already, and it’s adorable how hard she tries not to jump. Her whole little body is just quivering with excitement, and she can hardly contain herself when people enter the room. But she’s learning quickly what we want her to do. I think we need to start pairing some extra incentive with it (e.g., food), although the affection and attention when she does sit seems to be working well.
  2. Crate-exiting calmness. Already working on this, and she gets the jist of it, but we can make this behavior (sitting quietly until the door is open) more solid.
  3. Not feeling the need to bark to announce herself in the backyard. As I mentioned, she doesn’t seem to bark nearly as much (or at all) when Pyrrha is in the yard with her.
  4. “Leave it.” I introduced this to her a few days ago, but we need to take some time to repeat and practice it.
  5. “Come!” This little turd really does not want to come to you when you ask her. She doesn’t even respond to the inviting body language (bent down, clapping playfully, even a play bow). She’d rather do her own thing and explore. Again, need to start using higher-value incentives here!
  6. Not counter-surfing. Thankfully, she’s never actually grabbed anything off the kitchen counters (so she’s not getting rewarded), but she is desperate to see and smell what’s up there. Need to work on this in a more patient, concentrated way.

Eden will also be taking her first obedience class near the end of this month, and Guion and I are looking forward to it. She’s so bright and eager to please; I just don’t want us to screw her up!

Are you setting goals for your dog(s) for Train Your Dog month? Do share them! And of course, if you have ever trained some of the issues that we’re working on, feel free to share your advice!

Meet Eden! Our new dog (!!)

Yeah. Best Christmas ever: We totally got a puppy. (!!)

A week before Christmas, I got an e-mail from the rescue VP that made my heart skip a beat. She said she had the perfect puppy for us.

We had a crazy fall and early winter, and so we took a fostering hiatus. But I also wanted us to start thinking seriously about a second dog for our household, and I was really picky about this future dog’s personality. Cassie (the rescue VP) knew that I was looking for a “bombproof” young dog to balance out Pyrrha’s fear issues (see this great post by Nicole Wilde). She said that she’d only met one other puppy who was as solid as this one was, and she kept him for herself. This puppy had been surrendered by her family, who had young children and felt that they could not give her the attention she needed.

So, on a very rainy Sunday, I went to meet Cassie and pick up Eden!

Settling in nicely. #fosterpuppy #gsd
Eden!

We met at Petco, and I was instantly impressed by Eden’s confidence, friendliness, and utter lack of fear. From Pyrrha and our GSD experience so far, I’ve come to expect shyness from every German shepherd I see, and here was a little girl who didn’t have an ounce of it. She greeted everyone who walked in the door with wags and kisses.

Eden (fka Eva) was evaluated for police work when she was brought in, but failed the police test for not having high enough drive and being too friendly. Which is totally fine with me! But the evaluator did say that she thought Eden could be perfect for therapy work, owing to her strong orientation to people. I really thrilled to hear that; I’ve always dreamed of having a dog who could do therapy service, and Pyrrha certainly isn’t suited for it.

Sweet little Edie
Eden in the kitchen.

We still have two weeks to make everything official (the rescue’s policy of having a trial period) but… all signs point to this girl being THE ONE. Guion is always more level-headed than I am with puppies, and so I think it’s good that we have this period of being able to decide about her, but I think he’s also smitten with her.

Interactions with Pyrrha

Wrestling

Eden plays with Pyrrha very nicely, and Pyrrha treats her with a mix of joviality and crankiness (which is always her way with puppies; Pyrrha, despite only being 2, has some aspects of old lady grumpiness with the whippersnappers).

Girls

Rainy walk with the new foster puppy! #probablykeepingher #gsd #puppylove

They love romping together in the yard (and sometimes in the house), and I think Pyrrha will really warm to her. Edie is also good about respecting Pyrrha’s space (and Pyrrha is good about letting her know when she’s crossed the line). As with all of the other fosters we’ve had, I have to be conscientious about helping Pyrrha with her jealousy issues regarding me and other dogs, but she’s been good about keeping them in check. Her main tendency is to be the taskmaster/bullying older sibling with young’uns, which is a behavior I myself exhibited as a child, so I’m familiar with the signs. But Eden is very happy and forgiving of Pyrrha’s occasional grumpiness, and she thinks Pyrrha is a delight.

We took them on a 2-mile walk around town on Wednesday, and they were great together. Eden’s happiness and friendliness to everyone seemed to let Pyrrha loosen up. We’re still working patiently on Pyrrha’s leash reactivity issues toward other dogs, and Eden has already shown strong signs of being a great young role model for Pyr.

Settling in nicely
A respectful puppy.

Eden’s Background

From my research and from the existence of Eden’s pink papers, I’ve been able to determine that she came from a Maryland breeder and schutzhund competitor. Eden’s parents were both imported from Germany, and both are titled in schutzhund (her father holding a Sch3 title). Their hips and elbows both passed as “normal” by the German breeding standards, which was good to know. She does have more angulation than Pyrrha, which I hate, but she moves and runs solidly.

Studying Eden's movement

Getting a purebred rescue is always a gamble, so we’re lucky to know this much about Eden. (And can you believe that a puppy of this caliber was turned into a rescue?? It happens!) German shepherds are famous for their health issues, and this is a risk we knew about when we started looking at GSD rescues. We know nothing about Pyrrha’s parents, except that they were from the (weaker, unhealthier) American show/companion lines and not bred well (an unscrupulous backyard breeder who wanted to euthanize all of his dogs because he was tired of them). Despite this, Pyrrha is healthy, and we are blessed. We know more about Eden, but we also have high hopes for her healthy future as well.

Her Personality

Sweet little Edie

She is an absolute doll.

And she’s a funny, playful, floppy bundle of energy! Whew! She wants to play ALL DAY long. I’m really grateful for Pyrrha, who can wear her out in the backyard with games of tag and wrestling matches, because I can’t keep up!

Eden is both food AND toy motivated, which is fun to see, and she’s a very quick learner. This little brown-noser has learned to sit sweetly whenever she wants anything, because it’s clearly a strategy that’s been working well for her. She LOVES toys, and especially toys that she can fetch. She has a retrieving drive like a labrador! But she makes fetching fun for us humans too, because she’s already learned to drop the ball at your feet and wait in a sit or down position for you to throw it. I’m impressed.

We were tempted to keep Trina, our last foster, as you may recall, but I can already tell that Eden has confidence and soundness in ways that exceed little Trina. Trina was awesome, and she’s so happy in her new home, but seeing Eden is also a reminder that Trina wasn’t exactly what we were looking for.

SO. Still anxious to make it official, but I think she’s IT! I can’t believe we found her. We’re SO grateful to Cassie and to Southeast German Shepherd Rescue; what awesome, thoughtful, hard-working people. We’re so thrilled!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

SIDE NOTE: DOGS PICKING UP UNWANTED BEHAVIORS?

With regard to Pyrrha’s progress, now is a good time to add another dog to the house. If we had tried to bring in a permanent new dog even six or eight months ago, I’m not sure that Pyrrha would have been ready for it. Pyrrha has gained enough confidence and made enough progress in her other fear areas (Guion, strangers, other dogs) that I think we’re at a point at which Eden can be a good influence on Pyrrha, instead of Pyrrha being a bad influence on Eden.

The main thing I don’t want Eden to pick up is Pyrrha’s leash reactivity toward other dogs. For those of you with multi-dog households that include a reactive dog, has this ever been a problem for you? (The reactive dog making the non-reactive dogs reactive.) If so, what have you done to mitigate such copying behavior?

Pyrrha at “camp” with Fiona

While we were away this weekend at my brother-in-law’s wedding, Pyrrha got to stay with Fiona!

As you can see from this blurry action shot, the girls had a great time together.

Pyrrha gets to stay at Chateau de Campanelli this weekend! Fiona is swift, ideal company. @sallie516
Fiona and Pyrrha playing chase.

This was our first time leaving Pyrrha with non-family, and it apparently went well! Chris and Sallie (Fiona’s parents) are wonderful and thoughtful and did such a great job making Pyrrha feel comfortable. They reported that she was very shy and didn’t want to interact with them — which is her typical behavior in a new environment — but that Fiona’s presence was comforting to her. Pyrrha joined them on long walks, and she even had a play-date with a young golden retriever!

The girls in Fiona's backyard. Photo sent by Sallie.
The girls in Fiona’s backyard. Photo sent by Sallie.

Sallie also reported that Pyrrha didn’t exhibit any leash reactivity on their walks toward other dogs. I was very encouraged to hear this, but it also made me think that I’m probably part of the problem here. My anxiety about seeing other dogs surely amps her up, too. Something to continue to be aware of!

Pyrrha hiding out in Fiona's yard. Photo sent to us from Sallie.
Pyrrha hiding out in Fiona’s yard. Photo sent to us from Sallie.

We’re so thankful to have such great friends in town who can watch Pyrrha when we’re away. It really puts my mind at ease. I don’t think I could ever bear to board her in a traditional kennel environment. Hope we can return the favor for Fiona soon!

That said, we’re still in the thick of a really crazy season of life, so posting here may be more sporadic than usual. Thanks for your patience and kind comments, as always! Hope things will settle down soon…

Graduation from reactivity class

Every relationship takes work. #lovethem
Every relationship takes work.

Last night, Pyrrha had her last session for the reactivity class we’ve been taking. For graduation, we went to practice “in the wild” at a pet supplies store. It was STRESSFUL, but so is real life with a reactive dog, right?

The goal was to have the handlers use the store aisles as buffers–easy obstacles for us to duck behind–and keep working the “Pavlov machine” of treating the dog for every perception of a trigger (e.g., another dog). Pyrrha was already overwhelmed by the new environment that the addition of her big fear (other dogs on leash) brought her to a fairly high level of anxiety.

I anticipated that this might be the case, so I brought her into the store early to let her sniff everything and get the lay of the land, per se. This might have helped her during the actual practicum, but I confess it was hard to tell. There were cats up for adoption in cages on the floor, which got her prey drive kicked into action; there were tons of treats left at dog-level for easy snatching (you sneaky pet store owners! I know what you’re doing, and it’s working…); and there were lots of other reactive dogs milling about AND unsuspecting customers and their dogs and children.

Suffice it to say, last night was a perfect storm of triggers for Pyrrha–but again, that’s the real world, and you can’t contain it or control it.

Deven encouraged us to go outside and take breaks when needed, and we did that a few times. Pyrrha’s mouth was getting really hard, and she was just about taking off my fingertips when I delivered treats. Taking a break to sniff outdoors seemed to help her regain herself.

She had two reactive outbursts last night, and both were my fault. One was at one of her reactive classmates, while I was talking with Deven, and the other was at a customer’s boxer, who came bounding in the front door, and I was talking to a human classmate when it happened. That’s the tricky thing about reactive dogs; to manage them in the wild, you have to be a pretty rude human. If I was paying attention to her and to the environment, I could have prevented both of those outbursts, but a minute-long conversation was enough to divert my focus from her and let her express fight mode.
Mea culpa, Pyrrha.

Concluding thoughts about our reactive dog

We learned a lot in these past six weeks, and I am so glad we took this class at Canine Campus. I wish everyone I knew with a reactive dog could come to town and work with Deven! She’s amazing. I feel so lucky to have a trainer like her in my hometown.

Last night was a sobering reminder that we still have a lot of work to do with Pyrrha and that I can’t let myself get lazy. She’s so calm and easy in our house that I can forget that she still has a lot of anxieties when she confronts the real world.

I got a chance to talk with Deven last night about Pyrrha, and she said that Pyrrha has made a lot of progress in a year. It’s hard for me to see sometimes, being so close to Pyr, but it was nice to have that external confirmation. She also recommended I look into the following things to continue to help Pyrrha with her anxiety:

  • T-touch (Tellington touch)
  • Aromatherapy
  • Nose work classes (which she offers)

I know a little bit about all three, and they sound appealing to me. Have any of you worked with any of these strategies for your fearful dog? Which have you liked or disliked?

The slow and steady work of making associations (Week 3, Reactivity Class)

Notes from Week 3 of the Feisty Fidos class
Deven Gaston, Canine Campus

I missed writing up a Week 2 recap, but you can read the fundamentals of this class on my Week 1 post (which I recommend, for anyone who has a reactive dog).

As Deven said, “This class is about as interesting as watching paint dry.”

Because that’s the long, slow, hard work of classical conditioning and making new neural pathways. During the past two weeks in class, we’ve just worked on clicking and treating (that’s where the operant conditioning mix comes in) the dogs for perceiving the trigger of another dog in the room.

Week 2, we worked with Deven’s shy, reactive dog Surprise, who remained still and didn’t want to make eye contact with any of the class dogs. (We’re all separated out in different rooms, and Surprise is walked around the center of the room.) This week, Deven brought in her bouncy, friendly mini Australian shepherd Rumba. Rumba was more of a challenge for the class dogs, because she was more active and clearly wanted to engage. (Rumba particularly seemed to want to meet Pyrrha!)

We practiced Patricia McConnell’s “emergency u-turn” several times each, in the class ring, and then we worked for the rest of the class on just clicking and treating for perception of Rumba, over and over and over again.

This class was a good reminder of two things:

  1. This is slow and steady work, and hundreds of repetitions are needed.
  2. Practicing this behavior “in the wild” is much harder, which is also why it takes so long to recreate these pathways.

But we’re in it for the long haul!

Getting to know Brynn
Pyrrha and Trina.

 

In other news:

We have been doing more evaluations of Brynn/Trina, and I think we’re not going to keep her, for a number of reasons. I know, after all of that fanfare!

Essentially, she is a lot more naturally shy than we thought. She’d been getting so confident and comfortable in our home that we were pretty fooled by her behavior, and kind of shocked during our outings to realize that she is naturally pretty fearful of new people, children, and other dogs on walks. She’s also afraid of getting in the car and strangers. (I think her super-relaxed behavior on the Downtown Mall that first night may have been influenced by drugs?? Ha. She had just been spayed a day-and-a-half ago at that time, and I think she was still pretty out of it, which led to her reallllly chill demeanor, despite the craziness of the environment.)

Again, these are not black marks on her personality, and we will continue to work with her and socialize her, but we are looking for a genuinely confident, “bombproof” puppy. Trina is not that, but she will still be a wonderful puppy for the right home.

As much as I want to keep her, I also know that I don’t want two leash-reactive, shy dogs. So. A hard decision. More on this later. It’s been a bad week, whew.

Getting to know Brynn

September training and behavior goals

More for my own sake, I’m going to start a short, monthly series here to record my training and behavior goals for Pyrrha. At the end of the month, I’ll make a brief progress report. This is more for keeping myself in line than for anything else, because if you write it on the Internet, then you have a faceless mob to keep you accountable. Right?

Get it, P. #kisses #loveandfear
Kissing Dad!

I don’t consider myself nearly as hardcore as the majority of you, so we’re going to keep our goals simple for now.

September Training and Behavior Goals for Pyrrha

  1. Take a reactivity class at Canine Campus.
  2. Practice behavior modification techniques to reduce on-leash reactivity toward other dogs. Crossing the street, treating for just looking at dogs, and ME taking deep breaths and loosening my body language and grip.
  3. Practice off-leash recall in the front yard. (More on this soon.)
  4. Improve and sharpen the command “Stay.” Get more consistent on this. (Sometimes I use the word “wait,” which is clearly not helpful to anyone.)
  5. Keep practicing calm exits from the crate. Particularly as we are with Draco now, work to mitigate her behavior so that she doesn’t grumble at him when she moves from the crate to the door. She has a habit of basically messing with him when she exits the crate to go to the backyard: growling, jumping in his face. I don’t think it’s aggressive, because she did this with Rainer, too, and he never responded in kind; it’s more an expression of nervous energy or maybe even jealousy? I don’t know. Whatever it is, I need to start training some impulse control and get her to cut it out.
  6. Improve her relationship with Guion. Get advice from Deven (our trainer) about how to accomplish this? I am kind of at a loss. He feeds her, he slips her bacon, he tries not to engage with her at all unless she initiates it… but she is still very fearful of him. After a year. Sigh. It’s kind of disheartening sometimes.

What are some of your goals for your dog this month? And if you have any training tips for me, feel free to dish ’em out!

How do you stay motivated to train your dog?

Confession time: I am a really lazy dog trainer. All of the rest of you put me to shame (at least, from what I can tell by reading your dog blogs).

Ready to play at sunrise. #pyrrhagramI get even lazier about training Pyrrha when we have fosters. A lot of energy is expended just teaching the fosters basic things (simple house manners, crate acclimation, walking on leash, etc.) that Pyrrha’s own training usually gets lost in the shuffle. We get a few “puppy push-ups” or exercises of pre-learned behaviors, but that’s it. I mean, how often are you guys training a day? From the sound of your blogs, it sounds like all the time, like hours and hours every day. I feel embarrassed at the tiny amounts of time that I actively “train.”

Having the treat bag has helped a lot, actually. Keeping it stocked and in an accessible place reminds me to keep training and keep Pyrrha engaged.

Waiting for someone to drop some food. #pyrrhagram

Lately, we’ve just been working on little things:

  • Leash reactivity with other dogs. This is a new-ish behavior (started exhibiting maybe in February of this year), and it’s not entirely consistent (some dogs don’t bother her; others do), and I am a little overwhelmed and unsure of how to fix it. I think I need to re-read Control Unleashed. I have also signed her up for a small, individualized reactivity class (“Feisty Fidos”) with our trainer at Canine Campus, which will start in the early fall. So I am looking forward to that as well. I am grateful to have been in touch with our trainer about this issue.
  • Baby steps toward off-leash recall. We have a long-ish driveway, and so every night now, Pyrrha comes with me to get the mail on a loose slip-lead. When we turn back toward the house, I drop the lead, and she gets to saunter or run back to the front door. She’s been doing very well at this, and if she strays too far, I call her back and she returns to my side. Baby steps toward off-leash recall! I am not eager to try anything more adventurous at this point. This is a safe space for her to learn this behavior (and the fact that she still has a lead draped around her neck means that she can’t get TOO far ahead of me).
  • Improving her relationship with Guion. For reasons that are still unclear to us, Pyrrha’s relationship with Guion has regressed since Rainer left. She seems more scared of him now than she did six months ago. I’m really not sure why this is. I think part of it, frankly, is that Guion just doesn’t engage with her even a fraction as much as I do. I feed her all of her meals, I’m the primary trainer, I groom her, I walk her… he just needs to get more involved, and I think he knows this. We were much more vigilant about it when we first got her, and we recognized that she was afraid of him (mainly because he was male), but we’ve been lazy about it, and she’s regressed, so it’s time to step up our game.

So, how do you stay motivated to keep training your dog(s)? Do you write down lists of what you want to teach them? Do you have a daily training schedule? How can I stop being so lazy about it??

As always, eager to hear and learn from each of you.