Sunday, February 12, 2012

One small step for man ...

If you've been following my struggles with my dog, Bristol ... you probably know that I hit a wall in terms of frustration with her. I felt like I wasn't making any progress, nor could I explain why the 16 month old dog that I'd had since she was 14 weeks old had turned into a bit of an unreliable demon. It went against the very core of her personality: genuinely happy. Happy to be sleeping, happy to be playing, happy to have visitors and happy to work when it comes right down to it. This new dog, the one that barks and whines and paces when anxious ... and snaps/lunges at other dogs, is completely new. Bristol, by all accounts ... wags from nose to tail. It doesn't take much of a reason for her to be happy.

We've been enrolled in a class called Control Unleashed, based on the book by dog behavioralist Leslie McDeavitt. I was eternally grateful to our trainer Teri at Canine Kinshipfor not ever asking us to leave our agility class, and instead, was willing to lend an ear, some expertise and invite us into her Control Unleashed class to work with us on our "issues".  Since mid-January, we've been working on Bristol's reactivity, her easy high-arousal, anxiety and getting her become more comfortable working off-leash around close proximity with other dogs. 

The dog has made me cry on more than one occasion out of sheer frustration. 
I felt like I wasn't making one shred of progress and that my little critter was going to be the death of me yet.
But I woke up one morning and realized I wasn't being fair to Bristol. Yes, we have some goals in mind. But in focusing simply on the end result, I was giving her some steep expectations. Yes, I want her to be calm around other dogs. Yes, I'd prefer it if she didn't bark when she hears the jingle of dog tags. Those are great goals to have. But for now? I can celebrate the small steps. Ineed to celebrate the small victories. 

It's okay to walk away if she's getting too wound up.
It's okay to back up if her body language tells me that she's uncomfortable.
And I think I've definitely done her a favor by removing her from situations that are too stimulating. 

If you had told me 4 or 5 weeks ago that I could have my dog in a crate watching dogs enter and exit the training space without much of an interest, I'd have scoffed and said you're nuts. 

The real turning point for her was the "Look At That" game. The idea is to allow the dog to look at the world, but the nanosecond s/he looks at a trigger? Click/reward. The sound of the click disrupts would could have been an upset. So in other words, you're slowly working on counter-conditioning a behavior. 

Today? Bristol saw a dog on our walk; I hadn't even noticed they were there. She woofed once, but reoriented to me looking for a treat. Hell yes, doggy -- I'll give you a jackpot for that one!

My dog is by no means perfect.
But if we can keep this training structure up ... I have no doubt that she'll be a pleasant citizen yet. One small step for man, and one giant leap for a certain little doggy.

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