Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday practice day.

I had my training day with Nancy and Vanya (blog is: http://vanyaproject.blogspot.com). Everything went well. Towards the end, I was doing some BAT with Gustav with Nancy as the decoy. She was also feeding her dog Vanya peanut butter, but Vanya was in the car in a crate so the dogs couldn't see each other. Gustav was interesting: He would look at Nancy and be pulling forward, and when he looked away or did some other acceptable alternative behavior, like sniffing, I would say "Let's go" and try to retreat. Only he didn't want to retreat. He wanted to stay there. But he also didn't want to stay there, because once he pursed his lips and I could tell he was about one second away from woofing and maybe lunging. I switched to LAT because it was clear that one of two things was happening: 1. He was ambivalent about Nancy because he wanted the peanut butter but was also scared of her, and couldn't decide what to do. I've seen this behavior with Tish and Berit, especially after they throw treats. The functional reward people are always saying how just straight counterconditioning produces dogs who are ambivalent about the stimulus because the treats distract them from the real issue and they never solve their insecurities deep down. Interesting to think about. Counterconditioning folks would say that, done correctly, counterconditioning actually changes the dog's emotional response over time. 2. He was too close and his staring too intense to be able to tear him away from the stimulus. I'm less inclined to believe this one because I moved him farther and tried again and it still didn't work. Still, sometimes this is the problem with Gustav because he's an information gatherer and hates to turn his back on things he feels truly threatened by. I figured with LAT there was no harm either way: it's counterconditioning and also teaching him to look away from a stimulus. I didn't have to mess with the functional reward at all. There were no bad lessons to learn from looking at Nancy and getting a treat.

Gustav made it 20 minutes while Dottie and I were out without crying. To be fair, this was with a brand new bone from the Farmer's Market, with tons of gooey gross meat hanging off. I got it from him with no growling, but he did seem a tad stiff. 20 minutes! Awesome!

While Dottie and I were out, a neighbor dog came bounding into the park. At first I was nervous, then I just decided to let it play out because I knew the dog was super sweet. Sure enough, it came running over to meet Dottie. Dottie snapped at the dog in the muzzle area, a correction-type bite, and the dog backed off. I warned my neighbor that Dottie was "bitchy" (a strange choice of words, I know, but that's what came out.) The neighbor didn't care and the dog was extremely receptive to Dottie's signals. It did steal her toy once, but the neighbor got it and handed it to me. The dog also jumped on me and was very exuberant, but Dottie did not go too crazy. Her hackles were up and she barked a lot, but this incident reminded me that, on-leash displays to the contrary, she's not really out to rip out throats. Just wants to be left alone. Probably this wasn't the best experience, because she certainly learned that snapping is a good way to get a dog to leave her alone, but honestly the dog was kind of rude and the corrections were not over the top. In the end, I'm oddly pleased by the experience because it reminded me that Dottie is not a really aggressive dog, she's just doing what has worked in the past to get dogs out of her space. After the dog did that, she was able to play fetch and lay down without any problems, even when the dog was still in the park romping around.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Runner's High

I took the dogs on my favorite jogging route today. It's about a 45 minute jog that goes through neighborhoods and a little-used bike path through a marsh where Dottie can run free. I swear they both get a runner's high: usually 20 minutes into the jog they both get into a groove and Dottie in particular looks up at me with squinty eyes and her mouth wide open. To me this looks like a giant grin, like she's saying "Finally! We're moving at an appropriate pace!"

We got mobbed by a loose black Lab, but I just dragged them across the street and the dog didn't follow. Dottie barked and barked but recovered quickly, and Gustav was stiff and looked back a lot but didn't flail and lunge and bark at all. I didn't say a word, just crossed the street at a jog and kept going. I think the dog was a little surprised to find such unfriendly dogs, maybe it will help him think twice about running out to greet strange dogs on the sidewalk. Gustav can be quite intimidating to friendly or submissive dogs, and invariably invites a fight with dogs with more attitude. Other than that there were no growls or barks, and we even passed some tied-up dogs across the street who were barking furiously.

Dottie got to chase a squirrel in the marshy area and also got to run as fast as she could a few times, which is really fast and very fun to watch. She started to roll in something while giving me a guilty look and I called her out of it and she came! She got a big handful of treats and no bath.

Not a lot of "training" got done, but I treasure these days because I feel it's what we're working towards: normal neighborhood experiences. I think the dogs needed a good workout and a low-stress outdoor experience. We all feel good.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Today we did two trials for Gustav's SA. Dottie and I left for 16 minutes once and 14 minutes once. Gustav did not cry. He just chewed his wonderful bone. Also he gave it up quite nicely, with a simple "give."

I wonder if the circumstances of last time made a difference. Justin was still home when we left. Gustav saw Dottie and me drive away. Then a few minutes later Justin put him in his crate with the bone and left. Possibly the Justin factor and the driving factor played a role? I don't know. We'll keep working under twenty minutes, going up little by little with each successful trial.

Tonight is Reactive Rover for us. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gustav cries and cries and cries

Well, I'm back in a routine now that school has started again and I've been able to work with the dogs quite a bit. We've still had lots of bad moments. Justin reported that yesterday they both bark/lunged at a dog. I've had Gustav growl and lunge at some people, and both at dogs here and there. On the other hand, we've had some really good times too. My goal of working with the dogs separately once a week each has been going great. Gustav is in Reactive Rover class on Thursday nights, and he did really well our first night last week. He didn't growl or lunge/bark at all, although he did stiffen and stare a few times. Also, I've been working with someone with a reactive dog on Tuesday afternoons. The first time I brought Gustav and that was good, because we got to do human BAT and also dog BAT and general attention work. This week I brought Dottie, and she did great as well. We did dog BAT and relax-on-mat stuff. I have two things I need to work out, however. One, Gustav is not good at just hanging out in the car for a few minutes while I talk to Nancy, who I'm training with. I can't talk to her very well with him, because I can't get close enough to communicate. He yelps and howls from the car. I tried covering his view with a tarp, but he hated that. Two, I just got home with Dottie and checked my computer, with which I spy on Gustav to see how his Dottie separation anxiety is going. Not well, it turns out. He had a brand new meaty bone to chew on. Like, from the butcher and covered in meat and filled with marrow. He made it about 18 minutes before starting to whine and howl, and then did so in fairly regular intervals for the next nearly three hours. Here's the breakdown: 18 minutes quiet, 1 minute cry, 6 minutes quiet, 3 minutes cry, 6 minutes quiet, 8 minutes cry, 4 minutes quiet, 3 minutes cry, 2 minutes quiet, 5 minutes cry, 4 minutes quiet, and so on. Crying ranging from one minute to 8 minutes, quiet ranged from one minute to 9 minutes (not including first quiet period). Very very sad crying, as well. I've never heard him like except from recordings when I'm gone with Dottie.

When we got home he didn't even bring his nice meaty bone out of the crate with him. He just ran ran ran to Dottie and sniffed her all over and wagged furiously. Which is sweet but pathetic all the same. He is still panting and it was obviously a stressful time for him (and probably my neighbors too. Hope no one was home.)

Bummer. I'll have to start from scratch on the separation anxiety problem. I'll have to be sure to build up to at least an hour before trying this sort of thing again. Very sad for Dottie. Sigh.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tough times for us.

I took the dogs out one morning and twice people burst out of their front doors with dogs. What bad luck. The dogs were way too close and there was nothing I could do but praise the manufacturers of the gentle leader and easy walk harness and drag everyone away. Then yesterday we had barely gotten to the end of my block when a boxer popped out from behind a fence. I just dragged the dogs right back home and canceled the walk. There was no way we could rebound from that right then. I took them on a late night walk instead, with no one in sight. Then today the UPS man dropped off a package that I was not expecting so soon and knocked on the door to alert me. The dogs went nuts. I feel like we've had some setbacks that are due purely to chance. Sad.

Today I am doing a CAT session with Tish and Gustav, then hopefully I can find some unsuspecting decoy dogs in the neighborhood to run some BAT with Dottie. Reactive Rover starts this week on Thursdays with Gustav, hopefully this will help us out of the hole we're in. Sigh. On the plus side, Dottie auto-watches everytime she hears a dog bark and Gustav has been doing tons of autowatches with people. The counterconditioning, at least, is making a little progress.

One last weird thing: recently Gustav has begun to wag his tail as strangers out of the window. Usually he goes to the window, tail held high. If the tails slowly lowers, there's no one there and he loses interest. If the tail stays high and he perks up in other ways, there's someone there and he'll either just stare them away or maybe bark if they're super close or it's a dog. Recently the tail lowers a little, then sways from side to side. I though it must be a friend, but not someone he really really loves because then the tail wag would include the butt. I looked out the window and it was a stranger across the street. What's going on? It's not the friendliest wag he's ever had, and he wags while bark/lunging at people so I know it's not always a good thing. But it's not high and fast like Dottie's when she's going to go ballistic on a dog. It's a pretty relaxed wag. Strange.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Interesting blog read

Jogged the dogs today, lots of great autowatches from Gustav and some excellent BAT work from far away with Dottie. No barking, no lunging. I really feel like a good month or two of this type of work will bring us back to our high point. Dottie has begun all walks with some very intense scanning and even a little pulling. She seems to be on high alert and I've needed to start walks with lots of back and forth, treats, slow walking, etc. to get us all in the right frame of mind to survive a neighborhood walk.

I've been following Patricia McConnell's blog, www.theotherendoftheleash.com, and there's a very interesting saga regarding a puppy she rehomed. Well, two actually, but Hope most recently. Very thought provoking. I recommend it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jogging weather!

It's gotten really mild here, with highs in the upper 60s, so it means we can jog again without the dogs being completely useless due to overheating. We drove to a suburban area a few miles up the road for a change of scenery. It was lovely and we had a great time. We passed lots of dogs in houses and behind fences going crazy and my dogs didn't bark at all. They were handsomely rewarded for this choice. We jogged for about an hour and it's great to ditch the treadmill and have both the dogs and myself exercised at once.

Ever since I've been back from my trip I've noticed Gustav in particular has really regressed. He's bark/lunged at people nearly every day. I'm glad we have the fall routine, complete with jogging and our reactive rover class, to get us back on track. I also am setting up my weekly CAT sessions with my sister-in-law. I'd really like Gustav to like her. He loves her son and her boyfriend, so I know it's possible.

I'm working on two other things with Gustav: one, looking at me before we cross the street. I say "stop" and the dogs stop, then I just stand there until Gustav finally looks up at me out of boredom. Then I say "yes" and "okay" and we cross the street. Two, I picked up a booklet called the "Really Reliable Recall." It has you spend two weeks calling your dog in the house three times a day and spending literally one minute giving out great treats and praising. It's nice not to worry about criteria right now and Gustav has gotten quite speedy on his in-house recall. The booklet then has you test the recall in a set-up to see how it's going. I'll give that a try in a few weeks and see if a recall trained with no raising of criteria is of any use in difficult situations. I'm curious and it takes very little effort on my part, so why not?

The dogs are really tired now. It's a wonderful sight.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Two good days.

Both today and yesterday I was able to take the dogs on separate walks. What a pleasure! Gustav made it 20 minutes without crying while Dottie and I were gone, with a good bone of course. He also gave it up without any problems. Since he growled at me once a few weeks ago while reaching into his crate to take away an amazing meaty bone, I've been doing a little resource guarding stuff here and there, not too much. I'm not sure if that's helped or if the bone is less meaty or if it's because I wait until he brings his bone out of his crate himself before I take it away.

Gustav barked at one person, a friend of mine I saw on my walk. I told him Gustav is "mean" (sometimes you have to be simple and inaccurate to get people to listen) and he stopped walking towards us and that was fine, but while we talked he inexplicably took a few more steps forward before I could say anything and Gustav did a woof and lunge. Nothing terrible, but it sure worked because my friend stopped coming towards us. Other than that we saw tons of dogs and people and he did great. I was really proud. Same with Dottie.