…always carry bandaging supplies to the park!
Applauding Bee’s Resilience…
When I first started walking Bee, she couldn’t pass another walker’s group on a path in the park. A dog within 5ft-10ft of her caused her to flee, and if cornered she’d snap. Her original owner purchased her as a pup from PJ’s (read: puppy mill) only to leave her in a crate for long hours for the majority of her first year – definitely not a situation the promoted a well-socialized dog! Luckily, this person eventually thought better of keeping Bee in this situation, and re-homed her to a lovely couple who could better meet her needs. A dog’s early life (genetic, prenatal, neonatal, and puppyhood) has a profound effect on later life, and Bee is a good example of this. When I started walking Bee, her owners left her harness and leash on her so I would have no need to touch her to get her in and out of the house. She stayed on leash in the park, and we hid off to the side of the trail to let other dogs pass. Luckily, she would stay under threshold so long as there was no risk of a dog getting in her space.
One year ago, Elsie was picked up as a stray in Etobicoke by Toronto Animal Services. I retrieved Elsie from TAS as a foster for Speaking of Dogs – I was going on vacation in three weeks and thought “No way I’ll want to keep an 8yo shepherd! No problem taking on a foster now…” – but as the story so often ends she became a “failed foster” and took up permanent residence.
I don’t know what her life was before that, but I have no doubt that she had a damn good time chasing wildlife once she hit the streets! All last summer the bane of my existence, and the glory of Elsie’s, were the squirrels in the parks, the cats on the fence in the yard and both critters during neighbourhood walks. If Elsie thought she may perhaps just might have seen a bit of movement, or heard a little noise, that may have been a cat or squirrel her brain would disappear into an alternate universe. She would freeze, stiff as rigor mortis, and her eyes would go completely blank as she stared (and sometimes drooled). The other half of her reaction to critters was full-out hurling herself toward the suspected Squirrel Zone, sometimes screaming like I was killing her, and also running backwards like a crayfish, just about popping out of her collar (this is why she wears a sighthound martingale collar). While there were some squirrel-safe parks, other parks were off-bounds because she would disappear into the forest in hot pursuit of her fluffy-tailed friends. She would not only tree the squirrels, but also chase them from the ground as they ran through the leafy canopy 50ft above.
It’s easy enough to say “work at a distance, wait for her to look back at you and click and feed attention.” Sure, the basics are there. Decrease distraction with distance, mark and reinforce a desirable behaviour. But I had to ask myself: what on earth could I have possibly offered Elsie that was more potent than a squirrel, even at a distance?
The Answer? A squirrel, of course.
We just got home from trialling at The Poodle Farm, and I am knackered.
Yesterday Jen (partner), Nancy (friend) and I packed up Arlo, Sophie and Elsie into Bernard (tiny green car) and drove two hours to Debby DaCosta’s wonderful facility outside of Vanessa, ON. The trial started at 8:30 this morning, and we weren’t too keen on leaving the house at 6am to get there on time! We pulled in around 7pm to be welcomed by Debby and Al and directed to a grassy knoll behind the barn to set up camp for the night. I was glad to see the lay of the land before the stress of the trial the next day. The trouble is that sleeping moments were few and far between, interrupted by various dogs, outside noises, uncomfortable bedding, cold, and poorly-folded sweatshirt-pillows. For some reason, not so restful as camping usually is!
I’ve finally entered Elsie in a CARO trial, coming up on June 26th. I’ve been working a lot this week (since I registered!) on getting the stand on cue, as well as more stimulus control on positions. Despite my earlier work on fronts, I need to do a little more on getting the front smoothly from moving in heel position (call front signs). I take a step back in the video, which isn’t a problem for CARO, but I’d rather not have to. Earlier in the training session she was coming in very crookedly, as well. Other than that, I just need to remember how to read the signs and not screw up all my subtle (or not so subtle) body cues, which would totally throw Elsie off in the ring. I am liking her heeling, she’s got pretty good duration despite a fairly low rate of reinforcement.
I’ve entered three runs in Novice, and I’m hoping to get that title soon so I can get started on advanced. I’m not competitive, I don’t think well under this type of stress, and I don’t like performing… The behaviours in Novice are not particularly hard, but I know I’m going to screw something up bad when I get into the ring (read: and piss myself), so I think I won’t set my sights on coming out of this trial with a Novice title!!
So, here’s how things have been going:
Back on the topic of sound sensitivities… unfortunately we’re now fully immersed in the season of fireworks and thunderstorms. Arlo is actually holding up very well, especially considering recent history.
For a time, Arlo was triggered on nearly every walk, and it was difficult to find a day that he wasn’t triggered. His reaction was generally one of two things: shutting down and marching or frantically pulling, frequently towards the house or car. Luckily, the majority of his reactions were of the first, somewhat milder, variety. Increasingly he was being triggered by things imperceptible to me. This was also happening on the street when it previously appeared to have generalized to only parks. I was getting a little bit frightened that he was really going to go down hill. I thought his world was going to get smaller and smaller as this fear generalized…
I’m happy to say, however, that I have seen a lot of progress for the better in the last couple of weeks. Below I’ll go over what I’ve done and what I have yet to do:
Before getting back to Arlo’s sound sensitivities, here is a short obedience intermission featuring… Elsie!
(This was filmed May 1st, and yes, I am in fact wearing my winter coat, hat and gloves. WTF?!)
If dogs could request one thing of us people that would assist in preventing, managing, and changing most behaviour problems, they would say “gimme some space!” Continue reading Gimme some SPACE!
One more post on fronts! But this time with some finishes thrown in, too.
I’ve finally mailed out to get Elsie a CARO number so I can trial her, but unfortunately trails tend to be far far away from home AND appear to land on weekends when I’ve already committed to conferences (speaking of which… I need to write about ClickerExpo in Chicago from a couple weeks ago!!)
This still looks a little rough, some bum-bouncing and cue-jumping, but it’s better than it has been. I’m working on verbal cuing, just in case I decide to trial in obedience *one day*… one day when Elsie is so old that she can’t make the jumps. I’ve faded my body cues somewhat, but I’m still tipping one way and the other. Hopefully I can stop that at some point, but that really doesn’t matter for rally. The next front-related exercise will be to call front while in motion – basically, she comes into front position when we stop, rather than sitting in heel. After we get that and a better stand, we’ll be ready to trial! (After some work on generalization, of course… “but my dog does it at home!”)
I might regret that crotch targeting, because she’s starting to give some mighty strong muzzle punches if she doesn’t get clicked immediately. Ouch. But at least it keeps her from drifting backward.
So here’s yet another video. Again, I filmed this on my computer, so the left’s and right’s are reversed. She does actually heel on the left, despite what the video says. (I may regret this backward-business one day when I review these, but for now at least I’m filming. The real camera involves tripod, set-up, transfer, AND conversion of the files, because some idiot thought it would be a good idea to transfer files that computers have never heard of and also not give me a program to convert them. pfft.)
ALSO, I’m teaming up with Andre from When Hounds Fly to offer a Canine Good Neighbour Prep Class. Below is the promo video featuring Arlo and Elsie! (And Arlo plays! wowza!)
Here’s how “Front” is coming along. I’ve added movement and am looking for her to stay close in position, plus I’ve changed training locations. She is offering sit, which I am clicking if my other criteria is met, but isn’t required at this point. I’ve left the tape lines on the floor in case I feel my criteria getting lax. I’m finding it helpful to have on hand.
Here’s video of session #2: