Shaking it off

If you’ve followed my flurry of posts this week, a lot has been going on here, but we’re shaking it off and continuing on our way.

Edwin was fantastic on the car ride home yesterday.  Over the summer, we worked with him on car manners before taking him on a road trip.  There’s nothing like a large dog happily letting out a high-pitched bark next to your ear in an enclosed space.  He made good progress then, and we learned that once we got on the highway, where scents and sights pass more quickly, he’d settle right in for a long nap.

Unfortunately, he’s rarely gone on car rides since summer and has reverted to his noisy exuberance.  Last week, he was able to calm down a bit on a ride by doing the “touch” command repeatedly.

On the way home yesterday, he enjoyed his ride in near silence while being rewarded with treats that he took very gently without being reminded to be gentle.  Okay, it was one Milk Bone broken into tiny enough pieces to last for a 20 minute drive.  He did get noisy when we arrived home and got to calm down in the car for about 30 seconds before exiting, but we’ll call that a fluke.

I’m so proud of him for being such a good boy in the car!  If going to a trainer ends up happening, continuing to work on this will be vital since there’s not a highway that goes there.

Our walk was a bit less ideal.  Near the beginning, a couple of skateboarders passed us.  Gambit was getting antsy, and I let them know that he’s afraid of skateboards.  One smiled and said all dogs seem to be afraid or angry at skateboards.  Since we were walking in opposite directions, I didn’t think much of it.

A minute later, one passed by and Gambit had a minor freak out.  Soon after, the other passed and he nearly yanked the leash out of my hand as the passing skateboarder called out an apology.  The incident set the boys on edge a bit, and Edwin had difficulty listening while he passed other dogs hanging out in their yards. Fortunately, these dogs are either knowledgeable about their yards’ boundaries and unfazed by distractions, or behind a fence so we can use their presence to our advantage in working on Edwin’s fear of off-leash dogs.

Edwin’s done much better lately at listening when I ask him to it and look when we see another dog.  When done the moment he notices the other dog, the homemade treats my dad occasionally sends are sufficiently high value and after his treat, he can calmly continue on his way.  Yesterday, with a walk that started off with an upset Gambit, the hot dogs I was testing out were not a high value treat to distract Eddie.  Thankfully, today is a new day.

We had an at-home training session that went much better.  Edwin has been occasionally working on “leave it” for a few weeks, and I have needed to solidly block the treat for a few seconds the first time I ask him to leave it.  After that, he’d relax but was only occasionally figuring out that he could have the treat once I gave the okay.  If he didn’t take the treat the first time I pointed and said “okay,” I would nudge it toward him.

Yesterday, it started to click more solidly.  I could say “leave it” as I slowly placed the treat in front of him, he’d watch it without his nose right next to it, and was going right for it when given the okay.  We also worked on come with a whistle instead of a word command, look, and touch.  All three of those have come to Eddie quite naturally.

Otherwise, was a pretty laid back afternoon.

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4 Responses to Shaking it off

  1. onedoglife says:

    Dealing with reactive dogs can be so tiring. You have to be alert at every moment. I recently went on a dogless walk around my neighborhood, and it felt SO weird. I wondered what it was and I realized I was actually SEEING the surroundings instead of just constantly scanning for other dogs.

    Have you tried the dog reactivity method where you mark/reward the milisecond the dog notices the other dog, and then each time they look at them again after that? I’ve noticed it works a little easier than trying to convince the dog to look at you instead of the object of their anxiety (heck, if I was in a room with a tarantula and someone told me not to look at it, I would laugh at them. I need to know where it is!). I can send you an email about it if you’re interested. It’s still classical conditioning, but it’s simpler and the timing can be faster.

    It sounds like you’ve worked so hard with him. Glad to hear you’re seeing improvements — even if they’re gradual.

    • I haven’t tried that method but it does sound interesting. We did try for a bit loading him up with continuous treats the moment he noticed another dog. Unfortunately, while he is extremely food motivated, he is often not interested in the food when he is anxious. He does seem to be able to calm down a bit once he looks away from the other dog with the method we’ve been working on – we had worked with it some, and his vet also recommended it after confirming that it was a fear issue. She does think it is a very reasonable fear – he has no control over introductions with new, off-leash dogs although the ones we see most often are very calm and don’t show interest or approach.

  2. Eddie looks so much like Charlie Machete in that picture. I did a double take! Sounds like you are being very diligent with his training and it’s paying off. I couldn’t agree more with Onedoglife about how exhausting it can be to deal with a reactive dog. It’s so fulfilling, though, when they make improvement.

    • Charlie Machete reminds me of Eddie a lot! It rarely comes across in pictures but Edwin’s head is blockier than a purebred lab’s and he has a bit of that wide legged stance with his muscular front legs. We are trying to be very active with it, and it’s helped that I’ve realized my husband can’t both walk him and reach into his pocket for treats while he gets worked up – I doubt he’d remember a treat bag on walks but I would like to get one for myself. Our schedules have been permitting me to join them on walks a few days a week to be the treat feeder, and it seems to be working. Even if we find a harness that would allow me to handle Eddie when he gets excited about something, I need to work on myself – I do get stressed if I’m holding the leash when he starts getting anxious, and I know that just escalates the problem.

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