Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dog Days of Summer

Staying Cool

Staying cool is a mental game when it comes to dealing with people and dogs.  We've all encountered people who seem so unaware of the what they are saying and doing.  I try desperately to be an open minded person and not become as narrow minded as those I've encountered when I've been working with Chico.  When you have a dog that is fearful, or reactive, like Chico a calm readiness is a must, even when the heat index is over 100 degrees!

 Chico and Rue hiking on a hot summer day

I'm Feeling HOT HOT HOT

I've always handled the glares and berating words by others about Chico with some hesitation and even found myself being just as reactive as my dog.  How can I ask my dog not to be on the defense when I'm doing what I'm telling him not to do.  The old saying, "Do as I say, not as I do" comes to mind.  For humans that philosophy may work, but I'm fairly certain my dog doesn't understand that concept.  With Chico, I must do as I say and prove to him that there is no reason to be scared and reactive.  Just as I revel in the successes of Chico, I need to take note of my positive explanations of Chico to others.  This isn't always an easy feat when people say such nasty things about a dog that has been so jaded by his previous owners.  I've found it is sometimes best to just move on from people with such cynical judgments.  Chico has so much more to offer than just reactivity.  If we took everything at face value, would we ever break away from our first opinions of others?

Chico enjoying the fresh country air on a hot summer's day

Keeping Our Cool

Every week I take Chico to his beginner agility class.  I spend the entire hour working with Chico on not being reactive and if he is calm enough we will work on the equipment.  While working with Chico in these situations we have been very lucky to have so much support by our classmates and instructors.  Our classmates have cheered us on and lifted our spirit when we have been down.  I truly adore them all for their support.  Unfortunately, that isn't always the case when I'm working with Chico.  Sometimes people will make comments and often don't understand his behavior.  Anyone who has ever owned a fearful dog can attest that working through their fear is a challenge.  But watching your dog grow and make positive choices and changes is simply a wonderful feeling.  Reactive and fearful dogs like Chico aren't monsters.  They have so much love, passion, and intelligence to offer.  

Rue watching and waiting for her turn at agility

For The Birds... Or BATS?

Here is a video of Chico using BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) at our agility class.  Chico is reactive to people, bikes, and occasionally other dogs.  He is extremely reactive in stimulating environments like agility class.  He tends to be more fearful of men.  This was the 4th session of using BAT in our class. We have been able to make a lot of progress with the proximity to our group members.  You'll see that Chico is gaining confidence with his choice to not react and will offer the full body turn. 

More about BAT:
Behavior Adjustment Training was developed by Grisha Stewart. This training technique teaches the dog that they will be reinforced with a sound marker, such as, a verbal "yes," or the click from a clicker, for looking at whatever the dog is normally reactive to. If the dog acknowledges the stimulus and offers another positive, often subtle, behavior such as, turning, sniffing the ground, licking their nose, or just looking at the owner. The previously mentioned subtle behaviors are captured and the dog is rewarded after the dog is moved away from the stimulus.  Eventually, as you can see in the video, I'm are able to move Chico closer to the trainer without Chico barking and lunging at him.  His positive reactions are captured, in turn, Chico learns that he can offer other more positive behaviors, besides barking and lunging. I have explained the very basic principle behind this training. This technique has 3 stages all in which work your dog under their "threshold" of reactivity. Read more about BAT on Grisha's website.

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