Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Moment We Train For, And Fear Most

Train - To Develop Or Form Habits, Thoughts, Or Behavior By Discipline & Instruction. Dictionary.com

Ever since Chico developed reactivity, I have tried to train on ways that would keep him, and other people, safe if, and when, he ever encounters something beyond our control.  I've taught him tricks like "collar", in which he offers his neck to me, this allows me to get a hold of his collar in an emergency.  Chico has a wonderful recall, and I can call him to me in most situations that he finds interesting, like chasing sheep, other dogs, even herding the cat.  I've thought him to sit politely when he meets new people.  Chico has learned to walk between my legs, both forwards and backwards, in case we get into a situation that he's uncomfortable with and needs more space. However, the most important thing I've taught Chico, who is frightened of people, is to "touch" new peoples hands with his nose.  I can ask Chico if he would like to "go say hi?" to new people, if he's up for it, he greets people with a hand touch and comes right back to me for his treat.  (Note: I only practice this with people I know and trust.)  All this training has been two years in the making, it's a fun way to socialize our unsocial butterfly and help him feel more secure in his uncertain world.  Last week, all that hard work and training paid off in a nerve racking two minutes.

Rue with the Jolly Ball, Chico in chase


The Moment We Train For, And Fear Most

Last week was like any other evening. I came home from work and took the dogs out.  I had Chico on leash walking him to go potty in our yard.  This time of night is very active in our neighborhood. As I was walking Chico a runner was running on the opposite side of the street. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, I just back up with Chico and give him treats.  For reactive dogs, space equals success.  Just as we were backing up Chico's leash unhooked. (Apparently we need a new one.) The runner was very appealing to Chico, and he immediately started to run towards her. I immediately asked Chico to "wait." which he did for a split second. However the runner's movement was too much stimulation and he decided she was much more exciting than my request to wait. Sprinting across the street to the runner, far faster than I could go, Chico's face looked wild with excitement. Thankfully there wasn't any cars coming and he crossed the street safely. In that moment I realized Chico wasn't going to come to me, but I needed to be sure that the runner wouldn't continue to run. I spoke clearly and asked the runner to stop running and not move. Amazingly, the gal stopped running. Given that Chico is fearful on a leash of strangers, I did not know how he would react to her.  I could see that he was also over the moon with excitement and completely over stimulated.  At times Chico can be "herdy" like many herding dogs, and in the past Chico has nipped my ankles when I've run around him when he's been off leash. That's the last thing I would want to happen to this runner.


Chico all smiles with a hand petting his head

At the same time Chico arrived at the runner she listened to my request and stopped moving.  In this moment Chico did what we had trained... He sat.  His face looking up at the runner in wonder, (probably thinking where's my treat lady!?) I asked the runner to not pet him. She again listened. I wasn't certain what Chico would have done if she would have reached to pet him when he was so excited.  Probably given her a hand touch, but since the runner was listening so well, why not keep asking her to do things that would keep Chico calm.


The Ultimate Reward For Training

I have conditioned Chico to sit for people and he receives tons of treats. I've also trained the hand touch with people, if someone were to reach down to pet this formally abused dog, he simply touches their hand with his nose. For a fearful dog, hand movement is no longer scary. After Chico sat for the runner, he was quickly distracted and took off running chasing dogs along a fence line next to the runner. Rue was in our sun room across the street watching and started manically barking, (normally she doesn't bark much besides in her crate.) Dustyn came out to see what the barking was about and saw Chico outside chasing the dogs along the fence, and me calmly following Chico. That's when Dustyn said "Chico come." Ummm... Duh, why didn't I try and call Chico? Must have been too frazzled. Chico ran directly to Dustyn, again, safely crossing the street while I apologized to the gal running, who I'm sure, had the crap scared out of with my demands to stop running and not pet my dog.

Chico sitting politely


Although embarrassed, I was happy that the runner listed to what I asked, and proud that Chico remembered the countless "go say hi," hand touches, and sits I reinforced with thousands of treats around people we knew and didn't know. 


Training a fearful dog can be utterly exhausting, but last week I got the ultimate reward for training. Training certain behaviors with your dog can teach them to the offer these learned behaviors when maybe they aren't so sure what they should do.  I told one of my friends about the incident and she said, "Amy, you have conditioned the heck out of having him meet people, his behavior doesn't surprise me."  Yes, I have done that, but when a dog is excited you never know what they will do.  I guess that's why we call it training.  

My herding boy, Chico


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