I finally managed to get all four dogs trained today. Or should I say, do a little training with each. I took Mira and Ross each out for a good hike individually, working on training as we went. With Hannah and Finn I did a little training inside before I fed them. I have to make a list of my goals for each dog and put them on their respective webpages, but for today I focused on the following.
With Mira I am working on self-control and focus. Today we did heeling, recalls and games of tug. Mira has an inordinate amount of fear and is easily distracted as a result. On our way to the park, for example, we had to walk past a tricycle that some child had forgotten to put away. That was very scary. She had been heeling more or less nicely until she saw the bike, then her eyes nearly popped out of her head and she flew to the end of her leash away from it. I stood quietly by the bike and rewarded any attempts to come up and sniff it, but she just wasn’t going to go there. I suppose this is an improvement over how she used to handle situations like this: bark her head off then dive in and BITE! She used to do that to anything (or anyone) that scared her. Now she just moves away, which is a much more appropriate (and certainly more socially acceptable) response.
We then moved on to the park. She heeled fairly well (with rewards every few steps) until we got to the top of the path. Then she became very distracted. She knows she’s going to get to run, and that’s all she could think about. I had to stop and back up a hundred times going that last 100 feet. When we finally got to the spot I usually let the dogs off, I kept walking. Mira was so distracted she could not focus on anything I asked her to do, so I was not going to let her off-leash in that state of mind. She does not jump or bark or act excited, she just zones out and stares. I did a bunch of figure 8’s and other patterns to force her to focus on me. When she was successful I rewarded her by letting her run.
I am torn about how best to handle this dog. She responds tremendously well to the ‘Ruff Love’ program, and I should probably follow that through for at least 6-8 weeks. But it takes so much time and effort, and quite frankly I just don’t know how to squeeze it all in. Mira has improved immensely over the past month in terms of being able to be out of the crate and quiet, so I prefer to let her be free in the house when I’m home. As for running free, she is a very high energy dog and life is just a whole lot easier when she’s tired. The weather doesn’t permit me to ski (not enough snow) or bike (too much snow) so the only way I can let her run is on her own. Maybe when the days are longer, so I don’t have to get 3 hours of dog training and exercising in before 5pm, I’ll put her on Ruff Love full-time. She does respond very well to a lot of structure as it gives her confidence to know what’s expected of her.
During our walk I called her back periodically and rewarded her with tugging. Her tugging is getting to be quite good, considering she had stopped completely for a long time. However she refused to tug when a person walked by, so she obviously is still feeling stress by strangers even if she is no longer trying to eat them. I switched to food and she took that, which is good although I’m not sure if I should be letting her choose her reward. It’s always a judgement call in these situations. Training suggests she should not be able to refuse the tug, but her fear of people demands a reward. I think the latter trumps the former in this case, so food it was. I asked her to tug as soon as the person had moved down the path, and she did. Then we moved on.
Near the end of our walk I put her back on the leash to do more heeling. We walked through a wooded area and she was totally distracted again, staring wearily into the forest, intensely watching stumps and other strangely shaped objects. I could barely get her to focus with feeding her every 2 seconds. I should add that I have been working on this exercise for MONTHS. This dog has very little self-control when she is worried or excited.
Just as we got back to our starting point, we ran into Jack and his mom. Jack is a big husky-GSD mix who looks like a well-fed wolf. He’s about as good natured as they come and my dogs know him well. Nevertheless, Mira all but jumped out of her skin as he ran up to us. She alarm barked and lunged and snapped at him, as if she’d never met him before. After a few minutes she settled down and I let her go. She then ran with him and all was well. We repeated the loop with Jack and his mom, and then went home. On the way home, she paid no attention to the bicycle.
Of note, I gave Mira a repeat of her homeopathic remedy last night. She is currently taking a remedy that is indicated for her fear issues and it is possible that she is experiencing an aggravation as she was spookier than she has been for the past couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see how or if this remedy helps. I sure hope it does something as it gets frustrating to have to work this hard to get a dog to a very basic level of training. Overall she did well today, however, and I do see progress. But I have a looooong way to go with this dog.