Monday, April 23, 2012

A Successful Day

Saturday was a great day of progress for Brody. We've been working up to it the whole time he has been training, building foundation, building trust and creating meaning for the clicker.  Saturday was the culmination of everything we had worked on, and the true beginning of his counter-conditioning training.  I was worried about how Brody would react - while he's done very well so far, there are lots of things that can go wrong once all the cards are on the table and he comes face to face with his nemesis. 

I was worried that he would get stressed out and refuse to take treats, that he would start to ignore the sound of the click, or that I wouldn't be able to keep him under threshold.  Those are all common road blocks when working with a leash-reactive dog, so I had reason to be concerned.  But all our prep work (and my thoughtful planning of bringing several different kinds of treats) paid off.

The park we picked to work in on Saturday was perfect for what Brody needed.  It was busy - with a sunny, mid-70's spring day that wasn't a surprise.  Lots of kids and parents, noise and activity, but that wasn't what we were there for.  I got Brody all set up, leash clipped to his harness, my treat bag and clicker ready, and we headed to the edge of the park, by the sidewalk that ran around the perimeter.  That's where we found what we were looking for - a woman walking her dog.  The first dog we spotted was small, which was fine for a starting point. 

I got Brody to a distance that I thought was just close enough (or just far enough, depending on how you want to look at things!), then proceeded to click and treat at all the right times.  It was a fantastic exercise - textbook.  My timing was good, and I managed to keep Brody just under threshold all but one time (which I caught so quickly it didn't become an issue).  We made it by that dog without a single bark, so I gave him a little break and grabbed a few pictures.  Once I'd spotted the next dog I again set Brody up at a distance that felt right, and we again had a very successful session.

Throughout the couple hours we stayed at the park Brody got to encounter many dogs, and he continued to do very well.  If you think two hours sounds like a long time to train a dog, you're right.  It's too long.  But sometimes you have to take advantage of situations that are ripe for training, so I kept Brody from getting frazzled by mixing things up and taking lots of breaks.  A little work passing another dog, then some time to sit in the shade and relax.  A walk around the grass for sniffing and exploring, a trip over to the car to get a drink of cold water and some fresh treats, then scoping out another dog and taking up our position.

It's wonderful as a dog trainer to have things go well, especially when you have eager parents putting their trust in you, hoping that you will make great progress with their dog.  We still have a long way to go, but right now I'm very happy with how Brody is doing.

Have you ever had a dog that was reactive (towards dogs, people, cars or anything) when on leash?  What did you do to change their behavior, or what did you do to deal with it?

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