I lurk here and rarely post, but some of you have read about my young pit bull Vanya's adventures over on the clickersolutions yahoo group. Liz encouraged me to start a thread about Vanya's consult yesterday with Sarah of Blue Dog. I'm still kind of exhausted from it, but here's a start. You can read lots more about Vanya, and about all the efforts we've made to work on his arousal issues, over at his new website/blog: http://tinyurl.com/vanyaproject
After a 3 hour private consult with Sarah Kaljnais of Blue Dog Training aimed at assessing Vanya's leash reactivity, and developing strategies for working on it, she felt Vanya was one of the more hyper-aroused dogs she had ever seen. The Dog's Best Friend private trainer back in Feb. 2008 had said pretty much the same thing. He wins a prize!
Seriously, new environments do get him wound up. Really, really wound up. For all the progress we've made with him on his arousal issues, he has a long, long ways to go.
Briefly, part of my homework is to figure out what his triggers for arousal are and what his various signs are--I'm to get a baseline on the farm (where he is very calm, after years of relaxation protocol and impulse control work), and then take him to 3 new places (without dogs). She wants me to record his triggers for arousal, and rank them from 1 to 5, and record his signs of arousal (scanning, shrieking, staring at ceilings, piloerection, etc), and then record how long it takes him to calm down in various situations.
His foundation focus behaviors are very good with distractions on the farm: watch me, sit, let's go, target, leave it, recall. The website has a bunch of his youtube clips from outside, this past fall, that show some of his work.
But in the city, at Sarah's house, he started out being able to offer his foundation behaviors, but after 30 minutes in the room (small room, 3 new people, 8 dogs and cats in the house but not visible), he was getting more wound up, and soon his cues fell apart and he started shrieking at runners he saw through the window. He's not used to cities, to put it mildly. On the walk with the trainer, he didn't scream, or lunge at dogs that he saw halfway down the block, but he did teeth-chatter when he peed, and he wasn't able to take treats or respond to target cues. The main part of my homework is to take him into the village and town, away from other dogs, and work on his foundation behaviors in novel environments.
And then I need to take him to far outside a dog park (or place with other controlled dogs that won't run up to us), and work on shaping calmer behavior--essentially, the relaxation protocol work we did for quite a while on the farm, but off the farm. Then, if we can shape calmness around her dogs (he can glance at me for a treat, but he doesn't calm down now), we'll try working up to pass-bys. She is going to talk with Dr Sophia Yin about consulting with my vet on meds, if we can't shape a bit more calmness in novel environments over the next month.
For a comparison, she thought he is less dog aggressive than many dogs she works with, but among the most aroused of dogs she has worked with. She is confident we can make progress because he has calmed down so much on the farm around our chickens and around our other dogs. So many things that used to trigger him don't anymore, thanks to clicker training and tons of cheezwhiz.
For another comparison, I asked how he compared to Dr Yin's Podhee, who lunges and barks a lot more. She said Vanya was far, far more aroused. She held her fingers close together: "this is Podhee's arousal." Then she held her arms wide apart: "this is Vanya's arounsal." Okey dokey.
Here's Podhee for comparison:http://www.askdryin.com/elearning/lsh.php#
She and her co-workers eventually took a basket-muzzled Vanya out to interact in the back yard with one of her calm female dogs. Vanya was muzzled and also on the hands-free leash (held at, I think, 4 ft). I watched from the porch, so Vanya wasn't reacting to me reacting. Vanya did not do very well. The female dog had to tell him to back off, buster, when he put his head over her neck, and he snarled when she told him off. Then he got pulled away, and from where I was standing, he seemed to get very frustrated. He got another chance to sniff her behind, and from what I could see (which was a partial view--I will get the video), she warned him off again, a sign to the trainers that he was sending aggressive signals to her.
Sarah thought he hadn't started out as an aggressive dog, but he had failed to learn appropriate dog-signals and was acting like a jerk. She wanted him to learn to calm way, way down around new dogs before trying introductions again. So we are to work on two things: focus in greater distractions and shaping calmness in greater distractions.