Progress with Leash Reactivity

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Postby tiva » February 21st, 2010, 11:57 pm

Nothing exciting to report, but for Vanya a lack of excitement is a good thing. We did another practice outside a calm, intact male yellow lab who hangs out in a kennel near a bike trail. Vanya used to scream and lunge when we got 100 yards from him, and then he started calming down a bit and would only lunge and shriek as we tried to pass on the trail, about 20 ft from the lab. Today he was able to pass back and forth calmly by the kennel 5 times, pretty much ignoring the lab who was 10 feet away. He was also able to go sniff noses with the lab (separated by the kennel fence) t and stay calm (well, reasonably so; he did start whining a bit and got a little stiff, but he came away easily). He was actually much, much more interested in people who were nearby (especially the lab's owners, who were kind enough to scratch his ears and tell him he's a lovely boy). So this is progress, even though sometimes it seems very slow.

I have a dim suspicion that no real dog can be quite as exciting to Vanya as Miss Plushy, whom he adores more every day.

And we saw some more unleashed dogs a block away, on the bike trail. We played Look at That for a little bit as they approached us, then I did a quick u-turn and plunged off into the snowy parking lot. Vanya was not happy about the deep snow, but he didn't react to the dogs in the distance, or to the u-turn.
Last edited by tiva on February 21st, 2010, 11:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Hundilein » February 21st, 2010, 11:58 pm

That's awesome! Keep up the good work.
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Postby TheRedQueen » February 22nd, 2010, 12:13 am

:clap: :confetti:

Congrats!!!!
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Postby amazincc » February 22nd, 2010, 12:26 am

Sounds like excellent progress to me... it's all about baby steps. :clap: :D
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » February 22nd, 2010, 8:36 am

I think he (and you!) are doing just fantastic. The fact that he was able to sniff noses with the Lab, through a fence, is pretty impressive. A lot of non-reactive dogs would have trouble with that due to the fence between. So don't you dare minimize it!

How long have you had handsome Mr. V.? What's his background, do you know? Was he separated from mom too early? Inara was, and it seems as though most people I talk to with reactive dogs also say their dogs were separated too early. Ooh! I'm off to start a new topic. :giggle:
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Postby maberi » February 22nd, 2010, 9:07 am

Awesome progress!! Do you guys do most of your training on your own? I've wondered how successful I can be with Kayden working in unstructured environments like that. Then again, I haven't had that much luck with classes so I might be better off on my own
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Postby tiva » February 22nd, 2010, 9:43 am

maberi wrote:Do you guys do most of your training on your own? I've wondered how successful I can be with Kayden working in unstructured environments like that. Then again, I haven't had that much luck with classes so I might be better off on my own


We've had lousy luck with classes, and several private consults that were pretty unfortunate as well. The consult with Sarah Kalnajs was good, however, and she helped me set up a formal training plan, since we weren't making much progress without one. PLushy was my attempt to substitute for the dogs in a class setting, and then we were lucky enough to discover Jake, the mellow lab in the kennel along the trail. I was happy yesterday to run into his owners so I could ask their permission for what I'm trying to do with Vanya. My problem is partly that we don't have leash laws in the country out here, so I'm never sure when unleashed dogs are going to come roaring up at us. (Although, the few times that's happened, Vanya has been fine--dancing and loud, but not lunging or shrieking. He's never fought with another dog, except for a couple very brief resource-guarding snarks with his two housemate dogs when I wasn't around and my husband spaced out the management guidelines).

Liz, we know little about Vanya's history before we adopted him at the local humane society. We found him on Halloween 2007, and he was about 10 months old (vet's best guess), and he had been at the shelter for 2 months. He was found as a stray, they told us, but later we learned the original owner's address and realized that after animal control picked him up roaming, they had contacted the owners and the owners had not wanted to pay the fine for claiming him. It was a rural address. I stifled the urge to drive over the check them out (they're about 45 minutes away from our farm). One private trainer speculated that he was a bait dog because he's so reactive to new dogs, but I think that was silliness based on inexperience with pits, not on Vanya's actual behavior. Changes are pretty good that one of two things happened in his youth: either he was bred by a backyard breeder and taken from his litter too early, or else he was bred on the farm and never socialized to new things.
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Postby maberi » February 22nd, 2010, 9:47 am

tiva wrote: One private trainer speculated that he was a bait dog because he's so reactive to new dogs, but I think that was silliness based on inexperience with pits, not on Vanya's actual behavior.


I couldn't help but laugh at that statement a little :wink: Poor Inara and Kayden must have been bait dogs as well...
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Postby tiva » February 28th, 2010, 9:33 pm

Another little success today: we did another pass-by with the yellow lab, and Vanya was too bored to even yodel. Yippie! Doing these pass-bys after I ski-jor with him helps a lot--although he wasn't too tired to yodel at a nice couple passing by, who laughed at him, because he was wagging his tail so hard he almost knocked himself over.

I still don't have the nerve to try this with a regular dog walking by on the sidewalk, since Vanya in full cry does a passable imitation of an emergency warning siren.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » February 28th, 2010, 9:43 pm

That's awesome that he's getting used to the yellow lab!
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Postby IzzysDad » March 21st, 2010, 7:47 am

Congrats.
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Postby tiva » April 11th, 2010, 6:28 pm

Well, he got very used to the lab, but other new dogs, especially in the village, still sent him way over threshold. I've been traveling so much I hadn't had much time to take him off the farm to practice with new dogs between my trips (my wonderful husband is sweet with Vanya, but when I'm not around, training stops and the dogs just goof off on the farm. A nice life, but not much socialization to new things).

But yesterday and today I finally figured out a setup to practice his LAT exercises and stay reasonably under threshold--yet not be sooo far away from new dogs that they're tiny dots in the distance (and so far that I'm not really sure my pup sees them. Aha! No wonder he's minding his manners! He thinks those are ants, not dogs off in the distance!)

Ok, here's the set-up:
1. We go someplace filled with romping dogs who have better things to do than pay attention to my darling nutcase
2. We go far enough from people so that I don't mind if Vanya starts shrieking (of course, for his sake, I want to keep him calm, but sometimes that just doesn't happen. And if he loses it and starts imitating an emergency siren, I prefer not to have the police called on us for disturbing the peace.)
3. We find a spot where I can leave the car door open for him. I tie a loop around his crate door to keep it open as well (but it's easy to pull up the loop and shut the door instantly, if need be). He loves his crate. He feels very safe in the car, in his crate, curled up in his soft dog bed. Why did it take me so long to figure this out? If he can take a quick break in his crate in the car, he calms down much, much faster.
4. We find a spot where either the car or, better yet, some structure acts as a blind. Again, Vanya can stay calmer much more easily if he can get out of visual contact with the dog for a moment.
5. I use his sensible harness, attached with a 5 ft leash to my waist-harness. I also use his canny collar (or gentle leader) as backup (because he can slip out of the harness easily), with a 6 ft leash loose in my hand. Most of the time the canny collar or GL nose-piece is off him, but it's available as a quick backup if something happens that means I need more control over his nose. Having 2 leashes makes me feel much more secure, and keeps me from needing to have pressure on his nose-piece for more than an instant.

Today, I found all this much closer, in our little village, just 5 minutes away. Lots of dogs were romping in the lake park, and as we found out the hard way in March, the regular parking lot is far too close to all the unleashed dogs (this isn't a dog park, just rural Wisconsin where few people pay attention to leash laws). But across the street, there's a little pull-out with a big limestone monument to veterans. I can park in the pull-out with the car door open, and we can play our Look at That games from behind the stone monument. Vanya can peek out around the monument and see nice elderly couples walking their dogs on the opposite side of the lake. Water, a stone monument, and a few trees lie between us and the rest of the world. No loose dogs are going to come zooming up at us (and if they do, the car is right there with its door open). The set-up is calm enough so that Vanya can play LAT with the other dogs without getting excited. When Vanya begins to show some signs of stress (low whining, usually, or a fixed look, slower to look back at me after the LAT command) we can zip right behind the monument and calm down. When he's calmed down a bit, we can go sniff bushes and drink from the pond and pee in the woods to relax before coming back for another round of LAT with romping dogs across the water. He stayed calm enough today to do all his nifty tricks--in front of people! (Well, they were a ways away, but he still got some admiring glances from kids for his good behavior, instead of the usual looks of horror we seem to collect when he's getting over-excited).

The other thing I realized: stinky swiss sausages are wonderful rewards. I bought 4 for my self, but Vanya ended up getting most of them broken into tiny rewards. I also tossed treats for him in the grass, so sniffing them out was another way of keeping him from getting focused on those other dogs.

All in all, a good day. These dog exercises exhaust both of us, but I think we're making progress.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » April 11th, 2010, 7:45 pm

What a great idea! I often have those DOH moments when I just bop myself on the forehead and wonder why it took me so long to realize something so simple. :doh:
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies." http://www.positivepetzine.com"

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Postby tiva » April 14th, 2010, 12:26 pm

Thanks, Liz. For those of you who are curious about Vanya's work on LR, I've posted a few more blog entries, since we've been practicing each day for four days in a row, in novel environments and with new, exciting, stranger dogs.
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