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.