Monday, June 30, 2014

Reactivity Training is Starting to Make Progress

     About three weeks ago I wrote about the reality that Cinder is a reactive puppy and what that means.  Since then, much has transpired that gives me great hope for her despite the challenges that remain.
     Part of the challenge for those with a reactive dog can be identifying what makes them react and under what conditions.  It may seem easy to isolate their reactive behavior, but since reactivity can be to more than one or two things; and can vary depending on circumstances in which those things are encountered, it can take some time to determine what sets them off.  That's what we've been doing over the last couple weeks - trying to figure out what sets Cinder off.
     Cinder's reactive to seeing people in motion at distances; seeing strange dogs at any distance; and some loud noises.  Cinder does well with people when they get close to her or if they talk at distances. Dogs she doesn't know bother her no matter where they are-until she's had time to get to know them.  On leash is far worse than off-leash, but both are stressful for her.
     Cinder's reactivity seems to be compounded by jealousy.  She's quite jealous of other dogs when they're near me or Brian.  This too is the result of being so confined with us during the long, hard winter.  We can't overlook that some studies indicate that females are often jealous and/or dominant, which may also be a contributing factor.
     Hope sprang first from taking Cinder back to the vet for suture removal after her spay surgery.  She was so excited to be there it was ridiculous-which makes me happy. I like it when all my dogs LIKE going to our vets!  While there, none of the other dogs made her react! The whole time we were waiting, there were two dogs also waiting; and several others got picked up. Cinder never reacted once!
     Immediately out of the vet's office, we stopped at a public park on the way home to let Cinder have a walk.  Her only reactivity was caused by a dog that was tied to a tree.  He barked and bounced back and forth at the end of his tether about 100 feet from us.  Cinder's heckles went up and started reacting, but I was able to get her to focus on me and other than a few barks, she kept walking with me.  That was the first time I've been able to get her focus off another dog once she starts reacting!  
     Most of our friends are dog and horse people-many of whom are experts handling, training, and competing dogs and horses.  It's so awesome to have friends like them when you have a problem and need some help. At the very least, it's nice when you can tell them the problems you have and they at least understand you. 
     Last weekend a friend needed Brian to do some work on a project for her.  She didn't want to leave her  wonderful, neutered, male dog at home alone for the entire day and asked if she could bring him.  She knew about Cinder's reactivity, but Cinder and her dog have met once before and managed to survive a nice walk together. We both thought it may be good to see what Cinder would do if a very stable, secure, non-threatening dog came to our house.  We let them meet outside and while Cinder's initial response was to START becoming reactive, she actually calmed by greeting my friend (the human one), who pet her while still keeping her dog close on the leash.  It seemed relatively safe to proceed by introducing the new boy to our boys, with Cinder, in the back yard, off leash.  Other than Cinder trying to herd him and yapping about it, my friend's dog was absolutely GOLDEN.  He never responded to anything Cinder did and he was completely non-plused about the whole thing.  He was the perfect "test dog" for Cinder and Gilley liked him quite well too.  Buzz seemed unfazed.
     Throughout the day, Cinder continued trying to herd the new boy around. She continuously reminded him he was a visitor in HER house. But, she wasn't nasty and ultimately, became more confident that he was okay and began to play with him by the end of the afternoon.  Overall, the new visitor was a positive experience for Cinder even though her yapping often made annoyed us all.  One hurdle down, no one dead-YEA!  Of course, I don't expect Cinder will react the same way to every dog at our house; or even the same dog again in the same way, but we'll take ANY steps forward and be happy for them!
     We go to a private dog park owned by some friends. The dog park is an extension of their board and training kennel.  That's where we go other than the barn for Gilley to play Frisbee and swim in a pond. It's also always been a source of socialization for he and Buzz.  During the day, there are few people who take their dogs to that dog park. However, there are a LOT of people who drop off and pick up dogs from the doggy daycare. It's nice to be friends with the owners because I was able to explain Cinder's reactivity issues and gain their support in helping educate her too.  We are making a habit of going to swim at the pond in the late afternoon, when a lot of dogs are being picked up to go home.  It's also one of four times each day that they exercise boarded dogs in an adjacent area to the dog park.  My thought has been to take Cinder to play and swim in the pond when there would be activity at the kennel that I could either remove her from; or move her closer to according to her reactions. Either way, we can enjoy the benefits of the dog park and if the rest plays into working through her reactivity, that's a huge bonus. 
     Today we went to the private dog park to swim in the pond. At the end of our swimming time, the kennel owner came out with his personal dog to exercise in the separate but adjacent area.  Cinder was so focused on the "flyer" in my hand that she didn't even notice them.  I slowly got her halter collar on and made my way to the exit gate, hoping Cinder would notice them so I'd have a chance to see if our work is paying off yet.  She was so focused on me that it wasn't until Steve said hello to her that she noticed them.  She then sat and began wagging her tail so hard her whole body wagged too.  I took her over to the fence, waiting for her to start reacting to the dog, but she was so focused on Steve, the dog didn't matter.  When Steve stopped petting and talking to her, she still didn't seem to care about the dog separated by a chain link fence and two feet!!! YEA!!!  Of course that got her all kinds of attention and then as we exited the park area into the parking lot, Steve and his dog were there, chatting with his daughter.  I decided to take Cinder past them as close as I could without endangering anyone to see how she'd do.  Again, NO fence and only two feet apart, she didn't care!!!  Steve kept petting her and when he stopped, I had her sit while I attempted to pet his dog to see if that would elicit a reaction and it didn't!  SUCCESS!!!  More treats, more love, and into the car to go home before she had the chance to change her mind!  As we were leaving, she let out two yips, but that was all.
     Today's visit to the pond for a swim was HIGHLY successful for Cinder.  It was a benchmark day.  It's the first time she repeatedly swam out and retreived a "flyer," bringing it all the way back.  Then she met another dog she didn't have any reactivity toward at all!  What a great day for Cinder.  This gives me hope that she will eventually come out of a lot of her reactivity, enabling us to do more things in her future.  I just have to be careful never to assume it will be that easy or good; and I have to keep myself from pushing her to try too much too soon and make her revert.  None-the-less, a few steps forward are better than any steps back!
     That brings you up to date on Cinder and what's going on with her reactivity and the training we're working on to help her overcome it.  Just another day of life as we continue raising Cinder.



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