Initially, Cinder barked a few times upon arrival and I was concerned I’d need binoculars for distance viewing of the class. But, I “worked the program” until we were able to get within about 30 feet of the group. However, as dogs would peel off from the group to do various things which meant coming closer to us, I had to work at getting Cinder to focus on me and stay quiet. We’d back away and when she’d quiet down, I’d stop retreating. Ultimately, we were always about 30 feet away from things most of the evening. We were able to get closer and even worked near a couple teams for short times, but the closest for any length of time was about 15 feet away. Even at the 30 feet, it was still a MAJOR improvement over the distances before Cinder would go off even a few weeks ago!
Once the initial phase of the class was over and they moved to some basic puppy agility skills and games, we were asked to do a few things too. Marilyn had some kids’ pop-up play tunnel cubes with openings on all four sides, connected to form a long tunnel. This is the way she likes to start pups learning about agility tunnels because the open holes allow the pups to see (and sometimes exit) and not be fearful going through them. She had us come to about 8 feet from the tunnel and let another woman and her pup work the tunnel while I kept Cinder’s focus. Then it was our turn. Easy stuff for Cinder since she already goes through the regular tunnels at home. However, the hard part for Cinder was when Marilyn took her from me to go to the opposite end of the tunnel to start her run. You’d have thought Cinder was trying to avoid a killer bear! She LOVES Marilyn, but when Marilyn tried to take her away from me, it was a huge fuss. Marilyn succeeded, but not without some fuss. Each time, Cinder was more than thrilled to come through that tunnel to me like a cannonball shot from cannon. Then we had to sit close by while several other dogs also did the same exercise.
After the tunnel exercise, they’d set up a very low, puppy version of an agility dog walk consisting of three 12 foot boards and two solid flat concrete pavers for the elevating points. The first part of the exercise was to walk across the boards, being sure the pups each made contact with the boards as they crossed them. Then we made attempts to have each pup walk the length of them, just as you would want them to do for agility, using some kind of “bait” & holding it very low so they could look at the boards as they walked.” So we stood close by as all the pups did that exercise, keeping Cinder’s focus on me. Finally it was our turn and Cinder made it look easy. But, I’m convinced she would do ANYTHING for a piece of cheese!
That was the end of the activities so Marilyn had the group gather into a semi-circle around her while she gave the class Q & A time and wound things up with parting comments. We resumed our place about 15 feet from the nearest pup. Cinder heard one of the other pups bark at something and she began to react. Quickly we retreated and I regained her focus about 25 feet away and we worked our way a little closer, ending about 15 feet away before I could see her getting a little unnerved again. At that point, the class was about to break so I took that time to gather our things and take them to the car. After most of the people and pups cleared way but one, we made our way back to Marilyn and Karen (her assistant trainer for the class). Cinder did well until we got about eight feet from the other pup and we had to retreat to about 15 feet again.
We waited while the others finished chatting and were able to join Marilyn & Karen. Marilyn asked Karen about an evaluation of Cinder from her perspective. Both feel that Cinder’s young and we’re already working on the issues with some positive signs despite my frustration and our set-backs. Both feel Cinder’s smart and athletic so capable of learning and doing a lot if I can keep working to gain her focus and attention consistently. They reminded me readily that there WILL be challenges and set-backs; we will both be frustrated frequently along the way, but perseverance should pay off. The both feel Cinder’s good with people, it’s other dogs that she doesn’t trust. They both also said, “She is extremely bonded with you, so you’re her person and there will never be a doubt about that. It’ll be very hard for anyone else to get her to bond with them the way she’s bonded with you.” Marilyn then followed that with, “She gets utterly panicked about leaving you. She’s getting a lot of her courage from you. It’s both good and bad. You know why it’s bad, but the good part of it means that you can capitalize on that with her and in doing your training.” Karen said, “She’s probably kind of a dominant female too isn’t she?” I acknowledged that indeed, she is a “bossy, mouthy girl” that rules over the boys-to a point, at which time the boys let her know they’ve had enough and her puppy license is going to expire soon. They both laughed and Karen said, “She’d be a perfect Aussie bitch because we call them ‘bossy Aussies.’” Both went on to reassure me that while many things may not be things Cinder will be able to do because the stress involved is not worth the work for her to try them, there are many other things she’ll be well able to do. Pet therapy is definitely off the table for her-entirely wrong personality, especially once the reactivity issue became obvious. Going to certain places and doing some things are not going to be enjoyable-for either of us-so let those ideas of things to do with her go by the wayside. However, they said some of the top obedience, Rally-O, disk dogs, and agility dogs have reactivity issues so she could potentially still be good and even compete in those disciplines. We just have to go through all the training and take it all one step at a time, knowing we’ll have bad days and set-backs, but we have to keep working our way along.
Marilyn’s having a surgery soon and will be out of commission for an unknown period. Hopefully by the time she’s back on her feet, I’ll be on a job and in a better position to try one of Marilyn’s group classes with Cinder. Meanwhile, we keep working at the “homework” she’s given us and keep trying to build on our rapport when she’s out, in public with me.
Last night after the drive home, I opened the hatch of the car expecting Cinder to jump out. Instead, she was SOUND asleep. I tried to wake her and she was obviously too far out of it to jump out of the car safely and walk into the house. I carried her into the house. Once awake, she was ready to go potty; say hello to Gilley and Buzz; and head for bed. She was EXHAUSTED. The stress of being quiet and staying focused on me for two hours around all those people, dogs, and activities was more than either of us banked on. For once, I KNOW Cinder was completely worn out at bedtime.
It felt better to go to the class and see that Cinder can focus on me enough to be nearby other dogs without instantly going off uncontrollably. It felt good that both Marilyn and Karen feel Cinder’s reactivity is manageable and won’t preclude as many things as I’d initially thought it might-assuming we stay on track and keep working toward improving and managing it better. It’s nice to know that I don’t have the weirdest dog ever; and many dogs are worse than Cinder. Not that I want other dogs to have or be problems, but it’s nice knowing it’s a fairly common situation. It’s nice that both trainers like Cinder and are encouraging me to not give up-letting me know that all the set-backs and missteps along the way are really normal and part of the learning curve. It’s nice hearing all this from people who have more experience with it and have that experience within the breed. I’ve learned that Border Collies are breed apart from most others and if you don’t know and understand the breed, anything else you know about dogs may not apply to them; and usually doesn’t apply in the same ways. If nothing else, our adventure to the puppy class taught me that we can learn to manage Cinder’s reactivity if I just keep staying the course of working with her. It won’t be easy, but I’ve always loved a good challenge anyway!
So ends this update on our latest endeavors testing Cinder’s reactivity progress. This also concludes another day doing our best as we continue the endeavor of raising Cinder.