November 14, 2013
Since A.J. has had kennel cough and hasn’t been able to go to day camp we’ve been going to the park every day this week. We had quite the adventure yesterday. We got into the park and stopped. I had him sit, and I switched the leash from his harness to his collar. I stood up and said “Look at me.” A.J. looked right at me. I said “OK!” Next thing I know I’m skidding across the grass landing face-first, and A.J. is running free through the park.
I got up and brushed the grass off of me and started walking in A.J.’s direction. He turned around and saw me walking, turned back and kept running away. I yelled at him a few times with no effect. He finally turned around again – I’m sure in the hopes that I was chasing him – so I turned and ran in the opposite direction. He came tearing after me. He stayed just out of reach as he ran past me, but fortunately he had to stop to pee so I was able to step on his leash and get hold of him again.
The rest of our outing went fine. We didn’t see any dogs or squirrels, so all was good.
Oh, that reminds me: As I said, we’ve been going to the park all week. The day before yesterday there was someone there with their two dogs, running off-leash (of course). They were in the lower part of the park, so I decided we’d be okay as long as we stayed up top. And we were okay until I decided A.J. needed to see other dogs if we were ever going to work on his issues. I walked to where he could see them, but he was still pretty distracted with sniffing around to notice too much, so we got by with no problems. A little bit later I tried it again. We were still a very long distance away, but this time he threw a fit. But…I think something good happened.
I decided to let him throw his fit and not try to pull him at all. We were far enough away that the other dogs ignored him, and the other owner hopefully wasn’t too disturbed by him. So he barked, and whined, and lunged. But the instant he stopped a lunge I made sure the tension was off the leash. He’d sit or crouch down, usually still barking, then lunge again. When he let up, I released the tension, making sure he was in charge of when the tension disappeared. We did this for a couple of minutes, and then…he turned to look towards me. “YES!”, and we took off running the other direction. He stopped and turned back a couple of times, but when he turned back to me: “YES!”, and we’d run away, A.J. jumping around beside me.
Fast-forward to today. As we drive up to the park I see a man with a big black lab just walking away from the parking lot. Shoot, what do I do now? I decided to pull into the parking lot and take my time letting A.J. out of the car and hope they moved far enough away for us to find our own space in the park. A.J. was better when we got there today. The past few days he’s been so excited when we get to the park that he’s shaking. Today as we got ready to go I took it in stages. He had to show some sign of relaxing between stages. It seemed to work, I’ll continue to do this and hope he does better. Today he didn’t start shaking until we were almost into the park.
He’s started doing a really funny thing. Well, it’s a bad thing, but it’s funny that he’s trying this. I make him walk nicely beside me until we get out of the parking lot. If he starts to pull or act over-anxious I turn around and head back towards the car. He walks more calmly, so we turn back towards the park. We do this until we can get out of the parking lot in a fairly controlled state. This week he decided to tell me he doesn’t want to go back to the car. Now when I turn him around he tries to bound in front of me and turn me back towards the park.
Today I was more careful about hanging on when I released him. He’s doing great about sitting and looking at me. Every once in a while he ignores my first request, but he always tunes in by the second one. Well, until the squirrel showed up. At least I think it was a squirrel. I was busy making sure A.J. didn’t see the man and his dog coming back, so I didn’t see what it was in the other direction that he started throwing a fit about. But today his fit didn’t last as long. Maybe it was because the squirrel disappeared right away, but he turned away and back toward me a little more quickly than he did a couple of days ago with the dogs. We followed the same process: “YES!” and run away; stop to look back; “YES” and run away. Hopefully this is doing some good.
I’ve seen another really good sign three or four times over the past couple of days. After we’ve been at the park for about 20 minutes or so, when he’s had time to get some of his initial excitement out, he’s done a really great thing. I have him stop and sit. Then I say “Look at me.” He looks at me, I say “YES! OK!”…but he doesn’t run. He gets up, ready to do something, but he looks at me to see what that is. Of course I have absolutely no idea, so I just start running, but he’s actually looking to me for what to do next and not just running off crazy. YES!
Tiny progress, but progress nonetheless. Finally!
Later Greg and I rode our bikes to the store and came home to find that A.J. had grabbed Greg’s headphones off his desk and chewed them up.
November 15, 2013
Today we changed parks. This other park is really a huge park, with a lot of open areas. Which is good, because we needed them.
There was a dog right when we drove in and A.J. threw a fit in the car. I parked out as far from other cars as I could. I opened the back and we saw another dog, and A.J. had a small fit. That dog went into its car and I was just about to let A.J. out when I saw a couple coming with another dog; this one was going to walk right past us. So as they got closer I just closed A.J. into the back of the car. He actually looked right at me as the dog got really close – then he threw a fit. I just waved to the couple and said hi. After they went by and got to their car I let A.J. out.
So far this isn’t sounding great: we had three fits before even getting out of the car. But I actually think this is a good place, it makes A.J. face these other dogs and all this other stuff, and I can work with him. Hopefully it’s not too much too soon, but I think we did pretty well. We did our stopping and starting, starting whenever I got some eye contact. Sometimes I asked for it. Other times he just looked at me on his own, and he got rewarded for that too. We saw a dog pretty far off, but I got him going the other direction and he didn’t throw a fit. After the dog left we went in that direction and A.J. pulled pretty hard to get to that spot, but no fit. A couple of dogs came around a corner fairly close and he had another fit, but it was comparatively short. A lot of screaming but not nearly as much lunging, and not too long before he turned away and I got him to run away with me.
I don’t know if it’s good that right now we run away from other dogs, but he’s stopping his fits and coming with me, so right now it’s good.
I tried to calm him down before getting back to the car, he had calmed down pretty well already. Then just before getting to the car he picked up a scent and went into crazy super-sniff mode. I got him to stop that, but he was still pretty amped up when we left. Two fits (one at a bicyclist, one at a dog) on the two mile ride home. He stayed hyped up for quite a while after we got home, but once he calmed down he really crashed, which is always good.
We’ll have to mix this other park in regularly from now on.
November 20, 2013
We went back to that same park today. Wait, let’s start with my epiphany:
It finally occurred to me that the biggest problem with A.J. is the fact that he’s the most vocal dog I’ve ever known. He barks, he growls, he cries, he screams…he makes all sorts of weird and obnoxious noises. His lunging after other dogs wouldn’t be nearly as bad if he weren’t throwing a screaming fit at the same time.
That realization has led me to recognize that we’ve actually made some good progress. He’s not nearly as vocal in the house as he used to be. It’s very rare that he cries, barks, or growls at Greg or me to get attention. He hasn’t even cried in his crate much when I’ve briefly left the room. He’s actually doing incredibly well with that. Outside the house…that’s still a work in progress.
Which leads me to today. There was no one there for the first 20 minutes or so that we were at the park, so he got a lot of his initial craziness out with no special distractions. Then for some reason I decided to head down a wide path, something I know better than to do. Fortunately we had just started when we saw the other dog. We stopped, A.J. on full alert. I told him “Let’s go.” Nothing. I gave him a second, the dog got closer. “A.J., come on, let’s go.” Nothing. “Hey bud, let’s go!” And he turns and comes with me. Yes!
We ran away from the other dog. I kept him moving so we could get as far away as possible when the other dog came out of the path. When the dog came out A.J. knew he was there and a few times turned to look, but I immediately said “Let’s go!” and he came with me. As long as we kept moving, we were good. So I got as far away as I could, which by this point was quite a ways, and I told him to “Sit.”
When I told him to Sit he was facing away from the other dog, but of course he turned as he sat to face it. Now wasn’t the time to correct that. I really thought we were going to be okay, but after he stopped moving he started to react. He started crying, lunged once, then sat again. He kept crying. Then he did something that I had absolutely no idea what to do with: Still sitting, he turned to look at me. Now, normally I would be ecstatic, giving him all sorts of happy praise. But – he was still crying. He was sitting there looking at me and crying.
Now what? He deserves a super reward for sitting and looking at me, but I absolutely can’t reward the crying. I was totally stumped. So I just talked to him. In a happy voice I told him he really needed to stop crying, then I gave him a calm “let’s go” and we started moving away again.
So, really great thing mixed with not great thing, all at the same time. He’s a tough little guy to work with.