Back and Forth and Back and Forth, and a Bad Dream

May 8, 2014

I’d been making some really good progress with A.J. Two days after Jerry was here there was another track meet at the school. There were tons of people, kids, and dogs. A.J. walked through all of it right by my side. We stopped and he let a woman pet him. When we got through the crowd I told him “OK” and he just looked relaxed and happy. I was so proud of him!

He’s still having a lot of trouble going right past another dog. We had a great training session Saturday morning. The neighbors’ dog Summer was loose again. I walked in her direction. A.J. threw his tantrum when she came near and I corrected him. I was doing okay but she came back and I reached out to her and A.J. lunged again and was corrected again. After that Summer’s owners got her under control and I spent a long time talking to them. I got A.J. over there calmly, and he sat next to me and ignored Summer while she had a little fit. He got some treats, then he got to meet the neighbors and Summer. He was doing great. Then another dog came by and we had to do it all again. He had his tantrum, but I walked him around the two dogs and all the neighbors. He did great, and he sat nicely next to me until I told him he could be meet everyone.

So, lots of progress, but lots of work to do. I’m still very proud of him. He’s totally ignoring bikes, skate boards, and scooters, he barely even looks at them. We can walk across the street from another dog without a tantrum (although A.J. is still staring them down which is a problem). He’s been making me crazy because he continues to pull on the leash just a little. But I know I haven’t been correcting him harshly enough. It’s hard for me to give him a harsh correction when he’s not doing something really bad, only a little bad.

At this point, I had spent eight months training with purely positive reinforcement, which I truly believe in. When, after eight months of trying, I still couldn’t walk my dog down the street, I had to get more strict. I’ve been trying to think of it in terms of how sometimes you can tell your kids they’ll get ice cream if they behave, other times you have to tell them they’re grounded for a week if they don’t behave. Unfortunately you can’t ground a dog or take away their phone to get the point across. And after just one month of using stronger measures A.J. has come a along way, he’s doing so much better, and we’re all happier for it. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t mean I like the methods: Tuesday morning I woke up from a horrible dream. I had been walking A.J. and he wasn’t responding to corrections. Then I looked down and his neck had a big gaping wound from the prong collar. I was horrified that I had done that. I woke up thinking I’m just too soft for this kind of training.

Today we went back to see Jerry again. A.J. had seen a dog this morning and got past it well. He set off the other dog, but he kept it together. While we were at Jerry’s we worked on down/stays and he did all right. Then we worked on recall and he did great. After that we walked by some ducks and geese. (The ducks had babies, they were so cute.) I had told Jerry about my nightmare. So when we walked past the ducks Jerry walked just behind A.J. and when he pulled or over-focused Jerry popped him for me. He had him walking nicely with just a few pops. He popped him a few times to get his focus off the ducks. When the ducks flew off and A.J. went for them I popped him. I can do this, and I need to do this. So all-in-all we had a really good training session.

In the evening Greg decided to go for a bike ride. About 10 minutes before he was due to be home I decided to take A.J. out to sit out front with him and make sure he was doing okay with Greg on the bike. Unfortunately I got over-confident and I didn’t put the prong collar on. Bad move.

We went out and I got the mail from the mailbox. I sat down on the step and started to go through the mail, then A.J. alerted me to the fact that there was something coming. A woman was coming down the sidewalk on our side with two dogs. They were two houses down and A.J. was starting to get super-alert. I grabbed the mail and got up and moved A.J. back toward the front  door. I set the mail down and told A.J. to sit. He was still super-focused so I tried to pop him with just his regular collar on. It did nothing. They were getting close to our house and he was starting to cry and pull. I popped him as hard as I could, and he just lunged and barked. I popped him hard and moved him back. Then I moved up again just as the dogs came past and A.J. threw an all-out tantrum. I popped him several times as hard as I could, which at this point was pretty hard given that I was pretty angry. It was like we had done no training at all, he was right back where he had been. I brought him in the house and just ignored him for a long time. At this point I’m thinking he’s never leaving the house without the prong collar ever again.

I’m so tired of going backwards. I’ve been so proud of his progress and most of the progress had been pretty steady and significant, and now – just a couple hours after his training session – it’s like none of it ever happened.

Sigh. Big super-sigh.