Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ida went for a walk yesterday.

A tail-up-and-wagging-sniffing-the-good-things-on-the-ground kind of walk.

A responding-to-her-name-eating-treats-not-panicking-by-cars-driving-by kind of walk.

A trying-to-greet-everyone-we-walked-past-walking-on-a-loose-leash-while-going-home kind of walk.

I wasn't going to take her.  I was planning to start DS/CC to environmental stimuli next week, after 2 weeks free from car rides and 8 weeks of meds.  And guys, Ida does not door dash.  She has never shown any interest in leaving the house through the front door except to greet incoming visitors. But when we leashed up Snowball for his walk, and opened the front door .... Ida ran out of the house, down the stairs, and turned around to looked at us as if to say "where we going?"

What's one of the most important things in dog training?  Listen to your dog.  So I listened.  I put a long-line on her to give her more freedom, and we went for a walk.

For most dogs, this would not be much of an accomplishment.  But for us?  This is huge.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A small celebration

Tonight was our last agility class for a while.  We're taking a break to decompress, to build better engagement, and to work on desensitisation to the car.  It was our last class for a while, but we could not have ended it better.  I'm posting this so that I can remember, when things get frustrating, that

Normally at class, all of the dogs are crated behind a barrier until it is their turn; today, everyone sat (leashed) in the "arena" until it was their turn, and all of the dogs worked great with the other dogs around.  I was worried about Ida, but... I didn't need to be.  She did fantastic.  When it was her turn, we walked out.  She ignored the other dogs until I too her leash off and then decided to look around.  When she spooted them, she made one small woof without breaking her sit.  She was completely engaged with me in between reps.  She relaxed in the crate while I was out of view.  She even tolerated watching the other dogs moving to set up in position, although she couldn't hold it together while they were actually running.

But I don't care.  She was able to be in the room with three other dogs (and within 5 ft of the nearest one!) without fixating on them, without freaking out, and she was able to work - and work well - knowing that there were other dogs in clear view.

We'll get there.  And probably, we won't even notice that we've arrived until the "Welcome Sign" is right in front of us.

<3 <3 <3

Fear, Anxiety, "Stress", and Trigger Stacking

I started this post months ago, and then got distracted, but I feel like it is something important and not talked about enough.

It's not really recognized well among dog training resources, but I think that there is a difference
Everything is a little bit scary
between fear and anxiety.  Certainly they are linked together - how often do we talk about dogs with separation anxiety as being "afraid of their owners leaving"?  While I am not sure right now that they are one and the same, I am having a tough time conceptualizing why I feel that way other than to say that while Ida has certain definite fears, at home she just seemed to be generally "worried".  Unable to fully relax unless she was sleeping, but there was no readily identifiable or specific reason for it.  Wikipedia indicates that anxiety has a component of internal conflict, so maybe that is it.  Maybe, being at home Ida "knows" that she is safe, but she still has those nagging "what if" moments.  Maybe I'm anthropomorphizing a whole lot.  But I think for some dogs there is an area between "fine" and "fearful", a kind of generalized worry or anxiety that we just don't talk about because it doesn't noticeably affect the dog's behaviour in ways that Joe Blow Owner would think is a problem (or maybe just not a problem worth fixing).

While "trigger stacking" is talked about some, recovery times are rarely discussed.  Time-frames longer than a single outing or day are rarely explicitly addressed, which is probably why it took me so long to recognize Ida's long-term trigger stacking.  For her, it wasn't so noticible over a single day, but her stress builds up incrementally over the course of multiple days, or even weeks.  Sometimes it happened almost invisibly; she would be completely fine/normal inside the house, but would get worse and worse outside of the house.  Especially since, before medications at least, there were so many things that were likely adding to her stress (even just things like the cat showing interest in her food!) that I think now were likely adding to her stress, going forward it is going to be important for us to regularly take a step back and take a look at the all of the pieces in the puzzle, not just the most obvious ones.

I really noticed the long-term trigger stacking when we started taking two classes per week.  That meant long car rides, and two classrooms full of strange dogs.  Several days in between was not enough for her to recover; even though she acted fine at home in the back yard and in the house, her fuse got shorter and shorter. Seeing Ida so stressed out just sitting on the front step that she wouldn't eat hot dogs was heartbreaking and is really what kickstarted this blog.  Even now, I don't know if we'll ever be comfortable enough with car travel to compete in agility, but at the very least she should be able to be comfortable around her own home!

I don't think trigger stacking, and especially latent trigger stacking (where the stimuli has been removed but the dog is still feeling the emotion effects), is explained to owners enough - or at all, really. I think the end result is a owners that put their dogs in stressful situations on a daily basis in order to counter condition it before the dog has full recovered from the last exposure; the dogs who take longer than that to recover don't actually get the chance, and do not get better - or get worse.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Dog In Front of You - A reminder

I don't know if it's just getting familiar with the space, or if it is the meds, but Ida was a rock star in agility last night.  She played with toys (which I paired with food to help build that drive some more), she ran right past me, she jumped up on the instructor.  She was a good, happy, albeit kind of ditzy, baby girl.

While working on blind crosses, The instructor kept reminding me to reward from my hand (so that she would follow it and stay close).  Ida would cross and then blow right past me - something that she's never done in this facility and rarely at all.

When I tried to explain that blowing by me has never been a problem for us, she reminded me to train the dog in front of me - not only the individual, but what that individual is doing in that particular moment.

I have a feeling that I'll need to keep being reminded of this, as Ida blossoms from being a ball of anxiety into the gregarious creature that she is at home.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

It has been two weeks of medication.  We're still going to class (the last one is tomorrow).  Ida is happier at class, quieter in her crate, less concerned with what other dogs are doing, and much, much happier actually in the ring.

At home - where she was her most relaxed - the changes are more subtle, but still noticeable.  She looks more relaxed; her brow is not furrowed all the time.  She lazes about more stretched out instead of curled in a ball.  She no longer gets up in the middle of the night.  She is MUCH more okay with being by herself (e.g., being crated in a different room than a person).

She doesn't chase the cat for no reason.  She guards food less often and less intensely from Snowball.  Her resource guarding has never been extreme (they've only scuffled twice, both times over someone very high value that they were BOTH guarding).  She used to stare Snowball down if he walked into the room while she was eating; now when he enters, he gets just a brief glance.

Finally.... this past week she stopped shaking for a couple of minutes while in the car on our way to class. This is the first time in six months that she's stopped shaking for more than a few seconds.  I have no doubt we're on the right path to Ida's best self, but now I have a glimmer of hope that we'll also be able to deal with this car thing too.

Since Ida will be "trapped" at home for the next several months, I'm going to try doing more things
Photo credit to Shae Grismer‎.
with Snowball.  We participated in a barn hunt fun match this weekend, in which he passed his instinct test (or would have, if it had been a sanctioned trial), and then I flopped horribly in two novice runs.  First by moving him along too quickly, and then by not moving him along fast enough.  Oops!  We'll get better at it with practice, I just know it.