Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Old Dog, New Tricks

To quote a friend from the other day "I love my dogs more than I love most people."

It's true. M isn't like a part of our family, she IS a part of our family.  She's adorable and fantastic and wonderful.

90% of the time.

The other 10% of the time... she's possessed by some doggie devil.  Like on walks when she slows down, and then runs as fast as she can to the end of her (8ft) leash, flying in the air and yelping.  Or when we have people over for dinner and she's trying to crawl in their laps or barking until someone pays attention to her.  Or, the worst is the mailman.  She has destroyed the trim around our bay window from her daily freakouts when he arrives.

She's been to basic obedience, clicker off lead training, and achieved her canine good citizen certificate.  She took over a years worth of agility classes, and probably could have competed and done well if we had the time, desire, and money.

Yet, she can't walk on a leash. She begs. And she hates anyone that delivers things (this is not limited to the mailman, she hates UPS and Fedex men as well, even if she just sees that brown truck drive by.... and one day she flipped out when the neighbors got a delivery from Lowe's.)

I can't tackle it all in a day, these are learned behaviors we have let go on far too long.  And its time to get this dog in line.  And trust me, it's not her fault - it is entirely ours for letting it happen.  Because you guys, she is SO smart.  Incredibly smart.  As I said, she could have competed in agility.  She knows her different toys by name.  We taught her "paw" in 5 minutes - using peanuts.  Teaching this "old dog" (she's 4... she's not really that old anyway) new tricks is totally possible on her part, we just need to be consistent and make it happen.

My first mission...I hate the thought that the people we walk by in the neighborhood probably think she's some vicious beast, foaming at the mouth with red eyes.  I long to take her for a walk without my arm being pulled out of its socket because a leaf blew across the road.

Today was day one of Mission: Please Walk Normal.  I broke out the 'clicker' we used to use in training.  (There's a whole bunch out there on the internet on clicker training for dogs, and I believe it is also used in horse training.)  And I threw a stick of string cheese in my pocket.

It started out okay.  But the loop we do gets progressively worse - with other dogs, people, and memories of bad experiences.  The first test came when a woman, her daughter, and their dog were walking towards us, but taking a side street.  I made her sit.  It took about 10 tries, and me shoving the cheese in her face to show her she'd actually get something if she listened. (At home, she'll sit on command 98% of the time.)  I used the "with me" command we learned in obedience classes.  I don't know if she remembered or not, but I tried to reward her each time she walked with some slack on the leash.

There's a house with two dogs that always, whether they're inside or out, always bark at her.  And she always flips out.  Armed with my string cheese, we were able to get by - them barking away AND a cable guy in the driveway - with minimal incident.  She was very alert and pulled some, but she didn't bark back.  I'll take it as a victory.

The worst is a house about 5 down from ours.  They have these obnoxious little dogs that have chased us down the street more than once, and there were kids out in the driveway today too.  I spent a good five minutes getting her to sit and stay, to try and calm her as we approached.

She gets this crazy look in her eyes, like she's looking right past me, even with cheese in her face.  We struggled on the side of the road for a while, me likely looking like an idiot, her whining trying to see around me and not keeping her butt on the ground like I asked her to.

Eventually she got the sit, and she got the stay.  There was a lot of pulling as we walked by, but no barking, and no crazy weird jumping straight up in the air at the end of her leash like she's famous for around these parts.

We played the sit and stay game while I opened the garage and the house door.  She did great then.

I'm sure to onlookers she still looked crazy.  But trust me, it was a huge improvement for one day of effort.  She's still pulling, and I have to distract her from other dogs/people/squirrels/objects.  But its better, and I'll take it.

One day at a time.  She's lucky she's so darn cute.
(Yes, that's from last summer. It is no where near warm enough for that yet. 
 Yes, her and I are both anxious for it to be that warm again soon.)

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