Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cool Dog, School Dog (part 2)

I am not a morning person.  I never have been, never will be.  I've tried to make waking up early a habit.  For years, at the end of summer vacation, I'd start setting my alarm at the time I needed to get up regularly when school started again weeks ahead of time, only to spend each day crankier than the one before.  Finally, I gave up on that.  I love nights.  I love staying up until 2 a.m., reading, watching tv, or not really doing much of anything.  Even during weeks like this one when I've been battling a cold (or the plague or possibly popcorn lung) and taking NyQuil every night, I find it impossible to even think about getting ready for bed until at least 11 p.m.

So, understandably, I was less than thrilled when our trainer suggested that we sign up for her 8 a.m. Saturday morning reactive dog class.  Class is 30-40 minutes away depending on construction and traffic, and we like to get there about 10 minutes early to practice some calming exercises in the car, so signing up for the 8 a.m. class meant having to be out the door a few minutes after 7 (thank God it's only a 5 week class!).

Excited face!
Barley knew something was up when the alarm went off this morning.  In fact, she was so excited that she stepped in her water bowl while doing her morning breakfast dance and then limped (remember, we're talking about the diva who failed her TDI test because she didn't want to down in the wet grass) around the kitchen with her wet paw in the air until I finished getting the coffee brewing.

Somehow, we made it out of the door by 7:10 (with a thermos of coffee and lots of treats in tow) and pulled into the parking lot at the same time our trainer pulled up.  Since all of the dogs in class are reactive, we have to stay in our cars and let the trainer bring us into the building one at a time.  We have the whole gym to use and our trainer divided the room into a section with moveable lattice fences--most of the fences were left uncovered so the dogs could see each other a little bit, but the dog on the other side of us had to have sheets placed over the wall between its section and ours.  So, one at a time, we entered the gym and got to work on doggie push ups (sit-down-sit, sit-stand-sit) to get the dogs focused and relaxed.

Although Barley had been yawning the whole car ride to school, once we got in the gym (and in the presence of her favorite trainer) she was wide awake and ready to work.  Her energy was contagious (or the caffeine was starting to kick in) and pretty soon we were in our groove and it was like there wasn't another dog in the room.

Sphinx position
More relaxed
Today's lesson was mostly review for us and covered things we worked on during the course of our private lessons two summers ago.  After warming up with doggie pushups, we started the one-hour down game.  I had forgotten the name, but Barley knew what to do immediately.  In our first private lesson, we spent the entire time working on this game, which is supposed to reprogram your dog's brain to get their default mode to be calm when you're out and about and ignoring them.  Basically, you start out giving your dog the down command and then giving several treats in a row (between your dogs paws so they don't have to break position), one at a time, without standing up; then you move up to being able to stand straight up and then bend down immediately to give another treat; then standing up for 5 seconds before giving a treat.  Eventually, you get to moving around your dog--one step to the left then treat, one step to the right then feed, one step backwards, etc.--until you can walk a full circle around your dog before feeding.  The hard part is that if any time during the exercise your dog gets up, you have to start over.  And you can't give them the down command again.  And you can't look at them --and with a dog as cute as mine, that's the hardest part!  The dog has to figure out for itself what it did to get all of those treats in a row--and once it figures it out and downs on its own, then it gets the several treats in a row again and you start over.  Ideally, the dog will become more relaxed and move from lying in Sphinx position to having it's hips turned; in Sphinx position, the dog can pop right up (and since Barley's always raring to go, this is her default mode) and it's important to get dogs to be comfortable and relaxed in all types of environments if you don't want them to react to other dogs.  So, we did really well reviewing our one-hour down.  While our trainer was explaining it to the class and I was watching to see what we were doing, Barley went into a down since I wasn't looking at her and she continued to be excellent for the whole review.  She didn't break the down without the "okay" command the whole exercise.  We never got out of Sphinx position, but I was able to walk a circle around her with no problems.

Then we moved on to mat work.  We'd never done this before, but I think the goal is to give your dog a place to go where they know they are supposed to be calm.  Today, we just got them used to stepping (or sitting, down, whatever) on the mat.  If they sniffed it, stepped on it, sat on it, they got treats.  Our agility instructor has mentioned wanting to work on this with us to help calm Barley down between obstacles, but we haven't gotten to it in that class yet.  It might be great if we ever go to an agility trial, but I don't think it's going to be much help for dealing with our neighborhood dogs since when we're being approached by an off leash dog in the neighborhood, it's not really practical to roll out a mat while we're being charged at on a walk.  Barley loves blankets, rugs, beds, towels, so getting her to step on the mat was no challenge at all.  I'll keep you posted on what we actually end up doing with this.

The last thing we worked on today was targets: holding your hand out to the side and asking the dog to touch, eventually moving the hand higher and lower.  We've done this before, but I've been slack about it.  Barley has gotten bored in the past and would run away from me when we did target practice.  And since I've yet to find a practical use for other than a few tricks she could learn (ex. shaking her head no) with the help of targets, I quit practicing this one--but if our trainer says it's important for dealing with reactivity, we'll do it.  So far, we're just using hands as targets, which is good, because Barley's scared of the plastic targets or styrofoam balls on sticks and will cower if I break those out (another reason we quit target practice).  Our trainer said the reason Barley was not interested in the past is because she was too concerned with the treat hand and not concerned with the target hand, so she showed me how to use the treat hand and run the treat all the way down my arm and then onto the target hand.  By the end of class, Barley was standing on her hind legs to touch my hand when it was up in the air.  I'm still not sure what we'll use this for out in the world, but she's having fun with it, so that's ok.

We came home even more exhausted than we started the day out.  Barley immediately went back to bed and didn't even wake up to chase Soth when I got the vacuum out.
A tired dog is a good dog.
Soth's been lazy, too.  I'm not sure how he can weigh less each time we go to the vet, but look like such a little chunk in pictures.
I'm so glad that mental exhaustion = physical exhaustion for my pup because between hacking and coughing and sneezing, I haven't been up for cold, rainy walks.
Our backyard is proof of how rainy it's been this week.
Barley seems excited to be back to playing thinking games again, so we've had several short practice sessions after our naps.
Coach Soth is ready to supervise mat practice.
Our trainer recommended getting a can of compressed air, so that if the Jack Russell charges us again I can toss Barley inside and then spray the air towards the Jack Russell to teach it that charging at our door isn't fun (without actually doing anything that will hurt the dog), so we'll probably be investing in that soon.

Next week, our trainer said she's brining the FAKE DOGS(!!) to class for our lesson.  I have no idea what this means, but my imagination is going wild.  Will they be small robotic, remote control dogs like my grandma got me one Christmas?  Will they be like my dad's fake coyote he got to attract scare off the Canada Geese in his yard?  Will they be taxidermied dogs?  I am beyond excited/scared to find out!

1 comment:

  1. Glad Bar had such a good class! I loved our reactive dog class! :)

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