Living with a brilliant, but reactive dog is full of challenges and I try to be real about those challenges: from Barley's classmates ending up in her mouth to nipping at me in agility and getting into poisonous snacks, I try not to sugar coat what life with Barley is like.
But I think it's equally important to celebrate our successes and this has been a very good week.
On Tuesday, a couple of my friends were having a kickball game with the student organization they advise, so Barley and I walked down to campus to watch. She got to be showered in pets from the students before and after the game and we dog to do some reaction to distraction practice as the kickball flew and bounced across the field and students squealed. Barley tends to get very excited about that type of action being a herding dog, so I was thrilled when she regularly turned from the action to check in with me and eventually decided to graze on the grass instead of watching the game.
Later in the week, we were in our yard on Barley's 20-foot long lead. A dog--who looks a lot like Barley's cousin Maddux--in a fenced yard two yards down came outside. Usually, the dog just sits and watches us, but it must have been feeling feisty because it pranced a bit, wagged its tail, and barked a few times. Normally, that's enough to send Barley lunging to the end of her lead, but this time when I called her name, she came trotting back over to me and curled around my legs for some petting. Then she went back to wandering the yard, occasionally looking at her neighbor and checking back in with me.
During class that night, one of her agility classmates emptied a bag of treats and while the human member of the pair was putting the treats in her pouch, the dog member stuck her head inside the empty bag. Barley thought that was the most exciting thing she's ever seen and she sat at alert with her front paws prancing and her entire back end wiggling, trying to decide if she could get over there to get in on the action. But as soon as I said, "What's that?" she was spinning around to look at me. Our classmates helped us out with more distraction work by rustling the bag periodically through class (and occasionally letting her dog stick her head back in the bag). Barley chose me every time.
That work in class really paid off because we had big distractions after class when we stopped at the park to visit our deer friends. To the side with the deer, you have to cross a bridge--it's a very sturdy bridge with lots of rails to prevent you from falling in and it's wide enough for traffic in both directions--Barley and I can comfortable share the bridge with a bike passing us--but it's not really big enough for Barley to be comfortable passing dogs.
We usually wait at the end until we have a clear shot if we happen to see a dog walking towards us so we don't meet in the middle. This week, there was a small dog going in the same direction as us, so we gave them a head start and then slowed our pace to make sure there was a safe distance between us. The little dog got slower and slower the further out it got on the bridge, so we slowed down a little more.
But then a man with a young lab that we'd seen coming up the trail to the bridge got on the bridge. His pup was excited and a glance over my shoulder let me know it was straining at the end of its leash, but still pretty far behind us. A few times I heard the man say, "No. Cut that out," but Bar and I kept walking and I kept rewarding her for ignoring the panting and wheezing coming from behind us. As the little dog got slower, we got slower, but the man and the lab did not. I could hear the panting of the lab getting closer and closer--so I called Barley to my front so I could switch her to my right side easily and she'd have me on one side and the side of the bridge on the other. At the same time, Mr. Lab Guy decided that he and his exuberant pup should zoom past us and the little dog. The lab pup stretched it's neck out to try to sniff Barley in passing--an action that often results in Barley snapping at the other dog--and Barley turned her head towards the dog and then came right back in front of me so I could flip her over onto my right. She got lots of praise and lots of treats. (The little dog ahead of us was much more vocal about its feelings about being passed on the bridge.)
The deer were too far off the trail for good pictures this week, but we still waved and said hi to Barley's best friends as we passed and we got lots of good practice with other dogs as it seemed like the little dog was there no matter which trail we turned down.
Barley and I are off to celebrate trees this afternoon--hope everyone has a happy Arbor Day and is able to get out and enjoy some time under their favorite trees!