Friday, April 29, 2016

Celebrating Our Successes

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!

16 comments:

  1. Great job, Barley! I agree with you that it's really important to celebrate our successes, too because when we're having a bad day we can go back and look at all the good things, too!

    It's so funny you mention panting and weezing because that is definitely one of Phee's triggers... and she hates labs. LOL

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    1. Yes! It is good to have a record to remind you that things aren't always tough! Barley usually does ok with labs--but she's used to being around labs that are service dogs in addition to being agility classmates, so they're very calm labs. This one was very bouncy and I was really worried when I saw it coming up beside us in my peripheral vision.

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  2. Nice work! Memphis isn't quite there yet, but I think we need to do more distraction training like you describe :-)

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    1. Barley isn't always there--but this was a good week! I'm sure you and Memphis will start having those days more and more, too. With your gaming experience, I'm sure you'll have no trouble developing the "spidey senses" that help you scan the area to find triggers before he does so you can get his attention first :)

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  3. Life with a reactive dog sure has its ups and downs for sure! Good job, Barley! Mr. N still finds walking on the same path with other dogs difficult so I usually have to pick him up.

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    1. Barley and I definitely would have ended up in the river if I'd tried picking her up ;) Most days she still finds it difficult, too, but luckily we'd just done all the distraction practice in class not long before, so she was extra focused.

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    1. Me, too! She can't wait to show off for Aunt L!

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  5. Yay for so many successes and a great week! I think it's especially impressive that Barley dealt with so many things in the same day. It is especially important to celebrate the successes, and who knows, maybe this is the start of a new trend for Barley!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. I've learned not to get too confident after these types of weeks because then I let my guard down and forget to help Barley out and bad things happen, but I certainly hope we continue to have more of these good days!

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  6. It is great when hard work pays off. Makes it easier to live in a world with other inconsiderate dog owners.

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    1. Yes! I was so worried that I was going to be in an awkward situation with that guy on the bridge if Bar snapped at his lab--so I was pleasantly surprised when she just rolled with it.

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  7. THAT is wonderful. Most of our interactions with other dogs result in me wondering what the hell they are thinking. Of course, I also have a reactive dog so I'm always on alert. You've done a great job with Barley. Delilah has gotten to the point where when she sees another dog, she immediately looks to me for a treat. If I pull a treat out of the bag, she's so focused on the treat, that she rarely looks at the other dog. That makes me so proud of her.

    Keep up the good work!

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    1. Yay for Delilah! Barley usually looks to me for a treat, but if the other dog is too close she usually can't help herself and forgets I exist temporarily. Isn't it great seeing them make progress?

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