Archive for June, 2009

Gun Shy

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

How many of us have had some kind of behavior problem with our dogs, only to withdraw into oblivion and pretend that it doesn’t exist? Many. I know. I’ve had clients do it. And I’ve been tempted to do it myself, once or twice.

Several years ago I had a pit bull in one of my group classes, that was very reactive to other dogs. He would bark and lunge and pretty much go nuts whenever he saw another dog. So I had his owner work on walking him around, (a good distance away from the rest of the class), and reward him for not reacting to the others. The rest of the class worked on a variety of things that night, but Judy just worked on getting her dog to be able to look at another dog without going ballistic. By the end of the class, she had made a TON of progress. He could come within about 12 feet of another dog without barking and lunging. The work that she did with her dog that night was the most important thing she could have done. It was VITALLY important. The dog had the potential to do a lot of damage, and this was the first step in helping him to divert that behavior.

When I spoke to her the following week, she informed me that she would not be coming back to class. When I asked her why, she said that her husband was totally mortified by the way the dog acted, and they would NOT be returning. I explained that I thought what happened that night at class was a really GOOD thing, and that she HAD made a huge amount of progress, and how important that work was, etc. It was no use, his mind was made up, and she wasn’t about to change it. So instead of continuing to work through the problem, I would imagine that the dog will now just be locked in the house, not able to interact with any other dogs ever, which will just exacerbate the problem. They will have to “manage” his behavior for the rest of his life.

I have always felt really bad about that incident, and have often wondered what happened to that dog, and his owners. But on some level, lots of us do the same thing. If our dog does something that we consider “not good” how many of us just try to avoid the situation in the future, instead of working through it? Susan Garrett, one of the most brilliant dog trainers I know, says that whenever we see a shortcoming in our dog, we should look at it as a “training opportunity”. Instead of running the other way, or making excuses for why he does that, we need to work on the problem, and train for it.

As many of you know, I’ve entered Micah in a couple of agility trials only to be pretty much humiliated. To have him either run around like a crazy man, or run out of the ring is certainly less than ideal. So of course my instinct was to never show him again – not seriously – but at least not for a long time. True, I don’t want him to be rehearsing that behavior, but how is he going to get better without more experience? So while we have continued to work on our agility, we have also decided to start doing some fun matches. Fun matches are somewhat like an agility trial, but they don’t count, and there isn’t an actual judge. It’s for the dogs to “practice”, and get more experience, often in a new location.

So on Saturday, we went off to somewhere we’ve never been before, for our 1st fun match in a very long time. Micah did surprisingly well. We opted for 2 jumpers runs and 2 standard runs. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they weren’t entirely bad either. He had a couple of “woo-hoo” moments, and being a crazy little guy, but they didn’t last. By the 4th run, it was getting downright hot, and he was not at his best, but he still seemed to be trying. I was really glad we went, and will definitely enter more fun matches in the future!!

I guess the bottom line is: if your dog has a problem – whatever it is – don’t run and hide in a corner. Dogs learn from training and experience, not isolation. People aren’t paying nearly as much attention to you as you give them credit for. Work on the problem and figure out a way to fix it, or at least improve it! Your dog will be SO much the better for it – and you will too!!

Happy training!!!