Wednesday, February 11

Control Unleashed

I've spoken about this book before - it's put out by Clean Run publications (the agility magazine), and it's specifically geared towards reactive dogs. Whether they are dog reactive, motion reactive, whatever. Heck, it's great even if your dog isn't very reactive, as it helps you build the skills you need to have a confident, focused dog, whether you're doing agility or not.

Merlin, my corgi, is an extremely low-threshold motion reactive dog. He sees something moving, he wants to go herd it up, barking and running the whole way. Most dogs do not appreciate being herded by a tiny dog full of attitude. It disrupts the class because of the barking and potential for a dog fight. I was becoming increasingly frustrated because I was spending all my time trying to deal with this yappy little ball of corgi instead of enjoying the class or learning anything new. I seriously doubted he'd ever be able to compete, and certainly never off-leash.

One of my former instructors (you change with every class) recommended this book. It is now my bible.

Last night was our fourth agility class for Merlin. I am an absolute treat machine at class - I carry with me roughly 300 treats to each session, to make sure I'll have enough to sufficiently reward as well as to "jackpot" him when he is exceptional. I kept Merlin about 10' (if possible, sometimes less depending on the obstacle) from the equipment while other dogs were working on it. He'd quickly glance over at the dogs working, then snap his head back around for a treat. At NO POINT do I ever forcibly restrain him or correct him. Sometimes he doesn't even move his head, he will simply round an ear backwards like a horse, and then snap it back forward. That also gets a treat. Immediately mark the behavior with "good!" and treat.

This is a dog that, on the first night and second night, would go totally nuts at other dogs running (especially on the a-frame) and start lunging and barking. VERY low threshold. His distance had to be much farther than the building allowed. By the third night, I could get him to within 15', but we still had a lunging issue on the dog walk (later I found out that the dog wasn't very well socialized himself, which isn't an excuse but would certainly fuel Merlin's desire to bark and lunge if he's being snarled at).

Last night we only had one minor instance where I noticed Merlin's "warning signs," and immediately got his attention back on me and performed basic "thoughtless" comands (like sit, touch the hand - second nature behaviors to him) until he was fully focused again. He didn't bark or lunge the whole class. I left thinking that I will probably be able to take Merlin off leash within the year, with confidence. I actually was able to listen to the instructors last night and thoroughly enjoyed the class.

If you have a dog you're having issues with focus or reactiveness, I highly recommend you pick up the book. Clean Run sells it for roughly $25.

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