Thursday, March 3

A fun Dax walk

Fun Dax walks are few and far between, I'm sad to say.

He's incredibly fearful and reactive towards people (the main issue) and dogs (less of an issue to me since I have another one like that (but not quite that extreme) and I'm used to avoiding dogs on walks). Whenever we get within sight of another human being, Dax goes into frenzy mode. Bark bark bark bark lunge bark bark insanity bark bark bark. And by sight, I literally mean sight. His threshold for strangers on walks can be as far as the eye can see, when they're coming towards him. He actually is LESS reactive towards dogs. If I walk him with Popper, he can actually get closer to people (around the neighborhood), but I can't really work on anything when I'm walking him with another dog because my hands are tied up with two dogs.

My friend Trish asked me last night, as we walked Dax with his best buddy Raleigh, why I don't click Dax as soon as a person comes into sight, and just rapid fire click-treat until they're gone.

The answer is simple and sad: because when he's out on a walk, he's already over his threshold. He won't take treats, he's not interested in them even a teensy bit. Steak, hot dog, even his favorite duck - they're not important. I can't *not* walk Dax. I suppose I could continually drive him to my parents' big yard to play lots and lots of ball for exercise, but right now it's muddy so that's off limits. Dogs over their threshold aren't supposed to be "training" because they won't learn anything. I can vouch for that. But I can't stuff a young cattle dog in my house and tell him he has to be a perfect angel with no hope for exercise, either. A little bit of cat teaser isn't going to remotely tire him, or some Nina Ottosson games. He needs simple, sheer exercise to be satisfied. He'd also never leave the house if I waited until he took treats from me.

The reason I mention it is because today, for the first time ever, Dax was so entirely relaxed that I was able to train correctly on a walk (no half-assing it today!!). I met with my parents and their two confident cattle dog mixes for a walk in the park. It took a mile in, but Dax starting responding to clicks, looking for treats (has NEVER happened on a walk, I usually have to shove them in his mouth), offering behaviors. He was a different dog. And it enlightened me to how freaked out he normally is on walks. Which makes me sad. Because walks should be fun for both of us, not torturous. Not scary.

Dax was able to confidently walk past strangers (except for one jogger who was too too close - next time he came by I moved Dax over four feet and Dax didn't even pay him any attention) without barking at them at all. He was still pretty barky at other dogs, but I felt like if I really wanted to press the issue (and I didn't at that time, I was thoroughly enjoying the stranger-barking-free walk) we could have had some success to build upon in the future. And I've never felt like he could have that issue in control.

I wanted to go on forever, but my parents are old and their dogs are fat, so we called it quits after a couple of slow miles.

I've discussed this weird reaction with my friends and trainers before.. Why does Dax NOT bark at strangers when walked with my parents and their dogs? Everyone suggests that the two dogs are confident enough that Dax doesn't feel like he needs to go into berserker mode. I wonder something else entirely, and a bit more ominous.

Dax has never been walked with another man that I can recall. He's slightly spooked of all men, even my husband. I kind of wonder if it's my dad that Dax is responding to, and not the dogs. Because when I walk Dax with Raleigh and Trish, I don't get the same reaction. And Raleigh is fairly confident around strangers and other dogs (at least, his threshold is a good deal higher than Dax's).

Easy enough to test, I suppose. I'm going to haul hubby out with Merlin the corgi for a short walk with us to see what happens, clicker and treats at the ready. Unfortunately it's going to rain for the next few days, but I really want to see what happens. Maybe it is the two older, wiser, secure dogs sending him good vibes. Or maybe Dax is afraid to "misbehave" in front of Grampy. I don't know. Maybe I'll never know for sure. But I'd love to know what secret ingredient it is, so I can be sure to include it on all our future walks!

Tuesday, March 1

Making Nail Trims Fun

Well, at least "less likely to have gaping bloody wounds after angry cattle dog mix ravages your hands."

That's a pretty good intro. :D

See, when I got Popper at 6 weeks old, he was insanely insane about his feet. Insane. Being the good little dog owner, I massaged his little tootsies daily so he'd learn that it was okay. I also daily was chomped, bitten, and maimed. Usually, I am sad to say, with broken skin. He was a very small puppy. With very sharp teeth.

As time wore on, I had my husband wrap him up like a mummy in a blanket, and then we put a muzzle on him. He turns into little Cujo and froths at the mouth, but I get all his toenails cut and dremeled. If he were any bigger (he's only about 26#, keep in mind) and he acted this way, I have NO idea how we would trim his nails.

Then my friend Trish shared this video. It was a similar story (except I am not intimidated by Popper - I am bigger, I am stronger, and daggonit I'm smarter!) though it didn't sound like the dog had nearly the foot aggression that my dear little buddy does. I've seen a lot of clicker videos for the issue, and this particular one struck a chord with me. Everything was sooo slow. I decided to give it a shot.

So today, I took 30 minutes and played the nail clicker game.

First off, I discovered that Popper is indeed much, much worse than the dog in the video. If I would try to get my hand REMOTELY near his feet, he skittered off instantly. I could get about 8-10" away, and that's it. So we had to try a new tactic just to get to the first part of the training.

Popper loves to play. Popper loves to target. And Popper love love LOVES food!! So I would throw my hand down beside him (palm down), and he would POUNCE on it. If he pounced with his paw, click treat. He loved the game. So after he was awesome at it, which didn't take too long, I changed to slamming my hand down palm UP. He handled the switch just fine. The key here is that he is GIVING me his paw. He WANTS to play. The next step was to just lightly grab his paw, starting with a little thumb stroke and working up to a full grab. He was shocked. Mom grabbed his PAW. Click treat. :) Oh, wait... I got a treat. So we played that game for a looong time, just getting him comfortable with me grabbing his foot for an instant. No toe playing, no massage. Grab and go. He started rolling on his back and batting at me - honestly, any foot grab was my goal. I'd grab, click treat, and he'd bat me again.

That took quite a while. When I left the game, after 30 minutes (and Popper's tail wagging madly once he understood the "rules"), we had worked up to grabbing AND holding his paw for 2-3 seconds. Without rolling over. Popper discovered that he could just lay there and let Mom do all the work and get a click treat. As he is always looking for shortcuts, he was perfectly fine with the new way the game was going. With his right foot I can even massage it a little bit. Unfortunately, I kept playing with one foot more than the other, so his left foot he is still kind of dodgy on, but I CAN grab it. Without so much as a snarl. Which I can tell you I never thought was remotely possible.

So we are not going to progress at the same rate as the dog in the video. But that's fine. I never thought Popper would willingly give me his paw, so I am willing to be unusually patient with this new game. :)