Many of you have helped me with my questions over the past couple months about Vanya,our male neutered young pit bull rescue. He lives with 2 other female dogs, and he has learned to play with them very well and respect their boundaries. We live on a farm, so while he meets tons of new people (we have a guest house), he never meets new dogs.
relaxation protocol exercises.
Tonight we took him for the first night of a "barkers" class, with 3 other dogs and 4 instructors. It was supposed to be based on positive reinforcement and held in a very large space. The space seemed quite small to me, and the instructors warned us at the beginning of the class that they would use a water spray if a dog got out of control.
For some of the hour, Vanya was able to listen to me, responding to sit, watch me, look at that, and walk with me commands, and for much of the time, he didn't seem too anxious (none of the other dogs were barking, whining, or lunging). But interspersed with all his paying attention, he also started whining, louder and louder. When he started whining, I walked him away further from the other dogs, which calmed him down a bit. But then the instructor told her assistants to spray him with water because he was getting too excited, and these kids started following us around, spraying him constantly whenever he whined (finally one girl commented that it only made him more nervous and wasn't quieting him down--what a surprise!). I was trying to click and treat him whenever he gave signals of calming a bit,or of watching me, or of listening to me, but when the assistants started spraying him, he started shutting down. I should have taken him out of the class at that point--I could tell he was glazing over, even behind the barrier and further from the other 3 dogs.
I didn't argue; I was completely shut down by stress. I just took the slip collar she gave me and took Vanya out to
the car. On the way to the car, we passed a new dog--a shepherd-- coming in for another class (at about 20 ft away in the parking lot), and Vanya reacted like he's never done before: lunging, barking, aggression. And then Vanya seemed weird to my husband in the parking lot--not barking or growling, just very tense, and he wouldn't get in the car. When we got home, he got snarly with my other dogs (but calmed down when I called him and distracted him). Now he's asleep, exhausted.
So now I'm disappointed in myself, feeling like I've failed Vanya by trying to stay positive with him and follow the exercises in control unleashed, and really failed him by not introducing him to more novel stimuli, and failed him even more by taking him to a class where he got sprayed and jerked and pushed after he went over his threshold.
I don't know what to do now--keep him out of the class, and possibly make him worse by keeping him away from new dogs, or take him back to class, and let the teacher jerk him around, which only seemed to make him aggressive with dogs (something new--he's been anxious and overeager, but never aggressive).
So I feel freaked out about this class, but I also feel freaked out about the training I'm doing with him. I think the aversives only made him go over threshold, and didn't do any good at all. But I also felt unable to argue with that trainer, and unable to get him out of there, and now unable to trust that positive approaches will actually work...
Thanks for advice and reassurance. I feel like I'm screwing up this wonderful dog."