Tuesday, February 9, 2010

halloween 2007: adopting Vanya; first class

We adopted Vanya from the Rock County Humane Society on Halloween 2007. He had spent 2 months in the shelter, after being dumped by his owners (a stray, but it seems that when his owners were tracked down, they surrendered him).  We chose him because he's absolutely adorable and friendly with people, and wanted to ooze against each person who walked by. And he wasn't barking in his cage, unlike most of the other dogs. He was able to go on a parallel leashed walk with our two female dogs outside, and greet them in the meeting room, without getting too excited, which was a key factor in our decision--the much calmer pit we were considering went into screaming, lunging, barking when he saw our females, so he was not a possibility.

I did worry a bit that he couldn't focus on us in the meeting room, and that he was scanning and in high alert the whole time when I walked him out back of the shelter. But he had passed all his temperament tests with flying colors. Except the shelter warned us that he didn't get along with a lot of dogs. Since we've lived with a pit, Tiva, for 7 years, we figured that we knew how to deal with dog aggression and could handle the management and training involved. 

Meanwhile, even before he came home, I had signed him up for a family obedience class with a famous positive training company in Madison, and the class was scheduled to start at the beginning of November, almost exactly a week after he came home with us. I had emailed the class trainer before we had taken Vanya home, letting her know that he had just been adopted, and he was a young male, neutered pit bull, our second pitty. She said that would be fine.

When we got to the first class, I was a little concerned to see that it was being held in what seemed like a small room, filled  with lots of dogs and people (13 dogs, if memory serves, and perhaps 20 people in there). My husband got stuck in traffic, so he met me there after work, a little late--not the best set-up. Vanya came charging in like a little sled dog (loose leash walk? he had it yesterday!) and I soon learned he was very excited by the sight of 13 dogs and 20 people--too excited at first to take treats. Surely they were all there for him to greet? Right now! Now! Now! 

Whenever one of the trainer's assistants came over to say hi, he was all wiggles and whines and licks. He was much more interested in greeting people than in the other dogs at first, but once he realized he wasn't going to be allowed to go say hi to anyone else, he began reacting to the other dogs by whining and wiggling. For 5 or 10 minutes, I could distract him with o his doggy pushups (sit, c/t, down, c/t, sit c/t, etc), but then he went over threshold and started whining louder. Taking him out of visual contact into a foyer where I could walk him in circles calmed him at first, but not for long. Back into the training room, more pushups. The trainer demonstrated how to call a do, with a happy encouraging voice, and Vanya bounced right over to her, wiggling and licking her face. Oops. (I didn't let go of the leash, but he got too close to the nervy dashund, who nipped at him. Vanya ignored him, too intent on wiggling into the lap of the trainer, but the little dog was not at all happy.) 

After his excitement led to more whining, the trainer asked us to go to a separate room, where we could hear her instructions and follow along, but where Vanya couldn't see or distract the others. It took Vanya about 20 seconds to calm down and roll over for belly rubs. After the class, the trainer came in and looking at him waving his paws in the air,  and said with surprise: "oh, he managed to calm down." I told her that he calmed down very quickly, and she rubbed his tummy and said: "well, I don't think he's dangerous to people," a comment that surprised me. If any dog on earth was giving off social signals, it was Vanya, so her comment seemed based on discomfort with pitbulls, not with Vanya's behavior in any way. She then told us the class wouldn't be appropriate for his arousal levels, something I was relieved to hear, to be honest. 

Unfortunately, she told me to wait for 6 months before taking a class, so that we could bond more with him. I was puzzled, because I figured a 10 month old pup that had just spent 2 months isolated in a cage needed as much socialization, as soon as possible. But she was the trainer, so I agreed and went home. Bad idea. Bad, bad, idea. I really, really wish she had told us to take him for a private session and a lot of socialization. Oh well.

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