Today, Vanya was very good with the real dog, able to approach him calmly on a loose leash, and actually pretty uninterested in him once he got a chance to go sniff and greet (they were separated by the kennel fence). Vanya was much, much more interested in greeting a person who walked by than in greeting Real Dog. I've never seem him so calm around an actual dog, so maybe this many-times a day encounter with Miss Plushy is working! To be honest, I think the most important thing about Miss Plushy is that she shapes calmness in ME. I've been so worried about screwing something up in actual dog encounters and ending up with someone else's dog hurt, that no matter how hard I try, I get tense. The first few times with Miss Plushy, I could tell my heart was racing, even though the stakes were low. So I'm getting calmer each time, and so is Vanya.
We've ordered another fake dog: the sitting Cavalier King Charles spaniel, complete with a little tongue flick.
Why are we letting Vanya meet the fake dogs? Sarah Kalnajs of Blue Dog Training mentioned that some trainers who work on assessing reactive dogs will let the dog meet the stuffed dog, in order to assess whether the test dog is likely to attack new dogs, or just likely to be a goofy Tarzan around them.
Today we also went ski-joring with Vanya along the bike trail (in between meet and greets). When we turned back after a couple miles to go back to the car, we got about 1/2 mile and then saw a person on the trail with 2 unleashed dogs. Oops (I had been wondering why Vanya was pulling so well as we ran back towards the car). Luckily, I had been rehearsing to myself what we would do if this happened, so I was able to turn around on my skis, calls out in a happy voice "this way!" (our 'reverse direction' cue, which we practice in calm places), and ski back, away from the car. I knew that in a few hundred yards, there was a place I could ski off the trail, back into the woods. So we did that, found some good bunny tracks to play tracking games, and waited for a while, hoping the person and dogs would have gone on by. They hadn't yet. So we turned around again (still calmly), playing some more tracking games in the woods, then tried again, and by this time, the person was out of sight.
Vanya could probably still smell them, because when I gave him the hike command, he took off and pulled like mad for the entire 2 miles. Since I'm working on his pulling, I encouraged this, letting him pull all my weight, and even snowplowing a bit to slow him down (and to make possible a quick dash into the woods if the dogs popped up suddenly). We made it back to the car, after greeting 4 snowmobilers (Vanya LOVES snowmobilers, of course), and then put the skis away and did another meet and greet with the kenneled dog. Very calm on Vanya's part (of course, he was probably exhausted after doing all the work on the run back to the car). Then a brief walk around the block in the village on the busy block, saw a dog a block away, no reaction, back to the car, and even reasonably quiet in the car. So a good outing.