Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two steps forward, two steps back...

Vanya had a rough time staying under threshold yesterday. I had a rough time managing the environment so he could stay under threshold! Oy.

I've been traveling for 11 days, promoting my new book, so Vanya wasn't getting much training. Frank is sweet and takes care of his basic needs, but Vanya didn't leave the farm for nearly 2 weeks, much less practice calmness around novel stimuli. He basically hung out with the guys on the couch and found deer carcasses in the back field (not a bad life, of course).

Anyway, so yesterday the vet came to the farm (to check and make sure that Miss Tiva's new bumps weren't a return of her mast cell cancer--good news! they're not! and to extract 5 little teeth that were in bad shape from 14.5 years of playing with big sticks. Tiva is in great shape, happily). Vanya and Tiva absolutely adore our wonderful vet (Dr Chris Severin, The Visiting Vet, who comes to our farm with her van/vet clinic that's set up for surgeries, etc). Dr Chris gives the dogs super-wonderful treats and tons of attention, and when her vet pulls onto the farm, all the dogs are thrilled. Vanya was so thrilled he instantly forgot all of his manners and tried to jump into her van through the open window. Then, when I tried to put him inside the house so Tiva could have her checkup and surgery, Vanya lost his marbles. He screamed and wiggled and did his "I'm completely out of control" imitation. Even with his harness plus gentle leader on, with 2 separate leashes, I couldn't get him from Point A to Point B without him thrashing and shrieking.

The good thing about this: all this kookiness looks a lot like his extreme response to new dogs. But with the vet, and other people, it's all about a desire to greet, mixed with an utter inability to get control of his impulses when he's frustrated from his desires. This suggests that his extreme reactions to new dogs may be as much about greeting desire and frustration, not about aggression.

What was frustrating to me is that the dozens and dozens of hours we've put in, the thousands of repetitions, the endless endless practices--it's not enough. More, more, more! Sometimes, when I look at Vanya, I think: how much is enough, sweetheart? Can I ever do enough repetitions so that you can stay calm when you want something?

Anyway, when the vet finished with Tiva's surgery and it was time for Vanya's checkup, he was thrilled to bits and was a wonderful boy with Dr Chris. When his visit was over and it was time for him to go back out, he refused, wanting to stay with her and her freeze-dried liver treats forever. She finally came out of her van to walk back to the farmhouse, so I didn't have to haul Mr Let Me Stay with the Nice Vet Forever across the farmyard. My, he looked beautiful as he did a lovely dancing heel by her side, gazing into her eyes (hoping for her liver treat)--he looked like he was ready for the Westminster Show.

Ok, enough excitement for the moment. An hour later, I had to run into the village for some milk, so I brought him along for a practice walk in the village to work on greeting new people nicely, and then a practice walk on the bike trail to walk calmly by Jake the Mellow Lab. As we drove into the village, he started screaming from his crate. When we tried to walk through the village, 7 dogs came by (in 4 different groups). We didn't get far from my car, which I was using as a blind--when Vanya begins screaming at another dog, moving him out of sight can calm him down quickly. Each time I got him to calm down for a moment, ANOTHER few dogs would come running by (luckily, thank heavens, none of them came running up to us, even though some were off leash).  Finally, I just gave up, cut my losses, stuffed him back into his crate, and got the heck out of Dodge.  I'm surprised the people in the parking lot didn't call the police--we sure were disturbing the peace. Oh well.

On the way back to the farm, we did stop by the bike trail to do pass-bys with Jake the Mellow Lab. Vanya actually showed no interest whatsoever in poor Jake, who looks pretty ill. That sad dog seems to be kept in his kennel 24 hours a day--they used to take him out for walks, but this time his kennel had a lot of poop in it, and Jake seemed either ill or just too dejected to come out of his dog house and greet us. Poor, poor Jake. This reminds me that, for all Vanya's challenges, he really does have a wonderful life: tons of downtime lounging around the house hanging out with people, 20 fenced acres to run around in as much as he wants, a long walk or bike ride or ski every day, another dog and plenty of people to play with, and an endless supply of rodents and bunnies to track.

Today Vanya went up to Madison with me for an interview, so I could take him for a long hike on the Ice Age Trail after the talk. He did very well indeed on the walk--no pulling, screaming, etc; only one person and no dogs to greet, but a ton of lovely smells to sniff.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Good and bad

Vanya did well on his evening pass-by with mellow Jake the yellow lab. He didn't do so well on his twilight walk in the village of Monticello--everything seemed to get him wired. Twilight clearly isn't his best time for new environments. After a few blocks, I decided to cut our losses and head back to the farm, the super-duper size of Jim Beam in tow. Vanya did get to meet a couple sweet people, who were even kind enough to stand still and wait for him to sit before they cooed and petted him. In his red jacket, he's pretty adorable--it screams "I'm a goofy puppy!" rather than "I'm the terrifying pit bull!"