Sunday, April 11, 2010

Near new dogs...

Yesterday, after a morning walk on the bike trail and then a couple hours with Shawn from Capitol Times, Vanya got to go see dogs in the distance. This doesn't sound exciting, but for Vanya, it is. Very exciting.

We went up to the Prairie Moraine dog park outside of Verona, a vast and very crowded dog park with miles of trails, and most important for our purposes, several places where you can park well away from the park and still see dogs and people. We started up at the end of the park fence, and Vanya did well there for a while, playing LAT with dogs in the distance. When he started whining, I'd have him hop back into the crate inside the car, where he could calm down faster. But then an odd man with 4 barking dogs came up along the fence and stopped and stayed too close to us. Even though I had Vanya jump into the car and even though I shut the door and kept clicking away for moments of silence, this still sent him far over threshold.

So we drove to the church parking lot a little further away, and this worked much better. Over and over again we practiced LAT with the distant dogs, then taking a break by jumping into the car or walking off behind the church to sniff the mulch. Vanya was clearly calming down a lot, but I suspected this was a bit of flooding, although possibly a bit of realization that those other jumping, leaping, barking dogs in the distance weren't going to come over near him, so he was safe.

It's taken me a while to realize how much anxiety and fear are mixed in with his responses to other dogs. Because part of this is my fault (keeping him from playing with other dogs because of my concerns about his potential reaction; associating the sight of new dogs with pain and tension on the leash, etc), it's hard to see.  Vanya became very eager to jump back into the car between our brief forays out into the parking lot. When we did our short walks, he was able to target, watch, sit, etc.

Exhausting, but I think it was valuable, once I figured out how to keep him at a consistent distance where he didn't have to worry about a dog showing up suddenly too close to him.

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