Monday, May 17, 2010

Working on leash reactivity again, finally

Today, I took time off from the weeding to bring Vanya up to town with me.

We swung by the big Prairie dog park, which is insanely busy even on Monday, but which does have a big church parking lot across the street, where I can work with Vanya and know that no dog is going to come near us. Much of the time, he was slightly stressed when we played Look at That, but able to calm down and pay attention. (I try to keep him far enough away when we play LAT so that he doesn't show any stress signs and can just lay on his bed and flop over, but that far away, I don't believe he can actually see the other dogs.) A couple of times, however, a large black GSD set him off and he started shrieking (even though that dog wasn't paying any attention to us, she was chasing a ball obsessively). But he was able to calm down quickly enough.

What worked the best to allow Vanya to relax a bit: salmon burgers, broken into tiny pieces and tossed in the grass so he had to track them down. Giving him a chance to track and hunt really helps him stop focusing on other dogs, and put his focus back on something he loves to do.

I also gave him a puzzle game--a tupperware container that I could put bits of spraycheese or salmon inside, and toss into the grass. Then Vanya could chase it, pounce on it, and then figure out how to open it up and eat the treats inside. Once he had these games to play, he was able to get a lot closer to the dog park dogs without getting too stressed. Another game that worked: spray cheese on a lid, and then he could use the unsprayed side as a target stick (with the reward a brief lick on the cheesey side). He doesn't love to target my hand, in part because he sometimes got a static shock during the very dry weather. With the target lid, he'll happily dash around after it, do his jumps, and play other games. Obedience games work OK to keep him from focusing on other dogs and freaking out, but chase/hunt/track games are a lot more engaging for him.

What else helped: I used a 16 ft flexi, attached to my waist (with a bungee that was attached to my treat/bag/belt). The flexi gave him a lot more options, and allowed him to chase, do his recalls, and avoid any significant tension on the leash. Only once did he go to the end of the leash. My goal was to keep him from hitting the end of it and feeling restrained--I wanted him to be obeying my recalls and other cues, not getting controlled by the leash.

He sure gets exhausted quickly by this work. We stopped on the way home at a little prairie park, across the street from a pasture with 2 donkeys and a vet's parking lot with a horse being exercised. Vanya was curious about the donkeys and horses, but not particularly interested--after a quick look, he got busy sniffing the gopher holes.

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