Thursday, June 10, 2010

Off leash dogs again

The woods are suddenly swarming with off-leash dogs. On the path to Lost Creek, the spaniel Jake and his distracted, elderly owner Ralph came bounding up. I put Vanya's muzzle on, and let them have a brief greeting (not quite brief enough). Jake got to choose whether he wanted to come up and greet, or just stay away from Vanya, and he chose to come up, several times. Vanya was at first pretty wiggly, and then stiff and a little worried (he sat while Jake sniffed his rear), but he did relatively well, until Jake moved off, then he shrieked like a little madman. Jake came pouncing back to nip at Vanya (not fair! Vanya's muzzled!), but when I asked Ralph the owner to keep Jake from biting my muzzled dog, he did comply. (Later, another neighbor mentioned that Jake is also a rescue with issues, and does a bit of fear-biting with people, so this zipping around and nipping a retreating dog wasn't unusual.)

Lord knows if these greetings are helping Vanya or not. Since I can't control what unleashed dogs do, at least I can control my own reaction--Vanya's muzzle keeps me nice and calm and upbeat.  I talk in a happy voice, give Vanya a ton of cheezwhiz, and don't have to worry about my Vanya hurting someone (nor do I have to worry about him redirecting onto my hand when I pull him away by his harness. He's never done this, but he has snapped at the leash before I got the muzzle). If we have to have unleashed dogs around here, I sure wish we could get a female or two. Update: my next to neighbors just emailed me that their relatives are coming up to the next cabin this weekend, with their two dogs. Eek! Let's hope they're females. Let's hope the relatives believe in leashes!  Let's hope it keeps raining all weekend so it's not an issue!)

After the encounter with Jake in the woods, Vanya was very nervous on the trail--stopping a lot to sniff and look backwards. I tossed treats for him, tried to jolly him along, and finally realized that he might be worrying about this spaniel surprising him from behind.  So we reversed directions in the woods, heading back in the direction taken by the spaniel. First I got Vanya set up in his canicross gear, so he could pull to his heart's content and get a ton of praise for pulling. This worked well--he cheered right up as he chugged along, even though we didn't see Jake the spaniel again.

In the evening, as we were walking back to the cabin from the little dirt road, I worried briefly about having used up the last treat in my pocket. But since I was just one cabin from my own cabin, I figured we'd be fine. Nope. Just then, David and his two ENORMOUS, very male, very loud elkhounds came trundling down the road, right in front of my place. Luckily, Dave had his dogs on leashes--a rare event.

 Oy! Vanya went nuts, trying to pull toward them. So much for calmness. Rather than drag him off in the opposite direction and start him shrieking, I put on his muzzle, gave him his canicross pull command (hike!) and praised him like mad for pulling to his heart's content. Worked like a charm, until of course we got to our driveway and it was time to veer off-course, away from the man + two huge male dogs. Vanya screamed like the demons were coming--quite impressive.  I finally just picked him up by the front of his harness and carried him down, just like a sled dog. He sounded just like a sled dog, to be honest.

Once we regrouped behind the car, I remember the tin of nuts in the car, so I grabbed them and took Vanya back up to the road, armed with nifty treats. Vanya was still warbling a bit, but he was able to play LAT with the retreating Dave and Two Dogs, and stay under threshold, more or less. Calm? Nah. But a zillion times calmer than a moment before. I didn't let him greet Dave and the Dogs, because I was worried that the dogs would attack him, and then he'd really be freaked out for the rest of his life.

We're still working on the emergency U-turn at close distances. It would be awfully useful in such situations. If the new dog is 100s of yards away when we first see it, Vanya can glance at the dog and do a U-turn without needing to be dragged off and screaming.  But that's what I've done for 2.5 years--U-turned and left the scene when another dog showed up at a great distance--and it hasn't helped reduce his excitement at all. I'm hoping that a series of calm, extremely brief, meet-and-greets with other dogs will allow him to progress a little more.

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