Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Over threshold, but trying hard....

Last night was Vanya's first practice with Lana's  young pittie, Amber. Vanya was very, very excited (but calmer than he might have been....). He really, really wanted to go meet Amber, and when he wasn't allowed to, he shrieked. A couple times, he even did his "trout-on-a-fishing-line" imitation, thrashing around at the end of his leash. I put on his gentle leader in hopes of getting a bit more control, but then I felt like I was jerking him around a bit too much. We tried various things--distance, using the car as a visual barrier--to help him calm down, and he did stop shrieking and pulling, but he kept up a low whine for most of the time. Ah well. He was able to do parallel leash walks with Amber (who remained a good ways away--perhaps 40 feet?), and he did calm down enough to do his obedience exercises about 40 feet away from her. We spent about an hour and a half working with the two dogs--first Amber with the plush dog, while Vanya waited in his crate, and then the two of them at opposite sites of a field, and then eventually a bit closer together. Not perfect (ahem), but progress. 

I did try some of Nancy Williams "response prevention", approaching the trigger until Vanya went a little over threshold, then walking backwards with him until he calmed down, treating him, then approaching again. Well, that's the theory, anyway. Here is how the approach was described to me:

"Patient dog approaches trigger. At the point of reaction, the dog is turned away from the trigger towards the handler (hence the equipment) with the handler backing up until the dog stops reacting. Then the dog is fed. For the dogs whose focus is on visiting, the dog is simply allowed to reapproach, although a combination of treats and reapproach can work too."

This didn't quite work as planned, in part because Vanya doesn't just go a little over threshold, and then he doesn't calm completely down. I wasn't sure if his eventual calming was just a bit of flooding, or simple exhaustion, or real calming. Onwards and upwards. 

BAT with distance as the reward seems backwards for Vanya because he so badly wants proximity to the other dog. For now, we'll work on a curving parallel walk, getting closer to the other dog as the reward for a bit of calming, moving away from the dog (and possibly moving behind a visual barrier) as the response to shrieking.  

This sounds similar to the classic cat-desensitization exercise recommended on PBRC 

"What you need:

    • One cat-aggressive pit bull
    • One very mellow cat
    • Lots of treats
    • A Gentle Leader head collar
    • A good strong, leather leash
    • A lot of patience!
I always do this in my living room with no other distractions. I'll put my kitty in a far corner. (My kitty will hold a down stay, but you can give your kitty a bowl of wet food to keep them in place if you want. This will also counter-condition the cat to aggressive dogs!) I'll then bring the dog down the hallway towards the kitty. You must stay calm! When they start to freak out, I'll just walk backwards down the hall without saying a word and without any leash corrections. I'm always facing the cat. I don't turn around at all.

When you walk backwards with a dog on a head collar, their face turns toward you. There's your opportunity to reward them. I don't give commands and I don't ever reprimand. This is desensitizing, not obedience! If you do this every day, a couple times a day, you'll be amazed at the results! (Just be careful the cat doesn't get too fat from eating all that wet food!)

When you get to the point where the dog is getting used to the pattern (if I aggress, we go the other way), what you will be looking for is unsolicited looks. You want the dog to turn and look at you before the leash gets tight. That's when you know you're making progress! The whole point to this is so the dog gets the pattern. When they see a cat, you want them to look at you to get the treat, not look at the cat.

Get closer only when the dog isn't reacting as intensely. Also, don't do this for more than a few minutes at a time at first. This is intense stuff for dogs! This also does not cover outside cats! If they see a running kitty outside, they're gonna go after it! Staying calm and having patience is key.

And finally, is this a surefire way to get your dog to love cats? No way. But, can you get your dog to the point of being in the same room with that particular cat and not freak out? Yes, if you're diligent about it."

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