Saturday, July 23, 2011

Vanya plays! Twice!

I had finally given up on Vanya being able to be calm enough to meet a new dog
politely (after getting kicked out of yet another class-- this one solely for
reactive pitties--because of his yodeling. Ok, his shrieking.)

But the kids at the cabin next to us in the woods brought along a little female
dog, a cross between a border collies and a papillon (I'm guessing, but those
ears sure are huge). Vanya fell in love with her. He broke his leash, which is
how he met her, and much to my surprise, after a few initial attempts to
french-kiss without first being introduced, he was quite polite. They just
played for a good hour, and he was deferential, polite when she told him to back
off, and utterly beside himself with joy. She was lots faster than he is, and
she ran rings around him (and he's a very fast, skinny little pittie).

This is the first new dog he has played with since he came to live with us (he
did play with our resident dogs, before they got too old). He's always been such
a reactive screamer, and even with multiple classes and private lessons, we
could never get him calm enough for a calm greeting. He was anything but calm
this time, but after he got loose and met her, he quickly became polite enough
for her to agree to play with him.

I've tried play sessions a number of times with other dogs (6 times, I think)
but I've always put a basket muzzle on him first, and I've only had male dogs to
do this with. The basket muzzle seems to make him much more frantic, so the play
sessions haven't worked out, and I've ended them quickly because he angers or
frightens the other dog. I've known that the muzzle makes his reactivity worse,
but I've been too worried he would bite to try without it, so I had pretty much
given up on any actual play for Vanya (we have been doing BAT when we can find a
partner, but not with the goal of actual greetings, just with the goal of calmer
behavior while on leash).

This time, I did put the muzzle on for a moment after he first got loose and I
caught him, but he got frantic and very rude with the muzzle on. The female dog
told him off, so I called him back, put him in a down-stay to cool off and calm
down. We weren't going to do anything more. But after a moment, the female dog
(Georgia is her name) decided she wanted to play with him again and ran up
soliciting with play bows. Vanya was being very responsive to recalls around
her, so on the urging of the kids, I went against my better judgement and let
him play without his muzzle on. An incredible improvement--and Vanya turns out
to know all sorts of proper dog-etiquette. Vanya was also being very good about
recalling to me for cooling off sessions (literal, because it was hot, and also
behavioral, to keep him from getting too intense). So all that recall practice
pays off.

This gives me hope that we can adopt another dog when Tiva eventually dies
(although at nearly 16, she's showing few signs of slowing down--she's the
indomitable pittie).

This morning on the way to our play date, I asked for a sit before I released him to play. 

Much to my surprise, the kids had another tiny male dog in their cabin with them (a dog named Bently from nearby who had just wandered in and spent the night with them), and they let him out with Georgia. Vanya handled the male dog just fine and played with the two of them reasonably well, until all 3 were exhausted. When I put him on his leash to walk home, he threw a hissy fit. When I dropped the leash and had him heel, he did perfectly. He often does have a much easier time with obedience off leash than on leash.

Much of Vanya's reactivity is due to my behavior--namely, I never let him off leash to romp unmuzzled with new dogs. But that's because he's a pit bull and the shelter warned me that he was reactive with many dogs. And several highly regarded private trainers evaluated him and said he probably couldn't be trusted with new dogs.  The trainer in my reactive pittie class disagreed and thought he would be fine unmuzzled with a female, non-reactive, high energy dog if they had plenty of space to run. Looks like she was right.

One odd fall-out from today's play session: Vanya has decided to interpret his recall command as a down/stay command. Yesterday, whenever I recalled him, I would then down/stay him for a calming time out. Today, he figured if he just dropped in place whenever I recalled him during the play session, that was good enough. I tried not to laugh, but when he dropped, he was perfectly fine with the little dogs crawling all over him, bopping at his ears and face. His tail was wagging (his low, fast, happy social wag, not his high, slow, alert wag) a mile a minute the whole time.