Just a forewarning, I got a little ghetto and made my own food tube, kind of....
I was so very excited about the new technique that I made myself get out and work with Eclipse today despite my blister on the bottom of my toe and my sore muscles (exercising quite extensively for the first time in a couple weeks will do that to you).
I knew I needed a bonus reward for Eclipse that he'd be willing to take outside and since I've tried just about everything else I could think of I put peanut butter in a ziploc bag and cut a tiny hole in one corner. It was messy but we made due until we get our hands on a food tube.
We set out with Eclipse in his Gentle Leader and flat collar and I had the peanut butter in my treat pouch and clicker at the ready on my wrist. We started out and had to walk a little ways as most of the dogs were inside for some reason but he quickly realized we were approaching a house (across the street from us) containing a low-intensity dog and his ears perked forward (unless he's stressed his ears are relaxed on walks, which isn't often I admit), he closed his mouth, stood on his toes a bit and got a bit stiff. I was afraid we were almost over his threshold but I needn't have worried, he fairly quickly looked at me, I clicked and we walked back to our starting point a house distance away next to a tree. He got a lick of peanut butter on the way back and a good petting while we took a little break. We approached the house a few more times and got a bit closer each time before he perked his ears waiting for the other dog. It was five repetitions or so before we were able to walk by, without the dog being present! There aren't any more dogs for a little ways until we have to cross a little street and then the house on the corner has two pomeranians, the house across from them has the female yellow lab that makes Eclipse very nervous and various little dogs and the house next to them has a couple dogs but they're low-intensity.
The pomeranians were out so we waited for a moment while the lady put them in their x-pen in the yard and then we approached the street crossing (we were a house length back from the street crossing). He noticed the little dogs but sat quickly of his own accord so I clicked, we retreated and he got peanut butter. We did that a couple times before the little dog started barking and his owner came out to yell at him. I politely went up to the lady and asked if she minded letting the dogs bark to help with Eclipse's training and she was very kind and said she was happy to help! (I'm a very anxious person and approaching her like that made me about have a panic attack but I didn't want her calling the cops on me for sticking around her house!) We returned to our starting point, I removed the Gentle Leader, and we got a few feet closer with each new repitition and he handled it well. We were able to get right up next to them (well, they were about 15 ft away in their yard, but parallel to them I guess) and Eclipse would immediately give me an alternate behavior and we'd retreat. He did so well I decided to stop the lesson then but we had to work through the other dog's house, although it only took us five repetitions to get past that house with Eclipse on his flat collar in a perfect "heel" position with a very loose leash and relaxed body language!
It's nice that now I know a bit better what to look for and to focus on watching his cues to me on walks, it's amazing what I see when I look! His signals are not subtle, at all, I just wasn't knowing what to look for or taking the time to look for it. His first signal to me that he's noticed a dog but is still sub-threshold is his ear position, if I disregard that even for a second he quickly moves from being beside me to being in front of me in either a diagonal position or completely perpendicular to me watching that dog with all his might. He's still sub-threshold at that point though I think it's definitely pushing the threshold line. He quickly looks back to me and I can literally feel when he's done watching the other dog and can retreat in comfort. (There are times when a dog does an alternate behavior but isn't done investigating the situation so if you force them to retreat too soon it could stress them out more as they fear the dog/other stressor will attack them from behind.)
We went out again later but didn't run into any dogs, just worked through the houses that had dogs to keep him stress-free and it was a very successful walk.
I think it's true, this training protocol may just be a miracle for Eclipse and I!
Not to mention we're re-introducing Eclipse to the car, similar to how GDB pups are introduced to the car, just tweaked a bit. Eclipse is getting his dinner (with a dollop of peanut butter in it) in the car. He won't be going on any car rides for a week or two but we'll gradually work up to me sitting in the front seat while he eats, to having the car on, to backing up, to driving to the end of the driveway, etc. Although when it comes to actual movement we'll try something else, either peanut butter or ice cream as I doubt his dinner would work at that point. He's doing well and we're hoping the new plan of attacks for his two biggest issues will pay off in the long run!
Happy training, everyone!
Ally & Alex w/Eclipse, Teddy & Kira