Sunday, April 17, 2011

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WXYZ! Now I know my ABC's next time won't you sing with me?

Only two of those letters are applicable, I just couldn't help myself. This post is all about Eclipse, so if you're looking for a Tiki update come back tomorrow for that, and I apologize that it's been well over a month since I've posted an update on any of the dogs.

As you all probably know, Eclipse has a lot of anxiety issues. I think part of his "reactivity" outside is pure generalized anxiety, but I think there are more parts to it. I think he doesn't trust that I will respond to his signals and do the responsible thing and remove him from a situation he's not comfortable in. I also think a lot of his anxiety stems from me or Alex or who ever is handling him not communicating clearly with him. Eclipse isn't a guesser, well, he'll guess but the more he guesses or if he guesses and gets it wrong, the higher his anxiety goes. I feel bad, since it took this post to help me realize it, but at least now I have realized it and am acting on it. Before that post (and some posts to a dog training Yahoo! group I'm part of) I was thinking that Eclipse's issue was purely generalized anxiety so I was attempting to purely counter-condition (change the association with the "stressor" with the use of positive things happening everytime it was near) yet since we couldn't identify every stressor, it was failing miserably. (Although this post is about handling styles/communication Eclipse (and Teddy) is taking a natural pill every day that helps with anxiety and it seems to be helping. He's also got a thundershirt that he wears quite regularly and it seems to be helping as well)

I've ordered some books to help me communicate with Eclipse and identify signals he can give me that he can trust I will respond to every.single.time. In the meantime, I decided to start on what's known as an "auto check-in" and rewarding any and all offered eye contact. Since I wanted it to be as purely self-triggered as possible I put Eclipse on a long-line and took him outside in front of our house. Of course the first thing he did was run to the end of the line so I waited until he started back towards me and I clicked and gave him a kibble when he reached me. Then he realized I had kibble so he stuck close and we practiced some loose-leash walking with the long line dragging behind him as I only had ahold of the handle. He did so good! He'd rush ahead of me a bit to begin with but after 2-3 steps would turn and return to heel position. As the session went on he traveled ahead of me less and less and stuck more to my side. Now, I'm not looking for a perfect obedience style "heel" when we're out walking but I do prefer him to stay by my side just as a personal preference. There were a few times where we'd reach an area (just in the alley way in front of our house) that would put him on high alert and he'd rush to the end of the line and look around. Thankfully while we were outside the areas that freak him out were harmless as the dogs are either gone or were inside so we got to work him through those. After he stood and watched for maybe 5 seconds he'd turn back towards me and get a click and treat. He did so good! I can't express in words how good he did! It was such a great breakthrough it gives me a lot of hope for when we start practicing the techniques in the books I ordered. Hopefully someday he'll be calm in his own skin and be able to truly trust that I'll protect him.
We walked up the road a little ways
As we got further away from home his trips ahead of me got more freguent and more "intense" but he was still coming back to my side pretty quickly and taking a few steps beside me.
Then he started licking his nose and I knew it was time to turn around, so turn around we did
As if the nose licking wasn't enough of a signal he also started sniffing around, so I was happy I had listened to him and we were heading home. The only thing was I wasn't signaling him back to my side at all (unless he reached the end of the long line) so the nose lick was followed directly by the sniffing.
Thankfully I listened to him soon enough that he was able to walk back home in a nice position beside me as he wasn't too stressed out.

 We even worked on him offering eye contact and while the day was starting to get busier with a lawn mower starting and kids playing he offered me eye contact quite a bit! I want him to learn that it's OK to look at what scares him and then he can look at me and I'll take on the responsibility to get us away from it.

The moral of the story?
Listen to your dog and be responsible so they can trust that you'll protect them. Otherwise you have to not only build that trust from a deficit but ensure you act on it every.single.time to help your dog. I would do anything for Eclipse, and changing how I do my normal routine and how I communicate him is no skin off my back, but means everything for his health and happiness! Look at that face, though, how could I ignore what he tells me?

More later and we'll definitely keep you updated on our progress!