For readers of my blog, you’ve learned of the work put into rehabilitating my little Boogs, my Jack Bear. Not only have I worked hard transforming his reactivity towards “you name the trigger”, but Jack worked just as hard if not harder in changing his emotional response towards people on wheels, motorcycles, dogs, cats, whatever else. He’s way better with some stimuli, while others are still a work in progress.
The work in progress category, I find the hardest in accepting as our reality. My acceptance doesn’t rely on Jack’s behavior even though in the moment, I believe its him. The lack of acceptance is for myself as his leader and as a trainer. The work in progress category exposes the limitations in his training and it shatters my high expectation of his behavior which I undoubtedly bestowed upon him and his unknowing rejection of such an expectation.
The past few weeks, Jack progressed tremendously. His recall improved drastically, to the point where I can take him to the park up the street from my house ask him to sit and give the command “go get ’em” where he takes off and chases birds. The moment he reaches the flock of birds feasting on the grass, I’m able to recall him back to me and he comes happily sprinting towards me. This sequence of recall and herding practice lent itself for him developing a level of maturity I’ve never seen! After a couple of practice rounds of us working together, I brought him to daycare at Howl A Day Inn which I’ve been doing for the past few months. His usual response at daycare is nonstop play with the other dogs and investigating his environment. Jack is a total social butterfly. Things changed. He changed. After our work, he arrived at daycare and just CHILLED. He didn’t get aroused by other dogs energetically playing, nor did he accept an invitation of play when invited. He was content on to himself. This was HUGE! His change in behavior signaled to me our work together gave him purpose, it gave him fulfillment as it did for me. I finally found something which peaked his interest and he settled.
Since this new behavior came on all of a sudden (after consultation with another trainer, she solidified the point of maturity being a light switch, one day the light is off the next day totally out of the blue, its turned on) I looked for opportunities to strengthen it. I have a friend who is also a client. She has an adorable and precocious Boxer named Sadie. Sadie was surrendered to rescues from a couple of different families until my friend came along. Her warm heart gave Sadie the security of being a dog. Like many dogs, Sadie has some reactivity much like Jack. After several weeks of private sessions where Sadie was working on sit, focus, down, stay commands, I felt it was time to work on Behavior Adjustment Training and this is where Jack comes in. During our second session last week, Jack was on like I’ve never seen him before. He knew he was working and willingly participated in our session. With Jack’s help and his changed emotional response towards another dog, he allowed Sadie an opportunity for growth. Since he wasn’t busy barking, engaging in distracting behaviors towards her, Sadie was able to start changing her default behaviors of lunging, barking, growling with replacement behaviors of looking away, sniffing the grass, refocusing her attention on my friend. It was amazing to see. Even after the 45 minutes of work the four of us were doing and after I said “all done”, Jack immediately went into a play bow and engaged Sadie in play. Jack knew work was over and now its play time!
With Jack’s new way of being, I believed he changed, I believed he was vastly different than before. Well, the other night tested this belief and solidified the point, training is an absolute, an every day in every situation commitment to your dog. The other night, we had a quick walk around the block. As we were approaching our home, I saw this little dog on a retractable leash way out in front of her owner and I know Jack’s historical response towards this particular dog. He gets CRAZY! In this split second, before Jack reacted and before the dog and owner passed us, I believed Jack wouldn’t care based on his changed attitude. Well, I was dead wrong. It wasn’t the rehabilitated Jack, it was the reactive Jack from years past. I was so disappointment and embarrassed. At first, I was upset with Jack for responding the way he did. But, I took a breath and realized I was upset with myself. I didn’t use that moment as a training moment for him. I didn’t read his signals nor did I give him an opportunity to work on his reactivity. I expected him to have a particular response, but he obviously wasn’t ready for that moment and that is where I failed him.
That particular moment burned in my brain things we still have to work on. Even though that moment was difficult for me as a trainer, I remembered for myself which I often tell clients, dogs don’t learn in a linear fashion. There are good days and there will be days where you think your dog has regressed. Its all apart of the learning for you and your dog, but stick with the training regimen. This is a reminder to myself, take a breath and reset my mind.