Friday, July 27, 2012

Happier at Home

Jun had a follow-up with Dr. D. today. I'd like to report that it went amazingly and Dr. D. confirmed that she's well on her way to being a normal dog. But that's not what happened. In the eight months since we saw her last, Jun has made progress. Clomipramine has been great for her. She's been calmer, happier, and more normal. Only . . . at home.

In the past 8 months I took her through a nosework class and a reactive dog class. Her drugs have calmed her enough that she's been able to learn some tools that help her cope better in public. She has a "look at that" cue that can take away the suprise of a person in the environment. She knows how to deal with a person by giving me eye contact. She trusts (at least more than she used to) that I'm in control and I won't let anyone touch her. I can walk her down the block and back in our neighborhood. We can get past people at a certain distance in other places, if we have to. I can't remember the last reactive episode she's had (to a person, that is, dogs are another story now). I've even brought her out to group events a couple times recently at parks where there are lots of other people and she's done well. She seems to tolerate groups better than individuals.

But here's the thing . . . all these things she is now capable of are still stressful for her. Most people who don't know her can't tell and look at me like I'm crazy when I say she's nervous or stressed or doesn't want to be petted, but *I* know and it's not fair to her to ask her to deal with things that stress her out when those things are not necessary. Not to mention I live with the consequences for a week or two when she gets stressed in the form of more barking, more pacing, more clinginess--all her old behaviors.

At some point in the past few months I figured out that leaving the house more than once a week is too much for her--that is JUST leaving. Not leaving and seeing people, not taking a major trip. I'm talking about walking down our street. Once a week (or so), if we get lucky and don't meet anyone, I can take Jun for a half-a-block walk and have a happy, calm, relaxed dog at my side who can respond to cues and take treats nicely. If I try to do the same three days later, I have a dog who needs multiple reminders not to pull on the leash, takes treats with a hard mouth, and takes obedience cues as a sign that danger is afoot.

So we quit. We're not actively doing behavior modification. I really don't think it's even possible to make progress working once a week. And how do you desensitize to "life"?? If we go out, I bring treats. If we see people we practice LAT, or maybe BAT if the situation is right and she's tolerating it well. I will keep taking her out into normal life situations as she can tolerate it, even into mildly-stressful situations, and maybe she will improve. And maybe not. That's ok too. It kills me a little bit to write that, but not as much as it kills me to see my dog stressed and unhappy. She is happier at home, so she will be the best damn home-frisbee-obedience-agility-nosework dog that ever was. And hopefully sleep peacefully every night.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grown-up Dogs

In October, Jun will be 5 and Elo will be 4. They will have been with me for 4 and 3 years respectively. And lately I feel like they are so mature. Like I am finally reaping the rewards of the work I've put in and I now have trained dogs. They know the expectations. They follow them, usually. They don't need as much help to do what I want them to do. I can put them in a down-stay and expect them to pretty much stay there, no matter I'm doing, until released. I can clip on a leash and expect not to be hauled around. Sometimes, they chill out on their own. They don't need to run daily for long periods of time to keep from going insane. We can go for walks (down the block) and it's (almost) enjoyable. Rarely do I use "commands." I just talk to them. And they talk back.

Once, a long time ago, before I was even really into dogs, I heard somewhere that it takes 3 years to have a really trained dog. Obviously, you can teach the basics in weeks, but I think this is what they meant. It takes time to build this kind of relationship. And I think it will only get better. I hate to think of my dogs getting old, but I really want to know what it's like to have an old dog, that has grown with me over 10, 13, 15 years. What kind of an understanding can you have with a dog you have known and who has known you for that long? If any of my dogs makes it that long, I'm guessing it will be pretty cool.