It’s has been a while since we last checked in and we’d like to change that by sharing some new exciting things going on around these parts with Ellie and Argos. As you may know, ever since we adopted Ellie from the Lange Foundation in West Los Angeles 4 years ago, Chris and I have struggled with her reactivity. It took a while to realize it was reactivity, combined with some fearfulness but now that we have gotten this far, it was time to actually do something about it. I feel like I’ve been through it all with her; ear bleeding barking at other dogs, adults, children, critters anything that moves too quickly and makes any disruptive sound. I’m tired of the stares, the head shaking, and the nasty comments. I’m tired of waking people up at 6:00 am when a squirrel crosses our path during our daily walks. Whatever I was doing up until now doesn’t work. It is the time I got some professional help for Ellie and I. Living with a reactive dog can be so painfully tedious and I know this because for 3 years we lived with Argos and it was wonderful. Argos’ qualities are the envy and goal of every dog owner out there.
To this day, I have to walk the dogs at 6:00 am or earlier to avoid other dogs and dog owners on the street. We stick to a bathroom break schedule that is coordinated based on a number of dogs outside at that time of day. Ellie can’t go to dog groomers, dog parks or the veterinarian because she goes bananas. Our last visit to the vet, she hid under the bench because she refused to go near the vet (and the vet was concerned about coming too close due to her low warning growl) so when it was time to perform the exam, I had to hold her down and tuck her head underneath my underarm. Family, friends, and neighbors cannot visit unless they are willing to withstand eardrum splitting barking for 10 minutes before she gives up and runs away to a corner.
It’s time to seriously do something about it and we decided to start with some professional help. Brief research online proved dog behaviorists and trainers are fucking expensive. Look, I want to help the dog, I really do, but currently, she has other very important and very costly medical expenses. So expensive, private training classes are not an option at the moment for us. Thankfully, we live in Pasadena and the Pasadena Humane Society is top notch. They provide so many great services to the residents at low costs, making it a true treasure. So, Chris and I took a gander and it turned out that they hold “Reactive Rovers” classes at affordable prices. So here I am, first class in, ready to share this journey with anyone who is interested and also documenting the experience as much as I can so I can go back and determine whether certain efforts have been successful.
For our first class, the trainer had us teach and emphasize the ‘focus’ command with our dogs. We did this by taking a treat, showing it to the dog, bringing to the bridge of our nose and just when the dog locks eyes with us, we treat. This was simple for Ellie as she used to stare me down for treats. She sees something, she wants something, and she stares at me until she gets it. Then came the sit command and pretty much all the dogs in the class, six dogs total, were able to follow the command flawlessly. For the first few classes, I imagine such basic commands need to be refreshed as these will be built upon. Our homework for this week is to read and watch some videos from Tom Mitchell of Naughty But Nice and Victoria Stilwell of Positively. The Naughty But Nice videos include two 3-Minute Game Changers that were really fun to try out this weekend. One is to create and reinforce recall and safe spaces. With the use of two treats, a low value and a high value, you teach the dog that it is awesome to return to my side every time. In our case, I tossed a carrot that Ellie runs out to get, eats and runs back to me for a piece of cheese. We’ll go into it later but we are forced to use vegetables, fruits and non-meat protein for treats.
She is a quick learner, she realized what the game was at once and we did it for 5 minutes. It’s been awhile since I fed her cheese so I also did not want to upset her stomach on the first try. The second game I think it’s Proximity Vortex and the dog is treated for staying by your side no matter where or how you move.
Chris and I decided to spend 20 minutes each day with Ellie, alternating, to practice these concepts. I will practice during our daily walks and see how that goes.
Stay tuned for next week.