Oso and I walked to work today, 5.5 miles through the park, along a bike path, down city streets and through an industrial district to the shop in Roxbury. Awesome way to start the morning, and now my buddy is sleeping soundly in his crate next to my desk. We left the house at 6am, because in the past it’s taken 2 hours or more to make this walk with Oso. Today we were about half an hour quicker, even with all the photo op stops. Walks have been going a lot better lately, especially in regard to reactivity around dogs and other irresistable distractions. Our main tactic is to get his attention with a “look” as we approach say, a dog in a yard we’re passing, followed by another one or two more “looks” then a “let’s go!” and a treat given to him inside my left hip. This has kept him close, focused on the walk, and more calm most of the time. He has started to look up for eye contact on his own probably about half the time we pass people, not so much when another dog is coming our way, but it’s a good start. His reaction to hard things has generally turned into less of an aggressive bark and more of an anxious bark/howl or whine.
Some stats from todays walk-
Bark/lunge inducers: a beagle chasing a rabbit through the woods (of course), a young woman waiting to cross the street at a busy bus terminal, four Irish setters and a golden retriever off-leash in the park, a squirrel.
Things Oso did not bark at: dogs walking more than 15 feet away, lots of people on the sidewalks, kids getting on and off school busses, Pepsi delivery truck and driver, bikes, trains, a man jingling lots of keys, a pitbull barking at him from 3 feet away.
All in all I call that one a success. We had a fun walk together. He is pulling less and less. I have not kept up with using “heel” as a command because it puts me in a cranky state of mind and I find myself barking at him which is not helpful. Instead I use “right here” or a few clucks with my tongue to get him to slow back into place. If he is pulling a lot I stop walking until he sits or relaxes, then we walk again. He catches on pretty quickly to that correction. We do the same thing when he grabs the leash in his mouth, which he occasionally does when he’s over excited or doesn’t want to run.
We also had a private session with our trainer and her dog last Friday, then obedience class on Sunday. Having those chances to be with other dogs in a positive and successful setting seems to have made a big difference in the past few days. Oso even won a round of the “down-stay” contest at class, and walked up toward another dog with me and sat beside me without paying the dog much attention. His success in this class has us feeling confident that he’ll be ready to participate in more general dog classes after this one ends.
We’re working better together as a team. I feel like Oso is understanding our expectations more, and becoming more comfortable and happier behaving within those boundaries. Our physical and verbal communication has become more natural. I am also relaxing a lot more and taking things in stride much better, which helps resolve tense situations more quickly and easily. Staying calm when he is worked up is essential. There’s no room for me to be intimidated, frustrated or angry with him, or concerned about other people’s impression of our naughty dog. My focus is on being relaxed, observant and confident, giving him lots of praise for good behavior and short but clear correction or redirection when he needs it. We are understanding and trusting each other more and we’re all starting to breath a little easier.