Wednesday, June 9, 2010
She's on the ball!
Long time readers of this blog know that Maisy is generally a fearful dog. She always has been, ever since puppyhood. In fact, if I were to try to make a list of all the things that have scared Maisy at one point or another, I wouldn’t have room in this post to discuss anything else. So, let’s talk about just one of her feared items: exercise balls.
I purchased an exercise ball many years ago, and like most of my exercise equipment, I only use it intermittently. I used it much less after Maisy joined my life, largely because I had been previously unaware that instead of purchasing an exercise ball, I had mistakenly gotten a Large Dog-Eating Sphere of Doom.
I’m only exaggerating slightly.
Maisy did not care for the exercise ball, and would bark and growl at it… from the safe distance of three or four feet away. If it happened to move, she would run, terrified, from the room.
Over the past year, though, Maisy has become much braver. My trainer says this is because she trusts me so much, and it’s true- I’ve worked hard to build that kind of relationship with Maisy. Although I’ve made mistakes, I think that Maisy understands I will never force her to do anything she can’t handle. At least not on purpose.
But I’ve also worked hard to pair scary things with treats. Depending on the level of scariness, I will click and treat Maisy for doing anything from looking at a feared object, to walking near the object, to touching the object, to interacting with it in some way. In fact, it was just this process that helped her get over her fear of the exercise ball to the point that she could push it across the room.
All of which is a rambly preamble to the fact that Maisy STOOD ON A FREAKING BALL in our conditioning class on Monday!!
Here’s what happened: we were talking about using an exercise ball to increase a dog’s fitness level (and yes, I’ll post more about the class soon), and the instructor had each of us put our dogs on the ball just so we could get the feel of it. When it was my turn, I told her that in addition to being nervous about exercise balls, Maisy is pretty fearful of things moving under her feet in general. I said I was willing to try the exercise, but that I wanted to let Maisy interact with the ball first. I also told her that if Maisy didn’t want to stay on the ball, she didn’t have to.
The instructor readily agreed that we didn’t want to push her beyond her ability to cope, so I cued Maisy to go “push it,” and she did, no problem. In fact, she pushed it a good five feet across the room, which amused everyone, and told me that Maisy was just fine with this ball, even if it was larger, shaped oddly and an entirely new color than the one we’ve worked with at home. While the instructor held the ball very steady, I put Maisy on the ball, feeding her treats as fast as I could.
Maisy wasn’t exactly comfortable, but she wasn’t really uncomfortable, either. There were no red flags in her body language, and she took the treats without any “shark teeth”- one of the easiest ways for me to gauge Maisy’s stress level. Better yet, she didn’t struggle, and she didn’t try to get off the ball! She just stood there, eating the treats, not quite sure why I felt she needed to stand on this large ball, but willing to go along with it for tasty, tasty salmon treats.
This was something that I never, ever thought Maisy would be able to do. In fact, when I went home and told my husband about how very brave and awesome our dog is, I had to explain that yes, she actually stood on the ball three different ways for him to understand. He simply couldn’t believe she would voluntarily stand on an exercise ball! In fact, if I hadn't insisted on doing it again so I could obtain photographic evidence, I'm not sure I would have believed it either. And I was there.
My husband, who took the photos for this post, wanted to know why I was picking Maisy up to put her on the ball instead of asking her to jump. I said I probably could shape her to do that. It took less than 10 clicks and one judicious jackpot, and she was jumping on and off that thing like she'd done it her whole life.