Sunday, July 11, 2010
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Working with a reactive dog is slow, painstaking work. It's hard to tell if you're making any progress at all, especially in the beginning. Gradually, your dog reacts less often, and the intensity is reduced, but because these changes happen in such small increments, you often don't notice until something huge happens.
Something huge happened this week.
Way back in the beginning, when I first learned that Maisy is reactive, one of the first triggers I identified was bikes. Oh, did she have some over-the-top displays around bikes. She barked. She growled. She rushed after them. Mostly, I think she wanted to chase them, but that impulse came out all sideways and backwards. It embarrassed me, and it scared me a little, so we started going to classes. I learned the skills needed to keep her under threshold, and I began to counter-condition her like crazy. Slowly, slowly, she's improved.
I knew that, of course, but it wasn't until this week that I really appreciated how far she's come. My husband and I were walking near a park with her at dusk, and there was a large group of pre-teens hanging out. As we neared a street corner, this whole pack of them- 8 or 10, I think- got on their bikes. As we headed into the intersection, so did the kids on their bikes, looping in huge circles and yelling to one another.
We were surrounded. Bikes, yelling children, fast movement- a year ago, Maisy would have lost it. Now? She looked at the bikes, did the doggy equivalent of shrugging her shoulders, and popped into heel position, where she never took her eyes off me.
It took a lot of self-control for her to resist the temptation to chase and bark at the loud, quickly moving bikes, and yet she was able to not only get through a tough situation, but was able to offer up some gorgeous heeling, too! Needless to say, I was so proud!