Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hard Work Remains

Maisy is doing great these days. It is wonderful to be able to take her places and do things with her without having to worry that she's going to have a reactive outburst. It's nice to be able to relax and enjoy our daily walk. It's absolutely amazing that she can handle just sitting outside a petstore, watching the other dogs come and go.

Maisy with Fritz and my super awesome friend, Megan.

And yet... I've come to the conclusion that we are possibly at the most critical part of her rehabilitation. Instead of enjoying the fruits of our labor, now is the time to redouble our efforts and work even harder. This realization hit me pretty hard, but I have two main reasons for believing it's true.

First, Maisy is inarguably awesome these days. In fact, she's so awesome that it is easy to forget that she has issues. It is easy to believe they are in the past, and as a result, to take her good behavior for granted. You wouldn't think that after only six or seven months I'd forget where we started, but when you see something day in and day out, it's easy to get used to. Why else would the difference between these videos surprise me so much?

At any rate, it is easy to forget that this new state of being is still tentative. Although Maisy's had several months of excellent behavior, she has several years of lunging, barking and growling to overcome. It's going to take time to turn these new neural pathways from sparsely populated jungle trails into well-traveled interstate highways. I need to make sure I'm reinforcing Maisy's good choices every chance I get instead of relaxing and going easy on the cookies.

Second, it's much harder to tell when Maisy is feeling anxious now. This is because the way she expresses stress has changed- gone are the days of impossible-to-miss, over-the-top reactive displays. This is great, of course, but it also means that I must pay much closer attention to her body language now. When your dog is lunging and barking at the end of her leash, it's obvious that she's not feeling so great. But when you have to rely on such subtle indicators such as a change in muscle tension, breathing patterns, or tailset... well, it requires a lot more effort.

This effort is critical, though. If I can't see these much smaller signs of stress, I won't be able to adjust the environment for her. I won't be able to change my expectations, nor will I be able to increase the rate of reinforcement for the good choices she makes in order to really help cement those new roadways we're building. In short, I will be setting her up for failure instead of success.

So what's the new plan of action? Well, there isn't one, not really. Instead, I'm just holding the course, doing all the same desensitization and counter-conditioning and Control Unleashed techniques that I've done all along. The big thing right now is being mentally present with my dog. I need to remain in tune with how she's feeling, and what she's telling me. I need to continually remind myself that no matter how well she's doing, hard work remains. And I am confident that if I do, good things await us.


Robin Sallie said...

Holding the course is a great thing.

Sophie said...

It sounds like you're doing the right thing--keeping on doing what you're doing! It's easy to take things for granted, but never right to do so.