Sunday, October 9, 2011

Reasonable Expectations

Okay, so I can't expect my dog to be perfect. Instead, she's going to be a normal dog, and as I wrote in my last post, that means that she's going to notice environmental stimuli, she's going to react to it, and she will even vocalize at it from time to time. That's just how dogs are.

So what is reasonable to expect? I've actually been thinking about this for a couple of days, and I have some ideas. This list is far from perfect (and dear readers, might I point out that it would be unreasonable of you to expect your blogger to have all the answers?), but it seems like a good starting point.

First and foremost, it is reasonable to expect progress. This is true for all dogs, but especially for our reactive ones. Their behavior can improve. However, it takes a great deal of work, and it definitely takes time. This is the kind of training that is measured in terms of months, not days.

It is reasonable to expect setbacks along the way. I know, I know- this isn't the kind of expectation we want to have, but anyone who has worked with a reactive dog recognizes the truth in this statement. Regression in skills will happen along the way, so you might as well expect it.

Expecting the dog to relax in a new place is also reasonable, although it has taken us three years to get to that point. Maisy used to wander around the room when I took her somewhere new. If I prompted her to hold still, she would sit tensely, alerting to everything around her. These days, though, she can settle down and even nap.

 Maisy napping under my desk at work. My office has a large, open design, 
with about 10 cubicles in the immediate area- in other words, pretty busy.

Although it would be unreasonable to think that reactive episodes will never happen, it is reasonable to expect they will be relatively infrequent. Of course, this expectation carries a lot of responsbility. I must pay attention to what Maisy tells me through her body language. If I do, I have a much better chance of intervening early enough to prevent reactivity. More importantly, I must use good judgement when deciding if I should take Maisy somewhere or expose her to something, because overfacing her will result in reactivity.

These days, it is reasonable to expect Maisy to recover from stress pretty quickly. I have to very careful to reduce my demands on her following an exciting or stressful event, though. If I do, she can usually recover within 24 hours, a length of time that I think has more to do with her medications than any training I've done with her; you may have a different experience with your dog.

Another Maisy-specific expectation is quite exciting: I think it will be reasonable to expect her to go to trials- and be comfortable! It even seems reasonable to expect her to be quite successful in a ring. This still needs to be tested, of course, but as long as I define success in terms of the experience and not the result (forget Qs and placements, I am hoping she will be happy in the ring), I think it will be proven true.

These are just some of the reasonable expectations that I have. I think that all but the last two are probably true for most reactive dogs, but let me know what you think. What is a reasonable expectation for your dog? What's not? Comment below with your ideas!


Ninso said...

I am not sure that for all dogs it's reasonable to expect progress, even if you measure it in months. For Elo, if I am diligent in putting in the work he needs he will progress. But with Jun, any progress we make feels more like a gift than an entitlement.

Crystal Thompson said...

I have thought about your comment all day, Ninso. I want to argue with you, to say yes, all dogs will progress, though some more than others. I feel like Jun must have made SOME progress somewhere along the line, even if it's been a very small amount.

But then... well, I know you're a talented and dedicated trainer, and I know you guys have struggled. And it certainly seems possible that there are some dogs who are so "crazy" (for lack of better word) that progress will be minimal.

That's a hard one. And I'm really sorry progress is so elusive for you guys. Jun is truly lucky to have you.

Ninso said...

We sure have made progress, even if it sometimes seems small. But I feel like most of our progress that has been more than temporary has been due to drugs, thus more of a blessing than anything I was entitled to. We made progress before drugs, but it was always temporary.

Of course there is always the possibility that if I put in more time, if I were a better trainer I would see better progress. That's probably even likely. But neither of those things are going to happen, so for me personally, I keep working, I HOPE for progress, but I don't necessarily expect it, cause that just leads to disappointment. I don't set goals for Jun, as far as behavior. I just make a plan for THIS session and see what happens, ready to vary my plan if I need to.

As with anything, I think it will vary from dog to dog.

Kristine said...

This weekend I realized how unreasonable it is to expect there will be no more reactive episodes ever again. I became instantly frustrated when my dog barked at a stranger. But because I had stopped paying attention to her I didn't even know the man was approaching. Her barking was a reminder that even though she has improved beyond my original expectations, she is still a reactive dog. Forgetting that only makes things harder for both of us.

Thanks for the reminder to keep things reasonable. I am guilty of often expecting too much and pushing just a little too far. It's not fair for either of us.

Crystal Thompson said...

Ninso, sure you could put in more time and be a better trainer. We all could. But I already know you ARE a good trainer and that you DO put in a lot of time. For some dogs, just maintaining them in a home is a huge thing. I think Jun might be one of those dogs.

Crystal Thompson said...

Kristine- you're welcome. I live it, too, and completely understand the frustration. Sometimes Maisy will bark at a stranger even when I AM paying attention. It's not always a failure on anyone's part, it's just... life.