Yesterday we posted a lengthy account from our first foster’s forever-mama about Lily’s tough transition from our foster home to their forever-home. Our hope was that Jen’s very honest story would help others feel less alone — that transitions can be rocky and outcomes can still be good in the end. Some patience, love, and work with a dog who doesn’t understand what is expected can come a long way.
Below is the second half of Jen’s story, about teaching Lily how to relax around other dogs when out and about. Many dog people struggle with this issue — where their dog is too nervous or too excited to act cool when other dogs are around. Jen used a creative strategy to countercondition Lily to other dogs’ existence — she brilliantly took advantage of a dog park fence line to provide a steady supply of unfamiliar dogs at a controlled distance, so that she could work with Lily and not worry about the other animals at all. Read on for more:
To work on her excitement about dogs outside the house, I took her to the dog park. But no, not in the way that you’re thinking!
First we sat in the car a distance from the dog park. When we saw a dog — JACKPOT! Begin the string cheese stuffing in the slobbery dog’s mouth! We’d spend about 30 minutes each visit, eventually getting closer and closer to the actual park, WHILE SITTING IN THE CAR!! This was fantastic fun on beautiful spring days, jackpotting all the way. Soon we were ready to get OUT of the car…. (I was no longer the weird girl stalking dogs at the park…) We would sit about 30 feet away from the fence and I would give her a bunch of treats for LOOKING at the dogs and not barking….after she calmed a bit we would practice some basic obedience commands that she could do easily. Again, we would get closer and closer to the fence, jackpotting for looking at the dogs and remaining calm…after a few visits, we WALKED UP TO THE FENCE!!! I’m not going to lie, I was stressed, and of course a feisty little chihuaha came right up, barked at us and set us back a bit . . . but eventually Lily got to where she could sniff through the fence at the dogs IN the park. I was kind of feeling like the local predator at the playground, lurking and peering in at the dog park dogs, since we never went into the dog park, but it was a great place to practice her tolerance around other dogs.
During this period, I would use the “turn around” technique while walking her. If we saw another dog, we’d just turn around to avoid any overexcitement. As we got closer to the fence at the dog park, we progressed on her walks. When other dogs came our way, I would have Lily sit and just feed her a constant stream of treats, while the dog went by. It forced her to focus on me, and she got something good for sitting and ignoring them.
Like many dogs, Lily didn’t great well nose-to-nose on leash, and I had no idea at the time how stressful this could be for dogs. I did a little research, and learned that some dogs just can’t sit while other dogs are going by, because sitting still is too stressful in social situations. Luckily Lily is food motivated enough that all her concentration was on the string cheese. It was at this point we suspected a bit of lactose intolerance on her part — No wonder Chick remembers her as “farty pants!”
When she seemed to be doing better we went on a parallel walk with our little friend Kipper. Kipper is a super feisty, high energy, Jack Russell/weiner dog mix. It went well! Lily no longer viewed Kipper as a snack. They began to play, and then slowly Lily started welcoming other dogs.
Back in December, we took Lily for her “Santa” picture, an annual fundraiser for the Montgomery County Humane Society. Lily slobbered like a maniac all over her old friend from the shelter, Santa Dave, and we were lucky enough to meet Juliana, foster mom to another MCHS dog, Baxter. We arranged a walking “date” to work on both dog’s issues and from there our dog hiking club, “Pittie Trails,” was born!
To help some of her still existent pulling-on-the-leash issues, we attended a drop in “leash manners” session recently. We spent some intensive time with a most wonderful trainer who gave some more great tips for walking — the ever frustrating but effective “stop and go no further when pulling,” and then the call her attention and go in a different direction when she is pulling. I learned to treat her for good walking and to reward her by letting her sniff things she wanted to “fire hydrants, random dog poo etc”….But best of all, Francine (of Francine’s Fun Walks,) emphasized that there are “training walks” and there are “exercise walks.” Essentially, it’s okay to put the gentle leader (the horrible looking head collar that she walks WONDERFULLY ON — thanks for the tip, Running with Squirrels) and take some time off of leash training and just walk! We’ve made a lot of progress by finally buckling down and doing the “no further progress” walks and I’m back to reeking of hot dogs, but we’re doing well!
I’m not by any means, saying any of this was easy. Lily is a 60 pound hunk of muscular love. While we were working on the dog reactivity issues, we (sigh) haven’t worked on her people greeting manners. She thinks that all people on the planet exist only to give her love and snuggles, and that every person wants her to jump up on them. I’m still a little embarrassed to have people come in the house still because she’s SO exuberant. I try to point out to people that isn’t it amazing that a dog that was tossed in a dumpster still LOVES people, but most people don’t see that, they simply see a spotted beast flying at them!
Through this work, I think we have curbed her desire to jump over our BRAND NEW 7 foot fence, which is a good thing, as I was going to have to bring some barbed wire home from work and coat the top of our fences . . . JUST KIDDING!!
Lily is a big huge, licking, stinking butt, monster commitment, but we adore her. And she has come a long way: Just last week she was attacked by a miniature schnauzer — yes, a 20 pound schnauzer attacked Lily on a run. The dog was off leash and came charging at us. I stopped running and panicked! Lily immediately sat down. The dog was baring her teeth, growling and then jumped on Lily. As this happened, I immediately saw headlines written all over this, if Lily reacted in any way to this off leash dog . . . The dog jumped all over Lily and she just sat there looking at me like an angel. After what seemed like forever, but was probably just a minute or two, the owner came flying out her door, yelling “OH MY GOSH! IS THAT A PIT BULL?!?!” She came up to pull her schnauzer back, and as she did, the dog nipped her hand. I suppressed a smile and said “yes, she is,” and led my well-behaved dog away.