Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Leash Monster: Training update!

Lots of changes in our world recently and I'm way behind on blog posts! So without further ado, an update on Zuko's on-leash snarling.

I mentioned before I wasn't sure we were getting the most we could out of the group classes. Zuko's "issues" are pretty specific and random. Or so they seem.

Then I got the brilliant idea to talk to the folks at his daycare. They run a huge gig there, lots of dogs, all cage-free. They are separated into size and activity groups for indoor romping and go outside in their groups. Some days they have upwards of 50 dogs! And with all that chaos, they still get stellar reviews on Yelp - so they must be doing something right.

One of the guys there, Scott, trains service dogs and is always there. He knows Zuko well, and I asked him one day if Zuko is snarly with other dogs. He said he isn't, unless the other dog won't back off and listen when Zuko says he's had enough rough playing. He said when they see that, they will either move the other dog into a high activity group or put Zuko in a lower activity group. He was also very clear that while Zuko snarls, he has never seen him try to bite a dog and it is his opinion it is not in Zuko's nature to actually bite and be aggressive. The snarling is him communicating the way dogs communicate.

We started talking about on-leash issues and Scott told me what they do to get the dogs' attention in playgroups. Zuko has always been good with his name, so they do use that and reward him with treats for focusing on them. Also, they use "look". In obedience, we learned "watch" - with a point to your eyes as the hand signal. I was standing there with treats and Zuko was fixated on me - then Scott said "look" and Zuko's head whipped around to look at him.

Interesting, right? Such a little thing, but to have consistency in the command used makes a difference. Zuko spends anywhere from 5-8 hours, 2-3 times a week at doggie daycare. They are working with him all the time and if I am using a command they are not using, guess who is losing? (Me).

So now on our walks, I take cheese or the Natural Balance sausage-roll treats and whenever he sees another dog, I do a "look" and he responds. He will cheerfully walk right past another dog, looking at me for treats. In class, the idea was to use "leave it" to create this behavior. Zuko knows "leave it" when it comes to icky stuff on the ground and other objects, but he was just not getting it with dogs. By using "look" I'm leveraging a command that turns his focus away from the dogs and one that he already knows is always rewarded with some good stuff.

We've had zero snarling incidents for about a week now. That isn't to say he hasn't TRIED to snarl. I have found one certain pattern: puppies. Young puppies, under probably 6 months or so, set him off. I am not 100% sure if he just gets all excited and is lunging at them to play or he's ready to put them in their puppy-place as an adult dog. Considering how violent-looking Shiba-play is, it probably doesn't matter which one it is - both are scary to a little puppy! Usually the pups give a yelp and back off. This week I've been able to catch him before he gets into full lunge and draw him back to me with the "look" command.

For now, I'm happy to have a good way to intervene and reward Zuko for focusing on me. In theory, he should start to look at me in anticipation when he sees another dog, right? :-)

Next step will be working on "go say hi" - for that, I think I may leverage private training with Scott. The benefit of working with a private trainer at a daycare is we can bring dogs in all day long and test Zuko! 

Good Dog?
-- Posted by Zuko's slacker mom/typist

1 comment:

  1. "Violent Shiba..." why you little...! ...oh wait...had to leave the keyboard mid-stroke to break up the wrestling girls, they were getting too...VIOLENT! Never mind. ;-)

    Glad to hear Zuko is progressing forward!!