Tuesday morning, Rain and I went on our morning walk to the park. We had been working on the attention exercises we learned in the Oregon Humane Society one-on-one for just over a couple weeks at this point.
Essentially, the exercise we do when we’re out in the world is this: as soon as Rain hears or sees something that piques her interest, something that might set her off barking, I say her marker word and then give her a low-calorie training cookie. (We’ve done some work at home to get her familiar with the marker word system.) This seems to serve a couple of purposes: it interrupts the very quick process she goes through between seeing something and going crazy about it, and it redirects her focus back to me.
There we were, doing our usual walk around the neighborhood park, when I started hearing yelling in the distance. It sounded like a dog had run away from his human and the human wasn’t pleased. I just hoped that it wouldn’t try to come meet Rain. She’s fine once she meets a dog, but when she’s on leash she tends to “go over threshold” if there’s a dog nearby that she can’t greet.
We were approaching the park’s play structure, and I was now hearing a full-on dog ruckus across the park from us. The play structure seemed to be a fair place we could stay hidden from whatever dog had gotten away, and I could keep her engaged instead of barking at the ruckus from across the field. I frequently have her do agility-like exercises on the play structure (up the stairs, across the suspension bridge, wait, over the balance beam, etc) so I used the opportunity to have her do a bit of that.
And the ruckus continued. I saw a person trying to pick up a Jack Russell terrier, who was squeaking up a storm. I think he was the source of most of the noise.
Each time Rain perked her satellite-dish ears and moved her head to look at the source of the noise without reacting, I said “yes!” and gave her a training cookie.
She got a ton of cookies that day. But she didn’t bark once. I was so proud of her!
In my mind, this was a major milestone in our work. It showed that what I was doing was having a clear impact on her behavior. And she hadn’t even started the Reactive Rover class yet!
Eventually I saw a man with three dogs and a youngish child walking away from the park, and shortly after I saw a man with a black lab/shepherd mix heading a different direction inside the park with a heavy step. As far as I could piece together, the first man’s Jack Russell terrier had picked a fight with the black lab/shepherd mix. As the man with three dogs and a kid walked up an adjacent neighborhood street, I heard the dog get into a lather again with a dog inside his yard. It was the first time I had seen them at the park, and I suspect the last…at least for a long while.