The Weakest Link


Last night was Rain’s second night of Reactive Rover class. There she is behind her shelter, looking cute.

What’s that thing behind her? As you might imagine, teaching a class full of reactive dogs could get really noisy, so the classroom is set up to help control reactivity. Here’s a snapshot I got of the room.


You can see the classroom is big—they’ve opened a partition making one great room out of two smaller rooms. In each corner, there is a shelter with a student and her loving human companion(s) behind it. Each shelter is made with a folded-out exercise pen covered with shower curtains, to make a doggy blind. (The top of our pink shelter is in the foreground in the above photo, and two blue ones are visible on the other end of the room.) We also enter the space carefully. The dogs stay in cars outside while humans check in with the instructors. Only then do the dogs come in, using up to four different building/room entrances.

Last week we started with six students. About five minutes into class, the big German shepherd was out. He was going over threshold too much. (To be fair to him, he was also the biggest dog in the class, and it didn’t take much for him to see over the top of his shelter.) Later that evening the smallest dog in the class, a little dog ironically named Sunshine, needed to go to the hall to wait between exercises. She did not return this week.

And then there were four…

I mentioned that Rain and I had already been practicing the exercises introduced last week, so last night was the first time we were doing new exercises for the first time. In front of an audience. And remember, the last time we had an audience, she pooped in front of everyone.

The pressure was on!

After reviewing our previous exercises, last night we worked on doing a 180 degree turn when our reactive rover saw another dog.

At first it surprised me how quickly Rain took to this exercise. Upon further reflection, it was a slight variation of what she had already been doing for weeks. She is supposed to see a dog, I say “turn!” and she turns, then gets a marker word and a treat. The only difference was that before, she would see the dog and I would say her marker word which would make her turn around because…treat! So that went pretty well.

The trouble has been retraining me!

Since it’s so similar to what we were doing before, I was on autopilot, sometimes saying her marker word when she saw the other dog.

Being a smarty-pants Aussie though, she still did the exercise beautifully despite the handler error. She also made it closer to the demonstration dogs from the shelter than I think any of the other dogs did, still looking relatively relaxed.

One of the class instructors pointed out how focused Rain was on me, and noted it was okay if I was messing up a little, as we were learning to work as a team.

Well, I certainly know who’s the weakest link on this team.


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