. . .though sometimes it’s really hard!
For a good month and a half, I’ve been working on keeping Risa operant while around other dogs. Since Risa no longer loses her mind around other dogs on a regular basis (it does still happen sometimes), I figured I could start clicking her for desired behaviors instead of just operating on classical conditioning.
So I started by keeping a fairly large distance from other dogs on our walks and waiting for Risa to look away. It didn’t have to be a major head turn. Even something as simple as glancing away was enough to earn her a click/treat. (Though, I’ll admit, this is hard to notice from the back of her head!) I also started working on stationary look aways. This is much harder for Risa as it gives her ample opportunity to stare and prepare herself for a reactive explosion. I’m still feeling my way around this new system, having relied on the old one for so long. But I’m seeing amazing progress!
On Tuesday, we attended an introduction to rally class. It’s the first class we’ve been to in a while and I was excited. Risa loves training classes but this one is in a new location with new dogs and people. A potentially stressful situation for her! It took a while for her to feel at ease but not as long as it used to. Her rally performances were quite good though she needs a bit of polishing.
I’m most proud of her for her ability to remain focused and thinking while we waited around for our turn. Despite not having worked on our new routine of “Look, Look Away, Click/Treat” for very long, Risa instantly realized this was just another location where that works! And we had PLENTY of opportunities to work on this. Besides the dogs in our class, there were at least 3 other rings of activity and dogs walking through the aisle where we stood. I think we spent more time there than in the ring working but at least I was able to utilize that time for other training.
The hardest part, for me, was letting Risa think. I have spent a lot of time managing situations. Calling her away, turning her away, etc. when a dog shows up. Especially in close proximity like last night! With most of the dogs, I was able to let Risa do her thing. I was concerned she would explode but she didn’t. She looked and then gave a nervous glance my way which earned her a click/treat. I was able to reward this series of events a LOT last night. The only problem was, I got tired. It is really draining to keep an eye out for other dogs and then watch your own dog so you can reward the appropriate behavior. There were also a few dogs who passed us who were not as well-restrained as I would have liked!! For those dogs, I turned Risa away from them and fed her as they passed. Aside from a small grumble at a dog who came over to sniff her through the ring gating, she was amazing and didn’t react at all.
She’s even getting it when I’m not prepared! At least twice last night a dog passed us without me knowing it was coming. What did Risa do? Exactly what we’ve been working on. She looked at the dog and then right up at me. It wasn’t until I saw her staring at me out of the corner of my eye that I knew a dog was nearby! Great job, Mutt!