March 5th through March 8th 2010 Ups and Downs,
Lara and I shared some tender moments on Friday. For the first time since she arrived she slinked out and toward me when I opened the crate door and then sat down and nervously waited for me to attach her leash. The leash I am using is 20 feet long and very slim so it allows her some more freedom to roam around our large yard and we are still able to “catch her” when it’s time to go back in.
Lara is afraid of her own shadow, each leaf, animal sound, fast movement of an arm or the tension of the leash sends her into a panic. Normally when I attach the leash and open the door she darts out to find the nearest cover where she instantly sits, scans the area and decides if she will dare venture on. On Friday morning I slowly navigated her to the fenced yard area where we leave her while we feed critters and enjoy our morning coffee. This is the area where we train dogs that are unreliable off leash. The area gives us room to work but not enough room for a dog to roam too far. The main obedience training area at The DogSmith Training Center is about 1 acre and is too large to allow unreliable dogs off leash unless the intent is to spend a long time tracking them down.
So Lara is in her area, I have finished my coffee and I go into her area to spend some time with her. I am accompanied by my Red Merle Aussie, Bailey who greets Lara in a perfunctory manner and then moves on. I sit on the damp grass and wait patiently for her to approach. I can now lure her to me in a “Hansel & Gretel” manner using high value treats. What took me 30 minutes last week is now only taking me about 15 and I have to dispense fewer treats to get her to me. I can also now scratch her chin and stroke her head for a couple of minutes before she decides, enough is enough. She has mastered her approach when I am crouching or sitting on the ground but will not venture any closer than five feet when I am sitting in a chair. I guess for the short term I have to accept a wet bum each morning.
Friday progressed without any trauma, several trips in and out. I still have to carry Lara back into her room as she would much prefer to be outside and I will not drag her in, nor will I leave her outside unsupervised as there are still so many unknowns. Luring her does not work and my key goal is about developing a relationship with her and some trust so picking her up is the only option. Once back inside she happily slinks into the security of her crate.
Lara has only been with us for one week and I think I have learnt more about true patience from her than I have from anything else. I am also recognizing that this is not going to be a short term project, it could take months.
Saturday was a devastating day; a stupid error on my part set us back days and made me recognize just how fragile Lara is. Before I detail the stupidity displayed by yours truly I want to say that I have never liked retractable leashes, I never use them, I don’t endorse them and DogSmith Dog Trainers and Pet Care Experts don’t use them. I know too many people who have damaged themselves, others and dogs when they have malfunctioned. With that said we do have a retractable leash on our property, correction, we did.
On Saturday morning with Lara showing a little more confidence I decided to take her for a walk on the retractable leash, there were no obstacles, people or other dog which could get in the way or be a “tangle risk” and it would be great to take her up onto our land for a nice walk. I attached it to her collar and I moved away from her, she took off, when it hit the end she “freaked, jumped and ran around a tree. I dropped it quickly and ran to help her. The brake on the leash gave in and the heavy and clumsy handle went flying toward her. In seconds Lara was running around with the handle of the retractable leash dragging behind her, she was so distressed, it was heartwrenching. If I got to her in 8 seconds it was not fast enough, damage done.
We struggled to calm her, removed the leash and let her go free within the confines of the training area. I then spent most of Saturday sitting on the grass trying to undo the damage done. I cannot tell you how badly I felt. It took us hours to get her and move her back inside. On Sunday I could barely get a “wag” from her when I entered the room and we were back to carrying her in and out for bathroom breaks. Sunday evening I spent hours sitting in her room reading hoping she would once again approach me and allow me to scratch her head or feed her bits of liver.
On Monday morning Lara was a little forgiving, I was able to touch her, pick her up and take her outside. Catching her to bring her back in was once again a problem. She is pained between wanting to approach and just not being able to manage it. She is back to bouncing around me and I have seen glimpses of the Aussie smile but once again my hand is now an aversive and when I approach to stroke she backs away.
By Monday evening and another long hard day patiently watching and hoping I am able to stroke her gently at an arm’s length. I hate the fact that I have to pick her up to take her back inside, I have to let her approach me about 10 times for strokes in between the need to pick her up. I don’t want her associating my stroking with being picked up and carted back inside.
Tuesday morning 8am and my copy of the APDT professional dog training journal arrived. I was amazed to find inside a long article about the rehabilitation of a “feral dog, an Aussie” as I read through the article, while sitting with Lara in her room I realized that my expectations had been too much too soon. Plans for training have been scratched for now, they can come later. I need to focus on building trust and confidence. If that means hand feeding every meal and carrying in and out then so be it. I am committed to ensuring that everything we do, every experience she has and every interaction with her will be on “her program” at her pace and on her terms.
Tuesday afternoon we enjoyed some time in the sun together, me in my plastic garden chair and her lying down with me at a distance of 6 feet. My three dogs relaxing in the sun too on the other side of the fence. When it was time for dinner I carefully approached her in an arc turning to the side as I got closer. I gently kneeled down and stroked her, we sat like that for ten minutes before I gently attached her leash, wrapped my arms around her and lifted her into my arms, thankful she is an Aussie and not a German Shepherd. I carried her back into her room and she gladly walked into her crate where her dinner and soft toy rabbit awaited.
As I write this I am preparing to head out for her PM walk. I am hoping my behavior is positively reinforced with the single wag of a tail or the sideways look of the face when I enter the room, if not I will work hard tomorrow. I look forward to her first bark and the first time she licks my hand, behaviors we all take for granted in our socially confident and well rounded, mentally stable dogs.
Serious message for the day
Many of us can list things we consider cruel when raising and owning dogs. For me one of most serious errors we can make as dog owners is not taking dog socialization seriously. There is nothing more mentally cruel than raising a dog that does not have the necessary coping skills to function in life – Niki Tudge March 2010
Download the DogSmith FREE puppy socialization E-Book from the resource section of our website