Friday April 9th 2010

We have had a wonderful week here at the DogSmith Training Center with Lara our rescue dog. Lara has come on in leaps and bounds. The week started with a concerted effort to work with Lara, during structured time slots, three times a day, for ten minutes per session on shaping calming, approaching and happy behaviors. We stocked up on a selection of yummy treats, got the school room ready and off we go.

We no longer have to have Lara on a short leash when we go outside, with the exception of her late night walk (just in case she does not want to come in). Lara is happily coming in and going out. She now follows us on our walks at about four paces and we don’t have to create a 20 foot gap to get her through gates and doorways. She is also now moving into Rick at about 3 paces, this is a huge encouragement.

Each day I split her food ration up into five portions. Whenever it is time for her to go in I wander into her room, place a few kibble in her bowl and she is right behind me. In the past I would have to sit quietly in a chair in the corner and wait for several minutes for her to appear.  Inside I can now approach her and stroke her whenever I get the urge and every now and then she will sneak over for a quick stroke. Lara spends her inside time on a big dog bed and only goes into her crate at night or on the odd occasion when she will be alone for more than three hours.

Lara is a much happier dog now. She runs, plays, wags and bounces either on her own or when one of my dogs plays with her. She also circles us wagging and bouncing more often. When we are outside for several hours she relaxes and lies down. We often find her snoozing, rolling around in the sand or happily chewing or playing with one of her toys. Lara still has panic attacks at new sounds, objects or movements but her recovery time is seconds and not minutes. This morning she actually ran towards a strange sound rather than away from it.

I now have Lara making eye contact for duration of three seconds.  She sits about 5 feet from me but will come in to me to collect her treat after she hears the click. We have not attached a cue to this yet as I want to build a more robust behavior before we do that. Bear in mind that when she first arrived we never saw her face as it was dug into her body cowering in a corner of wherever she was placed. So this 3 second eye contact is huge and highly rewarding to me (Dog Trainers need positive reinforcement too).

When I open the door to let her outside she will now run over and sit down in front of me.  At night when she does this I take her collar gently, click and treat (for the calm approach and collar hold) and attach her leash. Remember only three weeks ago, we would open the door and then disappear so she could be brave enough to exit.  She would then run out at top speed as close to the ground as she could physically manage and run straight to the nearest, thickest and most prickly bush to hide out.

I have been working on Lara’s crate training too. As I explained in an earlier blog I have to carry her to her crate and I had been gradually placing her on the floor directly in front of her crate so she can walk in. We had this behavior down to about 4 feet, meaning if I placed her in a straight line in front of her crate at four feet she would take the necessary steps to go in.  Because she is now more ‘clicker savvy’, (she understands that the click means a treat and she is associating her ability, through behaviors, to drive the click) I decided that we now must have her voluntarily going into her crate.

Each night I have sat by her crate and clicked and treated for any behavior toward her crate, a head turn, a look and, even by Wednesday evening a slight nose touch to the side of the crate. I load her crate with treats and toys to make it very tempting for her so her need for treats overtakes the hesitation she has to go inside.

On Thursday night she was actually voluntarily placing her two front paws into her crate in a stretch to grab the treats in there.

Last night -  YIPPEEE - I managed to shape Lara actually going all the way into her crate.  We did this several times; she would grab her treat and then run from the crate. On the last attempt I got up quickly to close the door.  It was late and I needed to sleep. I expected her to, as normal, make a dash to escape the crate as I moved forward.  So as quickly as I could, without panicking her, I closed the door but she made no attempt to escape, she simply lay down and looked at me. Did we have a party! I crawled in and lay there for several moments loving on her as she licked my face. It must have looked very strange from the door, my butt and legs sticking out from the crate with lots of cooing noises coming from inside. We are going to build on this now so we can have her coming in and going out on cue, importantly, with her body wagging and enjoying it.