Yesterday’s blog was the sad tale of my failed training attempt. In short, Lyra stood on her back legs and screamed out her frustration – she wanted to go visit a dog and I was preventing that from happening. Her behavior would have put a Toller to shame.
A few people have asked how to handle a situation like that, so I’ll take a few minutes to review what options I had at my disposal. If you haven’t’ read the post, it’s at: http://denisefenzi.com/2012/03/15/lyra-7-months/
I can think of six ways that I could have responded to Lyra’s behavior: a physical or verbal correction, allowing her to greet the dog, a time out, redirection to a toy, or waiting her out. Let’s look at each one.
I could have given Lrya a physical correction by popping her collar. In Lyra’s case this would have worked for a few reasons. First, she’s never been popped on a collar so she would have noticed it in a big way – dogs that get corrected frequently become desensitized but Lyra has not been physically corrected. Second, Lrya does care what I think about her behavior - this is partly because of her genetics but also a result of the type of relationship we have; she values me. Finally, Lyra’s behavior is rooted in frustration that is NOT linked to aggression. She’s a puppy who wants what she wants – much like a toddler. A physical correction would have broken through and would have given her something else to care about – my anger. If frustration were closely linked to aggression in Lyra, then a physical correction would not have worked. Frustration with aggression shows as classic leash reactivity, and feeding aggression with energy or pain will make it worse. I’ve been there; trust me.
I opted against a physical correction because my goal is not to get Lyra off her back legs with her mouth closed; my goal is to engage her brain so that she can work with all that she has to give. Her body is a symptom of what’s happening between her ears, it is NOT the root problem. A physical correction would have ended the symptom but…then what? Getting her body oriented towards me does not cause the brain to follow. I’m not interested in having her eyes, I want the brain.
Lyra is a simple dog to read; when she is engaged both ears are completely up on her head, her tail is up, and her eyes are locked in. She carries a lot of tension in her body with complete engagement of both her front and rear; you cannot mistake Lyra at her best for anything but committed. But someone who doesn’t know Lyra could see 50% Lyra and think it’s pretty good. Head up, eyes on mine, but maybe only one ear or no ears at all. That’s not the partner I want, and I will not work with Lyra until I have the whole dog. It would “suffice” if all I wanted was to get through Novice or Open with mostly good skills but that’s not my goal; I want a dog who watches me – 50 feet away – and locks in with everything she has – eyes, ears and most important….brain. Staring at me with no response is useless. Dogs that are corrected for not watching their handlers are a set up for dogs that stare at their owners and do not respond to commands – they watch but aren’t really engaged. I’ve been there too. So, physical corrections are out. Not to mention; I think physical corrections are yucky.
My next option was a verbal correction. The basic problem is the same as the physical correction listed above (stops her behavior but does not return the brain), but it does have the added advantage of being useful when she’s off leash and at a distance. I would have opted for this one if she had been off leash and on her way to engage in what could have been a bad or dangerous situation – then I would have gotten out of that situation. If a verbal correction had stopped her then it is possible that she would have been receptive to training, depending on how much she cared about my displeasure. In Lyra’s case, I believe a verbal correction may have stopped her behavior but would not have returned her brain. Again, useless for my goal – a dog with 100% engagement.
I could have allowed Lyra to greet the dog and possibly she would have been willing to return to work once her curiousity was satisfied. In this case that strategy would not have worked because Lyra isn’t curious, she's RIVETED. She does not want to simply meet, she wants to play with the other dog. If Lyra had been allowed to enter Disneyland, there would have been no getting her back to the Neighborhood Park. Lyra will never be allowed to visit Disneyland beause I cannot compete, so why expose her to what she cannot have? That's setting up for a fight I don’t wish to have. I have this conversation with my students all too often - usually when it's after the fact and impossible to go back. Don't introduce Disneyland unless you have Disneyland on Steroids to offer.
Let’s say that Lyra had true leash reactivity with aggression; in a case like that greeting the dog often gets them over the basic anxiety which is behind a lot of aggression – she would have seen that the dog is no threat, and if she were not a very doggy dog, she may well have been happy to return to me and work. But that is not Lyra’s situation;she is not aggressive reactive and she IS doggy, so there was no possible benefit to a meet and greet. Even for a dog with classic aggressive leash reactivity where a visit with the other dog could neutralize their reaction, I would not recommend a greeting because you haven’t solved the problem – you have simply avoided the issue. I like to address issues so the root cause is addressed, if at all possible. For an example of that with fear, see my blog post on Lyra and fear of a camera person at: http://denisefenzi.com/2011/12/13/lyra-working-through-fear/ The discussion is the same; if you change the situation you are no longer training the same issue.
Lyra could have been placed on a time out, and indeed I did this. I returned her to a crate in the car for a few minutes, with the hope that when we returned she would have chosen work over….nothing. Unfortunately, her drive to work is not strong enough at this age to overcome her doggy interests, so it was not effective this time. I’d put money on the fact that it will work quite well in another month or two, especially if I get her out in public more so she’s not quite as excited and distracted when we are out. A time out ould also have worked if I had a way to make the other dog less interesting, i.e, a greater distance, dog lying down, etc. I also could have tried doing multiple time outs, but I was in a time crunch so I didn’t have the luxury of spending an hour there working on it. Knowing Lyra, a greater period of time would have made it much more likely that she could have responded to me – she does tend to acclimate after a period of initial excitement.
I could have tried redirecting Lyra to food or a toy. I did try this but she wasn’t going for it; she already knew what she wanted and it had nothing to do with me – indeed I was the root of her problem since I had the leash.
I could have waited her out. In lyra’s case, this probably would have worked. I know this beause I’ve used this with her in the past and it does work. I simply didn’t have time, and I wasn’t prepared for for the issues which arose.
So, I went home, and I think that was the best choice I had under the circumstances.
Incidentally, I returned to the park today but there were no dogs. Regardless, Lyra took a few minutes to acclimate (which I give her with a “go be a dog” command). When she had enough of that, she put herself in heel position with her ears up, so I knew she was ready. All we did today was play with toys – worked on her speed of return to me, her outs and tiny bits of heeling for a reward. She was pretty darned good for about five minutes and then she put her toy down to wander and sniff. I collected Lyra’s ball and collected Lyra. I returned her to the car and brought out another dog – one who was very willing to work, and when we were done we returned home. I was totally calm and intrigued….reminded that her attention span is still that of a normal seven month old and not a second more.
What I learned today is that I don’t’ even need a specific doggy distraction to suck her in – sometimes five minutes away from home is the best she can do for me. Fine. That’s four and a half more minutes than I was getting a few months ago.