Our last out and about class, led by DogSmart’s owner and head trainer, Alice Fisher, was held in Southlands where the placid car traffic was spiced with plenty of pedestrians, horses and dogs. A magnificent pair of bald eagles perched high in a Douglas fir, their screams skittering across the October sky.
Zeke worked a bit closer to the other dogs and handlers. We took it slow and easy. The most important concept I have taken away from this class has been to go… even… slower.
I used to think he needed short quick exposure to different places, in order to get more comfortable. I had been advised to load him up in the car, take him to a mall parking lot, park or other public place, let him out and briefly work him for a few minutes, and then put him back in the car and go to another place.
Doing the opposite is working much better for us.
When I take him to a new place, it’s best to go slow. Open the back hatch. Wait. Open the crate. Treat for any kind of calm behaviour. Wait. Breathe. Let him out. Treat him for reorienting to me. Return him to the crate. Rinse. Repeat.
Yesterday, by using that strategy, I watched his circle of comfort expand wider and wider, like ripples on a pond. We’re not covering much ground physically, but psychologically, I think we are. Besides, I don’t have to go looking for changes in the environment for him to experience, because they’ll surely come to us.
As we were working in a grassy area on the street corner I noticed Zeke’s head turn with ears pricked forward. A hedge blocked my view of what was coming down the street. Seconds later, an off leash dog rounded the corner and came bounding towards us. Yes, Zeke growled and lunged, but he followed me as I turned away. Fortunately, the dog owner was able to call her dog away.
Zeke observed many other things without reaction yesterday, including a pair of horses and their riders walking by. What a good boy!