Monday, January 2, 2012

Managing the Dog AND Guests

Oh the joys of the holidays...decorations, family gatherings, parties, a 65lb German Shepherd having a nervous breakdown...

Guests are a challenge in our house. If I were to pick two main issues that we deal with it is dog reactivity while on-leash and over-excitement with guests in the house. She goes out of her furbrained mind.

That being said, the most difficult part of the whole situation is actually not managing Reyna, it's being a good host WHILE managing Reyna. Nothing says "thank for coming over" quite like spending the whole visit with my back to the guest and feeding Reyna chicken every few seconds for calm behavior.

Over the months we have tried several tactics and rituals for improving Reyna's indoor behavior with guests all with some "in the moment" success but none really clicked with us. The good thing about Reyna though is that when we find the "right" method it works VERY quickly.

Now I know "set ups" where you enlist friends, family, neighbors to come over at set times and work with the dog is always going to be the best way to go. I just haven't made the time to coordinate that effort. Another difficult factor is that when Reyna is excited or stressed she needs to MOVE, asking her to stay on a mat, a method that works for a lot of dogs would be absolute torture.

Fortunately we have had alot of people at the house over the last two weeks and we have gone to other houses as well. We decided to start crating Reyna the whole time guests were here, we bought lots of tasty bones for her to chew, exercised beforehand and then just asked her to stay in the crate. We had family come stay with us for several days so that meant that Reyna would need to go out several times, and we would take her outside for exercise. I was pleasantly surprised, as I often am with how resilient Reyna is, she is almost never in a crate and had no issues switching to being an indoor crate dog for a few days.

So during the first day of confinement I noticed Reyna didn't have too much of a problem walking on lead from her crate to the outside door and then back again, a light bulb went off, why not apply the same advance and retreat tactics we use when approaching dogs, to the guests. So on went her lead, I made sure she was relaxed enough to accept kibble as a treat and we were off, first just stepping out of the crate and back in, then I started walking toward the rooms the guests were in, marking and rewarding any focus on me or conscious effort to orient to me, if she hit the end of the lead or gave any sign that she was approaching threshold we went all the way back to the crate for a few seconds.

In less than 2 minutes she was showing signs of calming and understanding. Now I would advance a few feet, pause, if she oriented mark and reward. I let her wander within sight of the guests, she locked in, I paused and had to help her reorient, but the next time through she saw the guests and immediately looked back at me "YES" Jackpot!!! We continued this until we walked on leash calmly through the room full of three toddlers and three adults. We had found our method!

The next day my brother and his two kids hung out in the kitchen with Reyna out on lead and I marked any calm forward movement toward them and any reorienting to me. She was able to remain calm less than 2' from my brother while he roughhoused with the kids. MAJOR SUCCESS. Like I said, when something works for Reyna, it works almost instantly. I was even able to put her on lead while I was cleaning the house so we were walking all over the house, crossing my sister-in-law in the hall, passing through doorways at the same time, no problems. If I needed to enter a tight corner or closet and somebody else was there I would put her on a down stay so that she wouldn't have to share the space with a "stranger" for any prolonged period of time, it was all just fly-bys.

Then we took it on the road to my in-laws house. They are wonderful dog people and always welcome Reyna despite her craziness. We employed the same "crate or on leash time" there with the same incredible results. It took a couple minutes of relaxation protocol before she was calm enough to accept kibble so we could start, but soon after we were calmly sitting in the kitchen while my father-in-law did dishes and then we walked through the living room where four adults and two kids were hanging out.

I LOVE this! Now instead of dreading when guests come over I can't wait...One great side effect is that Reyna is relaxing in the crate, so I can socialize with family or guests between short training sessions, and know that Reyna is still making forward progress!

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