Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holiday joys

Last year the holidays started off very stressful because of Reyna's over-excitability. Fortunately we stumbled across a management method that worked for her and for us so we could all enjoy life again.

We kept up with that protocol throughout the year and along with everything else we have done to help with her over excitability we have a different dog than we did 12 months ago. I am pleased to say that this year the holiday season has gone wonderfully. We went to the in-laws house and the first half day we followed our old protocol...either she was in the crate or she was on leash tethered to me. But the second day we let her out of the crate in the morning and never needed to put her back in. She relaxed on the floor while my mother in law played and read with the kids. I was even able to be in a totally different room and not worry about her. She sat quietly for petting and often would self calm by removing herself from a room if she got too excited.

When we got back home we had guests over and let Reyna out after a few minutes she was a little over excited and wanted to lick faces but calmed down quickly and then was so quiet I thought Norm had put her back in the crate...nope she had just gone to her bed to lie down and nap!!!

Now we have my brother, his wife, and their two young kids staying for four days...that means four adults and four kids under 4 running around. We have put Reyna in her crate a couple times like during lunch today so she wouldn't be underfoot, but we do that as a normal part of our day at home too. 99% of the time she has been out of the crate with the run of the house. She's not perfect, she tries to lick my sister in law in the face too much, or she runs up and down the hall with the pack of toddlers, but nothing that a quick..."Reyna, cool it" doesn't fix. Most of the time she has actually been self calming by leaving the room or just backing away a few feet and going into her "relax" from the levels work.

On the reactivity note, last year my brother wanted to take her running and I said no, while she was doing really well her reactivity was still too intense to let anybody else handle her, I couldn't afford a set back. This year he asked again and I said yes without hesitation and never worried the whole hour they were gone. My brother even said an off leash dog followed them for a little while and Reyna didn't appear to care.

I am so happy with where we are...we had a small get together at the house with four more 8 adults and four kids, laughing, eating, cooking, and playing. Reyna excused herself and napped on her bed during the mealtime with no cue from me. When too many people were sitting on the floor Reyna started to look a little like her old stressed self so we put her up in the crate for about 15 minutes. Then brought her back out and she did wonderfully. We worked on some CGC stuff for the test coming up and she did awesome. She also chilled on her bed while my dad chased the toddlers up and down the hall screaming and yelling. Again she is not perfect, we are currently working on not licking faces when people are sitting especially while people are sitting on the floor.  For this holiday season though I am going to bask in the joy of a dog who is truly part of the family, and is finally able to participate in our events instead of being managed through them.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

This Christmas season hasn't gone as planned...the flu x4 then bronchitis and sinus infections for everybody, followed by food poisoning for the whole family. Cookie recipes didn't do what they were supposed to, rain came through on "outdoor yard work day", the kids fought and yelled all through Miracle on 34th Street, and to top it off our lovely little Christmas tree came crashing down without warning on Saturday, taking with it a large chunk of our Christmas spirit.

But somehow it's okay...we just take another deep breath and keep going. The traditional breakfast casserole is in the fridge ready to cook tomorrow, I forgot to grease the pan, but I'm sure it will be okay...all my family is one by one making it safely into town, and the kids are settling in to bed with dreams of grandparents and wrapped presents under table? Oh well...


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Levels and stuff update...

First I think I should clarify something from the previous post...I said all my goals from last year had been met, that does not mean that Reyna is bomb proof. Not in the slightest. Last year I just wanted her to be a "normal" dog.

I wanted to be able to walk her down the street without a head collar, and without either of us anxiously scanning the environment for triggers. I wanted to take group classes where she could work for a full hour and actually enjoy it. I wanted her to be able to greet other dogs properly instead of charging and barking, and to be able to come when called in mid romp. I wanted to be able to have guests over and have Reyna be able to relax in her crate, or even out and about in the house (I seriously never thought we'd get that far but we did).

We still have goals to meet and progress to make, but now I can have a neighbor walk Reyna without me who has no dog experience, and not worry if she will explode at some SEC along the way, it's an amazing and freeing feeling.

Now back to other stuff...

Levels - we are chipping away at level 3. The retrieve was pretty difficult at first, like all duration behaviors, it takes her a little while to figure out that doing nothing is exactly what I want. Having to sit there just holding the pen...for 15...whole...seconds. It's a lifetime in Reyna's world. She kept wanting to snatch and play with it. Five broken pens later...we had a major break through when I sat down instead of standing up, and then rewarded her when she pushed it towards me instead of pulling away. Now she can do the 15 second hold with five different objects, and we can even do the part where I take a step back, but that still needs some work.

Her relax is doing okay, since we are dealing with duration it's just going to take a while to ladder it up...but at this point I trust the system :)

Her lazy leash is doing very well, we are starting to work around the feral cat feeding station...Reyna's nightmare distraction. She is doing very well around people and even dogs!

We have passed sit, down, come, crate, zen...very exciting!

CGC Class - I still don't know if we will pass by the end, but she is really improving, she is starting to check herself when we are approaching people in set ups...her focus is much better throughout the class, good eye contact, even doing well on the supervised separation.

Nose Work - we are signing up for an ORT in January and hopefully if we get into the ORT aannnddd if we pass we will enter the march trial. I am trying to get better about rewarding as soon as she alerts to source. I got stuck a couple of times because the source was reachable but she alerted  from a different direction, and i confused her by not rewarding right away. Now my criteria is that if I could tell a judge where it was based on her alert I reward immediately, and so far that has cleaned up that handler error. Poor Reyna.

Phew! That's a lot going on...but then it has been awhile since an update. CGC class tomorrow.....hurray!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

50th Post

Well this is officially my 50th post since starting this blog last year, and like last year I'd like to take a look back...

Two years ago I learned what "reactivity" meant. When I started this blog, a year into Reyna's rehabilitation, we had made great strides towards normalcy. She would still react to triggers but her reaction process had slowed to the point where I could intervene and avoid a full blown snark most of the time. I was extremely vigilant of her environment. In the past two years we have used the following methods...

Control Unleashed
Relaxation Protocol
Sue Ailsby's Training Levels
Behavior Adjustment Training
Counter Conditioning
Management Protocols
Nose Work Classes

All with the goal  of increasing her confidence and "elasticity" (ability to bounce back quickly),  decrease her stress and anxiety levels, and raise her thresholds to a point where she could function in the world.

I am going to be perfectly honest here...I think we have met all of our goals!

Now that being said we will never be "done". In fact I have just ordered Crate Games by Susan Garret to start adding that to our list as well. And somebody seeing us out and about for the first time may think we have a LONG way to go as Reyna jumps on our TD class instructor for the 5th time in a row...but what they don't see is that Reyna is taking food in a garage classroom with three other dogs present, and that she has not barked, puffed, up or even started stress panting the whole time we were there.

Last year when I wrote my recap of the previous year I pointed out some experiences that bench marked how far we had come. Here are just a few moments from the last two weeks alone...

At class last week a dog with reactive tendencies saw Reyna coming out of her crate as a Sudden Environmental Change and exploded....inches from Reyna's face...her tail raised about a third of the way up and she turned to me for her treat and ducked back into her crate...AMAZING! 

We were going for a walk, two dogs charged barking to the end of their invisible fence on the same side as Reyna about 5 feet away, Reyna shifted into heel position with no cues from me and just kept going.

At TD class last night she performed the "walk up and greet somebody with a dog" behavior....WHOA

When strangers, dogs, or cats enter our yard she gives one bark at the window and then comes to find me.

When my in-laws came to visit she was able to be off leash in the house with them. 

Sunday I took her to the dog park and she did a focused heel past a small terrier yapping, and she kept a loose leash while we walked around the outside of the dog park fence with dogs playing and wrestling inside (with a high rate of reinforcement).

The biggest theme from last year was that I was learning to read Reyna, be hyper-aware of potential triggers, recognize OT signals, intervene, manage situations, help Reyna recover when necessary, lower her baseline stress levels, and build up trust that I was there for her.

This year has been stamped with Reyna learning to relax on cue, learning that she can perform alternate behaviors to reacting, such as self imposing a time out to her crate in class when the other dog reacted, she is now telling me when she sees a trigger and I no longer have to be nearly as vigilant to everything that moves because if it bothers her she will tell me. She is developing default behaviors when she starts to go over threshold - currently her default is "focus really hard on mom" because she associates a very high ROR with that behavior so she finds comfort in watching me while scary/arousing things happen around her.

I would have to say that I would now classify Reyna as an excitable dog who can be insecure in situations where her job is unclear. When a dog barks at her, for example, she knows her job is to come see me so she is now quite confident when dogs swear at her from the ends of their leashes and behind invisible fences.

The biggest payoff is that she "leaks noise" less, the wrinkles on her forehead are softer, she eats her dinner, and she always wears a flat collar or a harness and never the head collar anymore.

With such an amazing year what do we have planned for 2013?

To start back where I should have when we first got her (and maybe she never would have been reactive in the first place...who knows), addressing her excitement levels through self control exercises like the crate games, hopefully passing L3 and 4 of the training levels, building strength, flexibility and confidence through trick training, and hopefully start competing!

I don't how I would have felt two years ago if you had told me where we would be right now...would I be disappointed? elated? I'm glad I didn't know, that as we have been trekking down this path we have taken it one step at a time with no deadlines looming. We have celebrated every little victory and tried to learn from each set back, and then we turn to look back and say "wow, look how far we've come!"

My heart goes out to those just starting, or who haven't even started because they don't know where to begin. I see it on their faces when we're out walking and their dog lunges and barks as we walk calmly by...stress, embarrassment, frustration, anger...I hear it in their voices as they almost plead "he really is friendly" or "I'm sorry, she won't bite". I want to hug them and say "I've been there, it's okay, it's called reactivity, have you heard of Leslie McDevitt..."