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...
Sue Ailsby's Training Levels
Behavior Adjustment Training
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..."