One Step Away from Crazy

Did I just witness progress?!?!? Why yes, I believe I did.  CAR FANATICS, stay tuned. I have a gift for being able relate anything to dog training.  I had the most brilliant idea of comparing dog training to a car!  Now maybe my husband will love listening to my incessant dog training talk!!!  Right?

Due to the Minnesota weather, herding has been cancelled all but once. The day we went, Jedi was still VERY charged up around the other dogs. I tried to work him and get him settled in.

We got a little close to the sheep at one point and he wanted to do some bossing around. I called him off of the sheep, but he was pretty adamant. I had to correct him away from them. We got too close, it was all too exciting for him. His instinct kicked like a mule, I told him he needed to come with me…away from the sheep. This scenario was a huge concern for the instructor. It is one thing to correct him off of other dogs, but I could create issues if I correct him off sheep.

After watching for a bit, the instructor came over and took Jedi. Crap, did I know what was probably to follow…we chatted on our way over to a few dogs. He reacted and she delivered another perfectly timed big correction.

He came right over to me and sat in heel position as the other dogs walked around a bit. He didn’t care about the dogs, I praised him for his calm attention.  Once again, he appeared so serene. I still hate the idea, that a big correction is what calmed him down.

I also want to be clear, this is not the only way to go about getting that behavior.  I have worked with Jedi for over a year using positive reinforcement.  That is still how I prefer to train.  For whatever reason, it was not clear in Jedi’s head that this behavior is not acceptable.  He has always had a very strong drive and a VERY DIFFICULT TIME LETTING THINGS GO.  Another trainer accomplished this same attitude once, by simply pushing him back with strong energy the first time she took him.

I was not at a place, where I could create and hold that.  Many, many trainers can do that without the HUGE correction.  The hard part is, you have to create what that trainer just did.  You have to work past your previous miscommunication and change your relationship.  If I had to do this all over again, I would do it the same way.  Try all positive methods first.  Most dogs only need the second part of this story.  That is positive reinforcement and motivation.  This is your dog and your relationship, make it a good one.

I have reactive dogs in the classes I teach.  Here is most productive and successful method I have them use when their dog gives the first signs of becoming reactive.  I have described it before, simply turn into your dog and back them up until they sit and look at you.  The dogs present the behavior faster and faster the more you do it.  Now your dog is looking at you and is re-engaged.  Give them some commands that you know they can be successful at.  Then tell them how awesome they are and move on.

I don’t want people going around correcting their dogs for reactivity the way it was done here.  This is just mine and Jedi’s story.  No two stories are alike, no two people or dogs are alike.  Get a good trainer to help you and use positive methods whenever possible.  I am using the correction as in interrupter.  Once I have him back, it is all positive.  I am hoping I can drop out the corrections and just get him to redirect to me.  Positive methods work best, because they create the best relationship.

Let me explain it this way.  What if at your place of employment, your boss stood next to you while you worked and communicated the kind of work you were doing.  Think about which job would you prefer.

Job A, your boss only told you what you did wrong.  If you made a typo, they smacked you upside the head, poked you hard with their finger, gave you a sharp knee to the back.  Maybe if you put something where they didn’t like it, they gave a harsh “NO!”, “WRONG!”, “STOP IT!”  Said something they didn’t like “BE QUIET!”, “MORON!”, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!”  How long would you remain at this job?

Job B, your boss tells you when you are right.  Says “Good job!”, “Yes!”, “Nice!”, “Super!”, “Whoo Hoo!”, “AWESOME!”  Clapped their hands, rubbed your shoulders, gave you a friendly nuggie.  Unless you don’t like your hair touched, then they would totally respect that and not touch your hair.  When you weren’t sure how to do something, they held out a piece of candy for you and said, “I will help you”.  The next time they asked and you did it right, you got a stack of 100 dollar bills.  How long would you remain at this job?

Furthermore, which boss do you want to be?

Ok, back to herding, the next thing the instructor tells me is she wants me to get him over the dog reactivity before we herd again…


Ok, insert deep breath here…1…2…3…4…breathe oooooooouuuuuutttt…sigh

I get it. I would have a whole other issue, if I accidentally messed with his instinct on stock. 100% guarantee that there will be stock at the farm…sad face.

After a few busy weeks and I finally got Jedi out last Sunday to work on his reactivity. We went to a nearby park. I found furthest lot, with the least amount of cars. I made sure we could quickly and quietly get to some lightly used trails.

We made our way through some meadow trails, the grass around us still smashed down from the winter snow. He could see all of the activity from all directions. It was at such a distance though, he could offer me some focus. By focus, I mean take direction from his team leader. He could be with me and hear me.

We walked a bit and he started to get a little whiny. The beginnings of over-stimulation for Jedi, simply because he could see things.  Even though they were in what appeared to me as a galaxy far, far away.  Sorry.

I had the leash attached to his collar.  Then I wrapped it under his front legs and around his ribs, like a harness. We have a good obedience foundation, when he isn’t stimulated beyond his abilities. I will never forget the looks on people’s faces when I took him at 10 months to a few AKC rally course run throughs. He is dynamic, driven, excited to work. He is incredible to watch. The instructors eyes got so big, when we finished with our first run.

Here is a video I made of Jedi working at 11 months, just after the daycare incident.  I cannot let his talent be hidden away only for me to see. So, the saga continues.

As we walked he started tucking right into me, sticking to my leg like glue to stay in heel position. This tells me he is too excited. He touches my leg to keep track of me.  He figured out he can maintaining his ability to give me only half of his attention, while giving what he thinks is the correct behavior: remaining in heel position. Yes, he is a smart one. I do want him to see things though. I want him to see all of these things moving around and we are ok.

He is uncomfortable, so I stopped and played the “Look At That” game for a bit. We play until he stops actually looking at the triggers. He will eventually start to just flick his eyes. No longer looking at anything, just trying to get a treat. I don’t deny him a reward for even the slightest eye flick, but he is working the game at that point, so we move on.

My goal this time is to solidify in his head, what was right and what was wrong. I did use leash corrections for showing signs of over-stimulation. I felt comfortable with this, because we were a great distance from his triggers. He could respond appropriately to my corrections. They were very light. I noticed during this whole herding experience, that the times he got HUGE corrections from the instructor, he actually calmed down.  I wanted to see if I could create that with light corrections.

I know everything I have read about correcting for reacting is not advised. Again, we were at such a great distance from everything else, just following some trails through a field. Neither one of us was feeling overwhelmed. I just kept lightly correcting when his ears whet up, when he moved forward or out of position.

It is difficult to explain what I was trying to do, this is the only way I can think to describe it. In non-fuel injected cars, sometimes the idle will start to run high. You would kick it down, give the gas pedal one quick and hard stomp. The car would settle down to a nice steady idle.

These corrections were calming him down. I made it clear when he was wrong, but I gave him the opportunity to give me a correct behavior. The correct behavior was to be in heel position. Something he could be successful at.

Visualizing a positive outcome is also very important when you are dog training and especially for a reactive dog.  The more you practice the way you want it to go, the easier it will be to get the behavior when things get stressful.  Dogs want to please us and that is what I focus on. All of the things he can do right, not what COULD go wrong.  You don’t want what is in your head, to show up in a tight leash, a heavy sigh or any hesitation.  Just as your dog shows body language before they react, SO CAN YOU!

I believe in this case, Jedi needed to be corrected instead of just redirected. In this case, he was continuing to manipulate the situation, making me feel out of control. He was satisfying his fear by acting that way, feeding it. He also thought he needed to take over, because I felt out of control.

My corrections are now about telling him to calm down and work. Stay connected with me in the zone, a place where we both have fun! I have been waiting for just that feeling, like we connect no matter what is going on around us.

We saw joggers, groups of hikers and kids running. In reactive dog classes, you work on getting your dog excited while maintaining threshold and then calm them back down. I was revving him back down whenever he got excited, with light corrections. He did calm down. I did tell him when he was wrong, but I was ridiculous and over the top when I let him know he was right. Black and white, I WAS CRYSTAL CLEAR. I did this because we have been having some sort of communication break down.

The other important part here is I am so over this whole thing. I had some letting go to do in this process. Now, I feel super calm and in control.  I am only focusing on what I want to happen.  Visualizing a positive outcome is also very important when you are dog training and especially for a reactive dog.  The more you practice the way you want it to go, the easier it will be to get the behavior when things get stressful.  Dogs want to please us and that is what I focus on. All of the things he can do right, not what COULD go wrong.  You don’t want what is in your head, to show up in a tight leash, a heavy sigh or any hesitation.  Just as your dog shows body language before they react, SO CAN YOU!

I don’t care anymore who sees him acting like a nut. He is my nut and I love him. He is a sweet brilliant dude, who gets over-excited and goes out of his mind a bit. Come on, who hasn’t!! We have all had our moments, don’t lie to yourself. Stop with your “I never” ’s, we all have break downs. Now, go find a good leader to help you get past them.

We were having a positive fun time. I didn’t want to stay too long the first time out, but decided to move a little closer to the action before we left. We headed toward the second least busy parking lot. He did great, then he started to act alert. I looked around, all I saw was some people getting out of their minivan.  At this point, I did not want to push it and wondered if they had dogs. With Jedi’s laser senses, I was sure I was missing something.

I turned us around. He gave the slightest hesitation, but came with me. He started looking at me intently and I offered some super yummy treats. I had spreadable cream cheese with canned salmon smashed into it. He was giving me sort of unusual behavior. He was exited, wanted those treats…I couldn’t quite pinpoint this behavior.

I did check behind us occasionally.  I wanted to see if they had dogs, that is when I saw them! There were two boxers on the longest flexies you could ever imagine. Like 25 feet away from their people, in the middle of a busy park. I don’t think the people could stop anything from happening with their dogs 25 feet away, but that is not my concern. Jedi is my concern and they were moving away from us. I gave them no energy and stay calm with good thoughts.

Could Jedi have just displayed the textbook behavior I have been trying to get from him for a year???? !!!!! ???? !!!!

Oh god, is there something wrong with me. I had to test it. It was such a positive experience and that was all I had planned for us today. Ugh, I just had to know. Did he really know there were dogs getting out of the van and look to me for reassurance????

I turned us around and disengaged just long enough for him to alert to the dogs. Now, they were moving away from us and definitely within his vision. He gave a small growl with a posture protest.  I gave him a light correction, because we were far enough away I knew he would be successful at refocusing. He turned right back to me and returned to the same engaging behavior. I pretty much got us to the car as fast as possible. FOR ONCE, THIS WAS GOING TO END WELL!!!

Did it really happen? IT DID, HE WAS…IT HAPPENED!! A perfect storm, we were both in the right place at the right time, our heads were on straight, the right distance, optimal conditions for us both…now I was stunned!!

He felt excited, but he looked for me. He wanted me to reassure him and move us to wherever we needed to be. He was super engaged, but I could tell he was very slightly agitated. He wanted the food, he chose the food AND ME, OVER THE CRAZY. I am officially one step up from crazy!!!! Wow, still letting THAT sink in.

Now, I must analyze what happened, because I am a computer programmer or a dog trainer or one step from crazy:

1. I saw it happen, now it will be easier for me to believe. That is what a trainer does for you.

2. Jedi looked to me, he held it together for me. I can believe in him.

3. I made it happen. I can believe in me.

This is important for reactive dog owners. As long as you are committed to your dog, you are the right owner for your dog. I hear many people doubt themselves, wonder if they should give up their dog to someone else with more skills.

No, no, no, if you are committed, you are the right owner. Keep working toward your goal, seeking knowledge, trial and error.

How do you think the other owners got those skills? It is a fragile spark, it takes time to light a big fire. You cannot force it, it must fostered and nurtured. Built on a solid foundation, it will grow as we gain confidence in each other. I believe in you Jedi.  Smiley face. ❤️






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