I video'd today quickly just to continue keeping track of George's body language and my handling skills while walking in a new area.
New area, new day, transitioning into a new environment; ref: Alice @ Dogsmart.ca, Leslie McDevitt, Control unleashed, Dr. Patricia McConnell and host of others backed by my own experiences. Whether it's transitioning from car to a walk, house to backyard, car to dog class...test your dog's anxiety level. Whether it's doing some OC using treats or environmental rewards, test to see where they are emotionally BEFORE walking.
What does their body language tell you? Are they scanning the area? If you see a dog in the distance do they get stuck on the other dog or trigger? Are they SLOW to focus back on you? Are their eyes GLUED on your treat hand, pocket, using it to avoid dealing with the approaching trigger? I go through that mental checklist starting in a stationary position first, then if I or something in the environment is adding movement.
I find it's KEY to be ready to LOWER criteria and to help your dog out if they're having trouble focusing on you.
Even if it's a quick 10 sec of talking to them, joking around, asking them to do some simple tricks, just to see if they can do without my help of rewarding calming and or non reactive body language with treats.
Raising criteria....there's a few key things to look for in their body language to ensure you're raising criteria at a healthy dose. Always testing at each stage.
Today we got out of the car and just happened to be crossing the street, when a dog appeared, I didn't even notice they were behind us at first. George never alerted me. I took that as a good sign and was able to have George sit and watch the dog while I got out my iphone and then started with treats to test George. He looked good after about 10 sec of OC, rewarding relaxed body and ability to "watch" or check in with me, taking his eyes off the dog across the street. I quickly started to delay treats and watch him. His body remained relaxed so we just continued on our walk and shut the iphone off. Just because treats end, doesn't mean I stop letting George know that he's an awesome little possum from time to time. I don't take his relaxed behaviour for granted.
I ended up crossing the street and we walked behind these dogs, then cross the street with them. It just so happened that they had to wait for the lights, and George's body remained relaxed so I just went with the flow. It feels good to have our groove back on.
After the last round of attacks, George was hyper vigilant about notifying me and other dogs in the distance by barking and lunging at them, that he wasn't interested in any meet and greet. I wondered how long it would take or if ever to trust me to handle a situation for him, and or whether or not he would ever WANT to be close to another dog.
I'm so very aware that just like with us, the mechanics of learning what to do to work through your anxiety, the EMOTIONAL recovery to generalize the new routine, takes it's own time. Please realize that just because they're "doing what is asked of them" it DOESN't mean that we humans should let our guard down and not be ready to jump in when they need our help.
Being a reactive dog owner is a commitment for life; to understand and condition our bodies to pick up on the subtle signs that our dogs need our help from time to time to walk them though the process or get them the heck out of a situation they are NOT emotionally equipped to deal with.
We're all individuals that can handle only so much and need the help and support of those around us. After all, that's what friends and family are for.