Today was a beautiful day so the boys and I headed for a long walk to Rittenhouse Square (it's about a 35 minute walk to get there), so I knew Kane would be more receptive to doing leash-conditioning work once we got there.
As expected, the park was flooded with dogs so I was excited, and the boys were pretty distracted with all the smells and sounds. I started Kane with some "look at that" and "watch me's" from a far distance and loose leash first, testing his level of reactivity and threshold (threshold being the distance in which no physiological is created). He did great so we slowly started to move closer to the stimuli with a loose leash and lots of calm energy. After doing some circle work (using my leg to lead him into a circular pattern while a dog walks past us), I decided to end our session there, as we had a long walk home ahead of us still.
This is where I got frustrated with my inability to have eyes everywhere at all times. We had successfully dodged a few dogs coming out of the park and as we were about to cross the street a dog appeared behind us and caught us off guard. Kane reacted by lunging forward, and Buster also reacted by lunging forward (he mimicks Kane's behavior a lot when we are doing leash work), my first reaction was "find it!" in the happiest, go lucky voice I could muster while tossing a few treats on the ground (this redirects their attention from the stimuli to the ground). We attempted to gain some distance from the dog, which is when the owner decided to turn around and come toward us. This generated a bigger reaction from Kane, as head on approaches are the most intimidating for him (and most dogs), so we quickly did a u-turn and "let's go" in that silly, go lucky voice.
Okay, one over threshold response, not bad considering the weather and the length of our session, but I thought too soon. As we were doing a settle cue by the grocery store, I saw the small, non-reactive poodle mix that we had been doing conditioning work with coming towards us, in fact the owner was jogging his little dog, so I decided to keep the dogs in a sit and redirected their attention by luring them with a treat (I try only to lure when I feel it's absolutely necessary). Unfortunately I didn't see the owner had a flexi-leash (I hate these!) and the dog ran over to greet Kane and Buster. Full blown reaction from Kane, hackles completely raised, and lots of aggressive barking and lunging. Buster joined his brother with some barking and lunging as well. I attempted a u-turn, but the boys were so fully unaware of my movements, that I physically had to pull them in the other direction. I thought to myself, total fail, Melissa, but I quickly pulled it together, because it's not about me, it's about the dogs. I began to walk them calmly, treat for any voluntary eye contact, and finally did some proper settle cues in a safe area.
Listen, none of us are perfect dog handlers, or maybe we are, but the city environment is really hard to predict. There's lots of blind corners, running dogs, flexi-leashes, skate boarders, and so much more that's just beyond our control. I wanted to share this session with you all to show that we can choose to recover from these negative set backs and reactions, or we can choose to let these set backs further affect our training, energy, and outlook. A lot of this type of work is training your own responses...training yourself to stay positive, to breathe, and to remember that dogs will be dogs, despite all the efforts we make. Try not to take it personal, and trust me, I know how hard this can be. Remind yourself that you're doing the best you can, learn from your mistakes, and move on, because that's exactly what we're teaching our dogs to do.
Keep up the good work all!