It’s been a while since I’ve written about the lad and we have made a lot of headway in the last few months. I’ll do my best to write about what we’ve been doing when I can.
Last week I was out for a walk with him in the field at the edge of town where I take him for his run. There are very rarely dogs or people around so it gives us a chance to be outside in the fresh air with relatively little stress. As I’ve written previously, the barking was a problem for the first year when we were in open spaces and we occasionally get resurgence of it but those incidences are becoming rarer and rarer.
We had been out for about 30 minutes or so and were heading back to the car when he found an old welly (rubber) boot which someone had discarded. Rubber toys are his addiction and he finds them very difficult to give up and this was no exception. I let him have it for a few minutes and then he started to tear the leg part of the boot from the foot part which took him about 30 seconds. Once he had two pieces, I was able to pick up one of them and then ask him to drop the other one in exchange for the one I had, play a short game of tug with it and them let him have it. I then picked up the “shoe” of the boot and threw it for him after he dropped the piece he had. We continued this for several rounds and then I took him by the harness (he is on a long line), threw the other part away and asked him to come with me. Which he did, after only a few seconds of thought. So, no pulling towards the two pieces of boot, no barking and he was able to come with me. I gave him a few treats, again this is progress as historically when he got into that state he wouldn’t be able to eat, and walked him back to the car.
When we got back to the car, he happily jumped in, a couple more treats and then we went home. The behaviour at the back of the car was interesting as this would have been considerably different in the past, with him barking and refusing to get in the car (at best).
It is easy to lose perspective on his behaviour, which is one of the reasons I write this blog; it’s some kind of record of where we have been. Seeing him change from the stress bucket he was a couple of years ago, into showing more and more “normal” dog behaviours is kind of like watching your kids grow, very often we don’t see the changes as they are incremental, constant and over time.
The exchange game we played that day was as a result of all the play I do with him on a weekly basis, taking turns, moderating arousal (both of us!) learning cues, being generous with reinforcement. We are training behaviours all the time, I choose to train those ones which are both fun from him to do and necessary for times when we need it, like when we find wellies in the field.