I don’t think anyone with an “easy” dog can understand the gratification when your problem dog gets social interaction exactly right. Spencer has been making loads of progress recently, and one of the reasons I haven’t written in a while is that it’s simply been too nice out and we’ve just been enjoying the moment.
While Spencer’s behavior has been gradually improving, our first really stellar moment was a few weeks ago and involved Dylan the Jack Russell Terrier.
Now the back story is that Spencer and Dylan have known each other for about a year. At first, when Spencer was still getting his strength back and being docile, their interactions were very friendly. And then one morning, Spencer saw Dylan across a field and ran towards him to play…except Dylan took Spencer’s too-direct approach as a threat and responded with aggression. From that day forward, Dylan would literally leap for Spencer’s jugular vein if Spencer got too close. Spencer, who doesn’t seem to have any idea how big he is, was terrified. So for a long time, I’d wave at Dylan’s owner as we passed, but kept Spencer at a distance that allowed both dogs to be comfortable.
By this spring, Spencer had calmed down enough and Dylan had had enough neutral encounters with Spencer passing like a ship in the night that when we met more or less face-to-face on a path one day, Dylan didn’t immediately get pre-emptive. Nonetheless, knowing Spencer’s tendency to pounce on other dogs and either want to wrestle or to express his dominance by mounting them, I generally try to communicate to Dylan that we respect his space. So I’ve been using Dylan as the test case to start teaching Spencer alternate behaviors around other dogs.
I was so proud of him when one day we saw Dylan coming down the path, I asked Spencer to move left and sit, and he obeyed. Spencer stayed in his “sit” munching on the occasional goodie I gave him without making any signs of wanting to move toward Dylan. Dylan’s owner said an appreciative “Impressionnant !” as he passed. The other day, Spencer outdid himself. Dylan, who obviously is less scared of Spencer now, felt comfortable enough to walk within a metre of Spencer while he was seated. Spencer didn’t even bat an eyelash. It was like Dylan wasn’t even there! Even I was impressed.
Today was a really good day on this front for Spencer. I took him to the forest early for a long walk before the crowds showed up. At one point, a jogger was coming up a fairly narrow and steep path towards us. I asked Spencer to move to the side and stay there while the guy passed. Spencer executed perfectly, and the jogger who didn’t need to worry about tripping on leashes, getting barked out, breaking his stride, etc. gave us a sincere “thank you” as he went by.
Later, Spencer was well ahead of me as we approached a junction between our path and another. When he’s on the long leash, I have him stop before getting to a new path like this and call him back to me to be put on the short leash until I can see if there are any people, bikes, horses, etc. on the other path. Just as I started calling him, a group of bikers appeared at the intersection, with the intention of turning left onto our path. For a few seconds, Spencer found himself face-to-face with the front biker. Working really hard to keep any panic out of my voice, I kept calling Spencer back…and he turned and headed straight for me! I backed up a few steps to encourage him to come towards me and because I knew I could then divert him onto the other path of the triangular intersection. While doing this, I clicked so that Spencer knew that he was doing exactly what I wanted by coming toward me.
We got into the other path, Spencer got LOTS of treats, and all of the bikers complimented me on how obedient he was and how impressed they were as we calmly watched them go by with Spencer munching on all the rewards he had earned, and then we went back into that path and continued on our way.
It feels so good to know people consider Spencer to be a good citizen and not the delinquent that they saw before we undertook his re-training!