Thanks to Irène, Spencer has a new friend. I asked for her help finding a large dog, preferably female, with whom Spencer could go for walks and play. Because dogs tend to stick to their owners, and Spencer still has the tendency to react to strangers, making contact with new dogs is hard. Further complicating things, few people understand the training techniques we’re using, and they often work against us, usually despite having the best intentions.
I figured the best way to find someone who shares our training values and who might be tolerant of a fear reactive dog would be to turn to Irène. We got several nibbles to her appeal, so we might have other new friends in future.
Today, we met Soca and her owners. Soca is a lovely, young retriever. She’s exactly what you dream of when you imagine a dog: crazy and cuddly, wallowing in mud puddles and running through the woods with joy.
The first encounter was a little rocky. There were tons of people at the intersection where we met in the woods, including a couple with a little dog that Spencer was fixated on. So he was a little tense, and suddenly there were people all around him. He barked at several of them, including Soca’s mistress and dragged me through the mud a bit trying to chase all these Scary People away. But I managed to get him back from the path, calmer and paying attention to Soca. The problem was that Soca was intimidated, probably by a combination of Spencer’s behavior, his size and the muzzle. Also, her mistress pointed out that usually she would pet the new dog to show Soca there’s nothing to fear.
Soca kept coming tantalizingly near, but running away as soon as Spencer tried to reach her. To keep him from getting too frustrated, we decided to start walking and see if things would work themselves out.
Spencer and I were ahead of the group, with Greg and Soca’s owners walking a bit behind us. Soca was all over the place, but still playing coy and driving Spencer a little crazy. We finally found a place where the trees were thinner, so I took Spencer aside and put him on the long lead. We then all worked to lure Soca towards him. Gradually, her running circles around him shifted from her being nervous to them playing…with me being dragged along since Spencer has to stay on a leash until he is more comfortable with strangers.
By the end of the hour, I even had both dogs sitting at my feet on command and each waiting its turn to get treats. While Spencer did not make direct contact with Soca’s owners today, he did quickly become much more comfortable with them being nearby and even took some tentative steps in their direction. Hopefully they will soon be in his enlarging circle of confidence.
In any case, since we got home Spencer has been napping. I think this outing did him a huge amount of good and let him use up a lot of energy. And while it exhausted me, it did me good to find canine and humans that we can hang out with. We’ve missed Hummer and his mistress since she hurt her shoulder.