Our threshold has moved

As Spencer started to show significant progress this past winter and spring, we made the resolution to use this summer to socialize him as much as possible. It’s easier in summer because the days are longer, providing better conditions for walks, and we can have visitors in the garden, which is less stressful for both the people and the dog.

Based on the results, I’d say it’s paying off immensely. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating by saying that Spencer is making progress everyday. There are many signs:

  • He’s gotten to the point where he can lay down fully relaxed in the garden just a few metres from visitors (there’s still a gate for safety, but he can see through it).
  • This past weekend, we ate in the kitchen with Greg’s mom and Spencer was just a couple of metres away behind a baby gate. He settled down and relaxed fairly quickly.
  • While some things still draw him to the fence or the gate to bark, he will now growl or bark at things happening in the neighborhood from where he is comfortably sprawled, just lifting his head to bark half-heartedly.
  • On today’s walk, a well-meaning, but oblivious, girl of about thirteen picked up her French bulldog and started walking straight at Spencer, cooing, “Do you want to sniff?” Although her dog only seemed mildly nervous in front of Spencer (licking her chops), I still felt bad for the poor thing being immobilized like that on approach to a giant beast. Luckily, the girl finally respected my request not to impose a meeting, and moved away without Spencer feeling the need to react.
  • A bit further on, Spencer was sniffing a fence when a boy of about ten ran by us on the same sidewalk, so about a foot away. It turns out that he was actually running laps around the block, so that happened three or four times. Spencer jumped a little bit, but was pretty relaxed about the whole situation.
  • Later two skateboarders scared the bejeebers out of Spencer as they whizzed by, but he just scurried away. When they stopped a few metres away, I feared a reaction, but Spencer actually peered at them and sniffed tentatively in their direction.

The day (and week) was full of other great signs of progress like that. it is clear that he’s getting braver all the time, and his threshold for reacting is definitely moving. Yesterday, I decided to “graduate” him from front-hooking his harness to hooking the leash on his back. We’re having to recalibrate pulling a bit, but he’s got a better range of motion this way, and it feels more like freedom to him. When we get in a jam, I try to sneak my hand onto the handle of his harness so I can restrain him if need be but without signalling tension that actually triggers him. I did that successfully today, but last night, i think I actually set him off when a woman walked by too close. Based on how mildly he barked, I wonder if he would have reacted at all if I hadn’t been clumsy.

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