10/10 on a difficult course!

This morning was one of those we-have-come-so-far walks.

Whenever we have to go around a blind corner, I call Spencer to my side, prepare a treat just in case, try to peer through fences and bushes and prepare to react if we are surprised by someone. This morning, I thought I had a good view around the first corner we encountered, but when we turned it, there was a young boy, too short to be seen through the break in the fence and bushes. I calmly asked Spencer to do a u-turn and cross, which he executed without hesitation while the boy called a friendly “Bonjour!” after us.

A bit little while I was throwing out the “doggy bag”, I noticed a man come up the siddewalk behind us. We were right next to a narrow pedestrian passageway that has lots of interesting smells, so we headed up it. When Spencer stopped to sniff something, I realized to my chagrin that the man was coming up the passage behind us, and catching up. In my happiest voice, I asked Spencer to move on and turned it into a game to jog ahead fast. At the end of the passage, I asked him to move to the left, sit and let the guy pass. Spencer didn’t even blink.

At the top of that street, there was another narrow pedestrian passage Spencer wanted to take. As we headed for the entrance, I saw another guy coming out carrying a baguette. I again asked for a u-turn and for us to park on the side as the man went by. Spencer calmly watched him and then we moved on.

As we reached the end of the passageway, a woman and a small girlie dog (she had a pink leash), wanted to enter, but we clearly made the woman nervous. I asked her to move to the right and then asked Spencer to go out calmly and turn left, which he did. I then looked back at the woman and wished them a good walk as they headed into the passage, with the doggie clearly wishing she could stop and say hi.

The rest of the walk went like this until we turned the final corner for home. Spencer remains a bit sensitive in this zone, and a guy was crossing the street diagonally down to the corner across from us on the left. I asked Spencer to let the guy pass, so he didn’t get stressed, but then the guy turned around and crossed back to our side, apparently having forgotten something in his car. Again, I reassured Spencer. The guy turned around again, and I felt Spencer tense up as the guy passed nearest to us on his diagonal line. I did the Happy Voice as much as I could and called Spencer’s attention to a piece of chicken. It worked. He turned, ate the chicken, then turned back towards the man, who was now far enough away to No Longer Be Considered a Threat.

To be fair, this is one of several big victories for Spencer this week. But that, as Hammy Hamster always said, is another


13 thoughts on “10/10 on a difficult course!

    1. Kristen Sukalac Post author

      Thanks, Laura. We’ve been working hard. AS soon as I get a chance to write it up, you’ll get to hear about Spencer’s newest activity: mantrailing. Basically, it’s teaching him to track people like bloodhounds in police films. This is supposed to help him learn to be less afraid of unknown people,and based on his first session on Thursday, it seems promising. He had a great time and we could see him relaxing towards the trainer as he started to figure out she was making all this fun happen.

  1. Lindsay

    I have only recently discovered your blog and while I haven’t yet “caught up” on all of your work with Spencer, I must commend you on this recent success!! All of your hard work is paying off and it gives me hope in working with my own fearful dog. Thank you for sharing your journey with Spencer; I greatly look forward to diving in and reading your story from the beginning as soon as I can.

      1. Lindsay

        My fearful dog, Red, is a German Shepherd mix of some kind. He is approximately 3 years old and I found him outside of my office just over 2 years ago. He has made great strides and we train in Rally and Nose Work, but I really need to buckle down and work with him in the real world, not just at our wonderful training facility.

  2. Kristen Sukalac Post author

    The real world is hard because you have to deal with trigger stacking and you can’t control the environment. Key breakthroughs for us included 1) using the car as a safe space in which to do sensitization to busy urban areas (which creates the added benefit that the car becomes a mobile safe space), 2) going to parks with wide open spaces and giving him LOTS of distance from which to observe things, and 3) always having loads of chicken and other yummy treats with us when walking and using that to first desensitize him to things in the street and then reward him for making smart choices. You need to see the real world as an onion; you’ll have to peel back the fear layer by layer, so in the beginning, it seems like it will never end because just when he stops reacting to one thing, he’ll shift to another. Be patient and take it one thing at a time. Good luck to you and Red. We’d love to hear how things progress.

    1. Lindsay

      Thank you so much for your response, Kristen. I envy your use of the car as a safe space and hope to get to that point with some work (the mobility of Spencer’s safe space is very handy!!). My boy gets very excitable in the car because you never know what’s going to be just on the other side of that window! Red has very generalized anxiety and trigger stacking is a large issue for us; it is difficult to pinpoint what specifically he is nervous about to work on one thing at a time because he is anxious about, well, everything at once! I like your onion analogy – it is very fitting to our progress thus far; I’m excited for that next layer to emerge!!

    1. Lindsay

      Thank you again!! I plan to immerse myself in your blog this weekend and will be taking careful notes. Past Spencer and Red do seem similar in their anxiety levels! One difference is that Red’s reactivity doesn’t culminate in aggression (instead, he has a strong flight instinct), but the reason for his reaction is still the same: fear.

      I commend you not only for your work with Spencer, but also for sharing your journey. I am sure your accounts have helped countless people (and their pups) – you show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it just takes time, hard work, and consistency!

    1. Red

      He’s doing well, thanks for asking! He’s somehow decided that people are awesome if it’s just one, they don’t approach in a scary way, and we’re at our training facility. It’s a new development that’s quite interesting. He is still wary outside of our training place, but is doing well with more time and consistency.

      I’m so glad to read your post about Maintrailing (and loved your Halloween post!!). Spencer is a great guy and is very lucky to have you! I am SO happy you found a fun activity for him. Can’t wait to hear more of his Maintrailing adventures!!

      1. Kristen Sukalac Post author

        That’s wonderful news! I’m so glad to hear that he’s starting to like people. It brings us such joy when our canines start to feel at ease in this scary world.

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