More new friends! Yesterday we met Sherlock — an adorable but reactive nine-month-old border collie — and his people, Noemi and Frank. They are also students of Irène’s. Having a reactive dog can be a socially isolating experience, so it’s nice when it occasionally is a way to meet people.
Noemi and I had already agreed to help each other with dog training — sometimes the hardest bit is finding a decoy to stand there while you teach the dog not to react. And given Spencer’s recent mishap, I asked if we could benefit from the exchange first.
Noemi and Greg stood in the middle of a circle while Spencer and I walked around and stopped at “decision points” where he was supposed to gather information about the stranger and then politely disengage (this is from Grisha Stewart’s Behavior Adjustment Training technique for anyone interested in the technicalities). He tried to half-heartedly charge a couple of times in the beginning, but he very quickly calmed down and started to do really well. He sniffed all around, looked at Noemi occasionally and sniffed in her direction, but didn’t charge again, even though we gradually moved closer and closer. We ended the session when we were about 3-4 metres away (best to end on a good note rather than pushing the dog too far in the first session).
While we were working, Frank and Sherlock were walking around. At the end of the session, Noemi went back to Sherlock and released him, while I put Spencer on his long lead so the two dogs could play together. They romped rowdily until Spencer had had enough. They both like a very rough form of play that involves lots of running, wrestling and trying to “mount” one another (a common ritual game to express domination). Sherlock is much smaller than Spencer, so it was very cute when Spencer very clearly intentionally lowered his head and let Sherlock “mount” him. It was a clear non-aggression signal and one that required a lot of gentleness on his part.
Afterwards, we leashed the dogs and walked back to the cars together. Spencer pulled a lot because Sherlock was in front, and he clearly wanted to be up with his friend, but until he’s comfortable with Frank and Noemi being nearby, we can’t do that.
The walk back was interesting.
First, since Spencer had played hard, he was much more restrained in his hellos to other dogs. This tiny little ball of (fearless) white fluff came up to him, and that went very well. He was also very gentle with a shy whippet that weighed maybe as much as his head. (Strange dogs. To me they look like too skinny to have internal organs.)
Second, Sherlock is very nervous when bikes or runners go by. He jumps on his leash, barking and trying to chase them away. We’ve worked really hard over months and months with Spencer to teach him to step aside and let others go by. We’re not used to being pointed out as the “good students”, so it was kind of nice to hear comments on how obedient Spencer was. Two women stopped right across from us (and only 2 metres or less away) to comment on how handsome he is. It’s not an easy task to convince people that they really need to move on and stop staring at your reactive dog when he’s sitting there all docile being an angel.
We got back to the car, put Spencer in and stood talking to Sherlock and his family for a while. Spencer continued to be angelic, even when people walked right by the car.
All in all, it was a good day for everyone. We hope to see Sherlock and his people again soon…and next time we’ll remember to take pictures!