The past day has been happy, and I just want to share. Yesterday afternoon, we met Soca and Anne-Claire for a walk in the woods. Spencer and I were there early enough that he was already on his long lead by the time Soca showed up, so they could play together from the get-go without Spencer being frustrated by being on a leash. They played really hard, running all over like maniacs, jumping in muddy ponds and playing chase behind trees. Spencer let Anne-Claire feed him cheese twice during the walk. And he was really good with other people and dogs going by. The only sour note of the whole afternoon (which was sunny and unseasonably warm) was while we were waiting and some horses went by, setting Spencer into a frenzy, even though they were at what used to be a safe distance. Soca wore Spencer out so much that he’s been sleeping most of the day. I figured the fact he was so calm would be useful because he had a vet’s appointment for his annual check-up and a vaccine. I left early enough to take him around the park first. There were a zillion people since it was a late Friday afternoon with the gorgeous weather I mentioned earlier. It was particularly crowded because they’re doing some major construction (uncanalizing the underground river) and most of the park is actually closed. Spencer navigated it all really well and then we reached a small open lawn in the middle. We had to cross the lawn, which was a challenge since there were people pretty much everywhere, and in the middle was a very small dog that caught Spencer’s attention. He stopped, which had me slightly worried since there was a family coming up behind us with some kids on kick-scooters. But then he did something that completely surprised me. He sat down to watch the small dog and then very deliberately laid down. These are calming signals that dogs use to communicate non-threatening intentions. The little dog came over, there was some sniffing, and then they started to play chase, which was a challenge since Spencer was on a short leash and there were still loads of people around. The small dog kept being a little coy, but Spencer kept sitting and laying down. I was so proud of him because he usually can’t control his excitement well enough to perform calming signals. Finally, the little dog left, and I was able to convince Spencer to head toward the vet’s office. Once there, he was great. He got right up on the scale on command and sat there immobile while I weighed him. While he was nervous in the waiting room, he did a good job containing it, even though lots of people came in. When the vet finally came to get us, he walked right past a complete stranger. And then he was quite calm around the vet, letting her examine him, and he didn’t even flinch when she gave him his shot. Getting out of there was a challenge because the door is right next to the reception desk, and loads of people were coming in. But Spencer was great. I asked him to step behind the door, sit and let people go by. The only tiny, wee slip-up was when we left. He burst out the door, totally frustrated by how long it took us to finish at the reception, and there was a woman practically right in front of him. He barked at her, but it was really just frustration because as soon as I steered him around her, he totally forgot her, and then he paid no attention to the other two women right behind her.
Major event! Spencer seems to have totally accepted Anne-Claire into his circle of confidence! Continue reading
Yesterday, Sherlock and his family came over for lunch. It was a lovely day (despite the bad weather forecast), and both dogs did really well. Sherlock made himself right at home: jumping on all the toys laying around the yard and bringing them under the table.
We decided to keep the dogs separated to keep the stress levels low. It seemed to work. Continue reading
Regular readers will know that we have an adorable friend named Soca. I don’t know if she’s 100% Labrador, but she is definitely a retriever. Soca loves water. She’ll sit in a ditch for the sheer joy of it. I’ve seen her do it.
This makes her a bit of an odd couple with Spencer who is basically afraid of water. Continue reading
As any of our dedicated readers have seen, we do our best to stay out of trouble. We avoid situations that look like they have unfavorable outcomes and have worked really hard to get Spencer to the point where he sees someone come around a corner or towards him and veers away. (He did that twice this morning before I even saw the person come around the corner!)
So it is very frustrating when people and events seem to conspire against us. However, I have noticed that a common denominator in many of these cases is that people have much less control over their dogs than they think they do. Continue reading
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.