Click here to read Part 1, Kira Goes to Fearful Fido Class!
Week 2: We had to miss class because I made Kira sick by feeding her too many hot dogs while training. She adores hot dogs and they were working so well….but she ended up being sick for several days. I felt so terrible!! (We are now using boiled chicken and crumbled Natural Balance food rolls.) During the week we practiced “targeting” exercises every day. She learned hand targeting quickly and thinks it’s a very fun game to play! She touches my hand with her nose and looks for her treat. With some practice she’s learned to move forward a few steps to touch my hand and also to touch my hand held over her head, which is scary for her. We are also working on targeting objects.
Week 3: We are both learning so much! Kira was so ready for this class. I am learning that after living with her for so long and seeing so many subtle changes, I don’t always have a good ability to step back and see her for where she is right now, today. I have noticed her resilience increase over time, but until this class I don’t think I realized how much more secure she is. It has been wonderful and a humbling experience to see her exceed my expectations of what she is capable of.
When we arrived for class this week we had to wait in the hall before entering the training room and there were dogs and people walking around us. Kira looked around nervously and then climbed up on the bench and squeezed in to sit beside me! It was funny to see her sitting on a bench.
One of the things that we work on in class is increasing her comfort with other people. She is afraid of being approached by people. In class, the trainers walk by her at a distance and talk to her while tossing treats. They come a bit closer each class. She has noticed that they haven’t tried to touch her and she watches them with interest and looks for the treats! The trainers are great at reading her body language and increasing distance when they need to.
We have also been working on leash walking and I have learned how to use the hand targeting that we have been practicing to help Kira focus and stay beside me on leash. She is the most detail oriented dog I’ve ever known and the same mind that allows her to scan a room and notice within 2-3 seconds if one single thing is out of place, is also at work in training, which means she is exquisitely sensitive to my body postures and every tiny movement I make. That is both good and bad. She learns quickly, but also notices all of my mistakes, botched cues, and bad timing!
At the end of class we worked on having the dogs go to a mat/blanket and sit or lay down. I have never been able to get Kira to sit consistently. Luring her into position just doesn’t work and either confuses or frightens her and she rarely sits on her own, usually preferring to lie down. I was explaining this to the trainers when, lo and behold, she sat down!!! I could not believe it!! (Is she channeling Lassie? Does she secretly understand every word I say?!!)
One of the coolest things is that when we got home from class this week, Kira didn’t run straight to her crate and hide. She pranced around, wagging her tail and greeting the other dogs. SHE, Kira, had gone on an OUTING!! And all the other dogs had to stay home! The other dogs were appropriately jealous and sniffed her thoroughly. She was quite pleased.
Week 4: Since I’ve announced to everyone that Kira never sits – she sits ALL THE TIME in class….virtually every time we return to our area, she immediately sits on her mat right in front of me! I suspect she is doing it to make me look foolish. (“Of course I CAN sit!! Why would you tell these people that I can’t sit?!”) Anyway, I’ll take it!!
During this week’s class we walked around the room and she touched various objects – a vacuum cleaner, a standing Halloween scarecrow decoration, and some other things. The dogs learn this by hand targeting near the object and then gradually getting closer, until they touch it. When Kira looks around the room she gets nervous and afraid, but as long as she is “working” and can focus on a task, she does pretty well.
The trainer told us in the orientation session that one of the goals was to give the dogs tasks to keep their minds busy so that they wouldn’t be focused on fear. I honestly just could not envision how that would look with Kira. I thought it would be a miracle if she could just get used to relaxing in the room, but I couldn’t imagine her actually working on tasks in an unfamiliar environment. That is exactly what she does and it immediately, noticeably relaxes her to have a task to focus on!
During this class we also rotated around the room and spent a few minutes sitting in other areas. Kira was pretty nervous and was clearly relieved once she was back to her own area of the room. Its amazing how sensitive she is to her immediate environment and to changes in it. Even an area she has only spent an hour in becomes familiar, and therefore safer, to her.
Towards the end of class she was able to touch the hands of two trainers who approached her! This was a very, very big deal for Kira because she is very nervous about people approaching her. I was incredibly proud of her!!
During the week, between classes, we work on our “homework.” She gets excited when she sees the treat pouch and is very engaged with the tasks. It’s wonderful to see her concentrating hard and so focused on learning. We work on hand targeting, object targeting and leash walking. We practice both inside and outside, standing and sitting, and in different parts of the room. She has learned to lay down on a mat at home. (She still rarely sits at home…she saves that for class when she is showing off…) Working outside is hardest for her. Sometimes she does ok, but other times she gets overwhelmed, goes under the steps and lays down, and refuses to come back out, even for chicken. When we go back inside the house she is happy to resume training.
With each class, I am amazed by Kira’s progress and by the skill of the trainers who are able to suggest seemingly simple adjustments that make all the difference!
It is terribly sad that there is a need for a whole class devoted to fearful dogs, but I am thankful that there are people who come and thankful for the trainers who invest so much time, energy, and passion into teaching us how to help our dogs. In a “disposable society” the people in these classes have not given up on their dogs. It’s good to be part of a group of people who are so committed to helping their dogs overcome their fears and live richer lives.
Click here to read Graduation Day!
NEXT POST: Graduation Day!