Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Day of Challenges

We don't have CGC class this week, but everyday presents chances for training. This morning, when Kona and I arrived at the start of our ridge hike, a car with three teenage boys parked in front of us. I figured I had two options. Wait for the group to move up the trail, or bolt out of the car quickly to get in front of them. We bolted.

As we moved a few yards closer to the trail, the guys popped out of their car. Kona took note. We moved a little faster in the direction of the trailhead and right into the line of a charging Sheltie. We were surrounded.

We meet The Sheltie often, so I knew she wouldn't cause harm, only hackle raising from Kona. The Sheltie moved past us, towards the street, and out of sight. Unfortunately, while we were distracted my the charging pooch, the guys gained on us. Then, Kona stopped to sniff her favorite sniffing spot. A few feet onto the trail, she stopped to sniff again.

Until she saw the black lab running like a junior higher on Redbull.

Kona hauled like a Bernese, showing the effectiveness of her no-pull harness. Nothing mattered anymore. The guys no longer existed. The noise of the freeway went silent. Oh, the power of a labrador. When we reached sighting range for the lab, the big guy paused, reared, and charged. Oh my.

He proved himself the stereotyped lab-enthused, energized, crazed, and sweeter than something you'd buy for fifty cents at the icecream truck. Kona offered her rear for sniffing and off the big guy went. Then he came back for another round. This time, Kona lunged as he swooped by, trying to catch him with her mouth. Hm, maybe not so good. Then, he turned around and he and Kona trotted side by side for a few moments/seconds.

I have to give Kona credit. She often makes me nervous when she meets other dogs because if they make her uncomfortable, she'll let them know it. She'll also hold her ground when another canine isn't being too nice. But, she does all of this with a good deal of control. She could have lunged with aggression when the lab came at her a second time, but her pounce was a, "I kind of want to play with you, but dude, you've got to calm down a bit." The point seemed to be taken.

With all the distractions, our hike ended before I knew it. We were headed back home where three painters had taken over the house. Kona didn't know this yet.

When we got to the doorstep, Kona knew immediately that someone was in her house. I needed to get her inside, so I kept her leashed and hoped she wouldn't bark like she intended to eat someone. Thankfully, only one painter was in the house and Kona peered at her from down the hallway, approached with caution, and backed away before she got within reaching distance. Kona didn't make a sound. The rest of the afternoon came with a few growls, but by the end of the painter's day, Kona was in her bed and didn't get up when they walked to the front door to leave.

Looking at today, Kona had a nervous response to everything, but her reactions were milder than I expected. While she still has generalized fears (with specific big triggers), it's encouraging to watch her reactions move from scared to nervous and even down to just cautious. The work will never finish, but it's important to watch the progress along the way!

Kona shows off her dew freckles after her hike. (The noise of a trash truck flattened her ears as I took the picture...)


Sam said...

Yeah, that hang back or run up ahead conflict sounds familiar. We had that "surrounded" feeling on our walk the other day.. and, since there's snow just about everywhere, it makes it much harder to avoid everything and we wind up having to choose our battles, basically.

Sara said...

Kona sounds like she does just the right thing with other dogs. She sends them signals about how she's feeling, and the other dogs respond. That's great. Knowing how to "speak dog" will really help her feel comfortable in the world.

She stayed in her bed when painters left the house? Wow! Impressive.

Glad you were able to see signs of progress today.

KB said...

Sounds like she handled that whole scene at the start of your hike A-OK. Not perfectly, but pretty well.

I don't know Kona like you do but my dog (K) occasionally shows some teeth, snarls, or even air snaps when she doesn't like the behavior of another dog who's coming on way too strong. Because she's never in her life gone an inch beyond that point and her messages seem to be well-received by the other dogs, I've decided not to worry about it. I do try to avoid situations that will bring out her snarky side because I don't want it to be reinforced (i.e., she learns that snarling makes the scary dog go away so she does it even more often).

I've also noticed, and this may be completely untrue for Kona, that if I bolt (e.g., hustle down a side trail to avoid a dog that I know that my dogs are afraid of), my dogs seem like they read fear into my behavior. Whatever their thought process, the interaction is less likely to be good than if I move slowly and act like something is no big deal.

Now, these are techniques that I've tried only with my labs over the years. So, please don't take it as the words of a 'know-it-all'. You know Kona way better than I do... so you certainly know what's best.