Even though I haven’t been doing much organized training with Luke lately, our week of staycation gave me a lot of opportunities to work with him on his fear of strangers. Between contractors, cleaning help, and company for the weekend around, we got lots of work in and even though they were small steps, I feel really good about the progress we’ve made.
While I still mostly keep Luke separated from anyone around the house, I try to keep him within sight of them if I can as well. Since I’m often busy interacting with these people, I don’t always use treats as a reward but mostly praise. Summer and two screen doors to our main living area really make it easy. If someone arrives at the house, I can put Luke outside on either the patio or the deck where he can see the people coming in from a safe distance.
There was a time when he would bark endlessly at them. Now he will bark a little bit and then stop. We’ll often tell him to “leave it” or just say “enough” or “it’s OK” in normal tones of voice, but often he’ll stop barking on his own anyway. He might start up again if the people make sudden large movements or talk loudly, but for the most part he’ll just lie down outside the door and watch.
I also sometimes put him in our bedroom, and what helps there is our enclosed entryway. Our contractors and family/friends know that they can step into the entryway, but then they will wait until I get Luke corralled before they come in the next door. Luke is actually getting so good at this, that all I do is motion to the bedroom and he will run right down there where he’ll wait for me to come close the door, and then let him out as soon as I can.
The big test was going to be when we had 20+ people at the house for a BBQ. Most of the time I had him enclosed in our bedroom, along with his sisters and the fan on to drown out noise, especially as people were arriving. Even Cricket will bark at people arriving so that sets Luke off too. The nice thing about the set-up of our house is that I can take them directly from the bedroom into our small dog pen, a separate area from the rest of the fenced in yard. I had to do that a few times when showing the house to some of the guests.
From there, they could see everyone on the patio. I asked our company to please not approach the pen or try to interact with Luke in any way, and everyone was very understanding. I’m happy to say that the times I brought Luke, with or without his sisters, into that area he would only bark a few times.
I let the girls out to visit with our company, and my sister (who is our house-sitter as well – Luke loves her) and I gave Luke some attention out in the small pen. The girls were playing ball, and we were starting to serve dinner so I wanted to put them back inside (so there would be no begging for food). I had my friend’s son who was playing with the girls toss the ball into Luke and that made him happy, and he did not react at all to Alex coming closer to the pen to do so.
Later in the evening, as most people left, it was just my hubby and I, my sister and her boyfriend, and my friend who was our overnight guest, left. I decided to bring the girls out and I put Luke on a leash and brought him as well. Everyone was sitting down and I was able to walk him past them on the leash and bring him to the couch with my sister and I. He did not even bark or react once! He was a little fidgety though (they hadn’t had their supper yet so that was understandable!); and when he didn’t want to stay with me and seemed a bit nervous I put him back outside. I knew they would be getting up to leave soon too, and didn’t want to push it. It’s one thing when people are sitting still, but sometimes when they move it might set him off.
The next morning, I brought him out on leash again before my friend left. He did bark at her when her first saw her but he quickly stopped. We also had him show her some of his tricks (the ones he could do while on a leash). People had suggested to me that having him do tricks might relax him some and I think it helped.
In fact, I used that theory again last week. Before I get to that, I just want to express how thrilled we are with how Luke did! It’s tough to take it slow sometimes but I think that has been key to our success here. As time goes on, I learn more and more about training, and also about what works for Luke to help him the most.
I mentioned in our Staycation Part 2 post last week that a cement truck in our yard had scared Luke and now all trucks in the yard are scaring him. We still have a lot of construction to do at our house, so I need to nip this in the bud if I can. I didn’t realize how much it had upset him until I got home from work on Monday and found someone had gotten sick. The cement truck had been back that day. I suspected it was Luke (everyone was fine when I got home) and because of the truck, and that was confirmed the next day when a delivery truck arrived and he started to shake.
At first I just sat with him to comfort him. I don’t go overboard with coddling him, but just have him lie down and talk to him in a normal voice while petting him, reassuring him that it’s OK. But I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. I also took him in the kitchen and had him sit and gave him and his sisters some treats. That truck wasn’t around long; but when another one arrived another day, this time I took him right into the kitchen, opened all the cabinets and drawers and had him close them all! Then we went through high fives and all tens and I gave lots of treats (I use a jar of kibble that I keep handy for this).
I think that helped a lot; and I hope it will help in the long run. Trucks never bothered him before other than initial barking; I just hate that he’s afraid. I may have to come up with other ideas for trucks that stay longer though.
One last bit of news: I signed up for the Beginning Nose Work class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy! This is an on-line course that we can do at our own pace, and I think it will work perfectly for us. Luke will be my focus but I hope to try it with the girls a little bit too. We’ve done nose work games in the past and both Luke and Cricket loved it. Sheba wasn’t thrilled about all the boxes so we’ll see with her. I’m really excited about it and I’m ready to buckle down and get back to some regular training. This is hopefully going to be another great way to build Luke’s confidence. Stay tuned – we’ll be reporting on it!
We are joining the Positive Pet Reinforcement hop this week. It begins on the first Monday of every month and runs all week long. The hop is hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier, and Rubicon Days. Please visit them as well as other blogs through the links below for more positive pet training tips.