December 15, 2014 by Julia
For the past several weeks, Dash has been part of a group behavior modification class at his favorite place, Finish Forward Dogs. All the teams have completed foundation work in individual sessions. The group class allows the figurative rubber to meet the road as we work our dogs through their challenges around other dogs with similar issues. Sure, you can do condition relaxation, but can you do it with another reactive dog visible a safe distance away?
The first class focused on stationary work with conditioned relaxation and went very well. With my help, Dash was able to get easy quickly and stay easy through modest distractions. His reactions were primarily a chain-reaction when another class dog reacted.
The second class had a lot more motion in it, which is exactly the kind of practice we need. That is also why we struggled. Or at least I struggled. Dash might have thought it was kind of fun. One of the trainers likened Dash to a pot that is boiling over. He’s excited and as soon as I clamp the cover over one spot, he’d bubble over in another direction. He didn’t fixate on one dog, just whatever exciting thing was in front of him. Every time I moved away from the current dog or person, he’d find the new closest target for his excitement. I was playing reactivity whack-a-mole. I’ve had years of practicing seizing up on the leash when Dash has reacted and it was very difficult to break out of that muscle memory to use a different, better method of leash handling. Understanding the method and remembering it in the moment felt leagues apart.
The third class was a really, really hard. I’m not sure what was different for him but Dash was struggling before we even moved. He was on edge, fixating on one dog, and repeatedly blowing up. Even though I’m in a behavior modification class, it is still unnerving to have the asshole dog in the group. I had to try several new things to get him under control, which meant more fumbling and more awkwardness. By the end of class, we were both emotionally drained and ready for a quiet night at home.
BMOD is hard but rewarding. The nature of the work forces me to get over the awkwardness quickly. It’s there, but it can’t dominate my attention. My normal internal chatter and self-consciousness have to take a backseat. Right now, having a hard time in class is exactly what we need for our training. The harder the class, the more opportunities to learn tough lessons. When we come out from the other side, we’ve both come away with something valuable. I’ve learned that we can come out on the other side. Dash has learned more about managing his own excitement and emotions. We are making strides forward. Some steps are bigger than others, but each one moves us closer to our goal.