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November 16, 2007

I’m feeling fairly overwhelmed by all the things I should be training Lilly to do as part of our new behavior modification plan. Each little shaping event only takes a few minutes, but it feels like a lot some days. This week, I tried a new coping strategy, where I only try to do 1-2 things other than the Relaxation Protocol. Here’s how things went.

At Class
At Sunday’s drop-in class with Gigi, I used the same settle-in strategy as last week, where Lilly’s mat made for a small safe haven. For those who may be wondering, this class is done in a public setting, and we often move from spot to spot near the dog park, so setting up a crate isn’t an option. That means Lilly’s mat must suffice.

She did really well on her mat outside the fenced training field while the other dogs played and worked a bit. When it came time to do distance stays, I brought her inside the field and placed her on her mat between Lucca (one of the German Shepherds we trust) and another newer dog who does pop up but seems to have a strong call-off and recall.

I could tell that Lilly was a bit nervous, but she stayed and worked. I gave near constant feedback from a distance, and I returned many times to give her food too. I enjoyed watching her use LOOK, without me cueing it. She kept looking at Lucca and then at me like, “Hey, did you see me look?”

We worked on STAY for quite a while, and when we were done, Gigi asked me to recall Lilly first so that we could leave the training area while the other dogs did their recalls and then played. So, I moved far away from Lilly toward the gate and called her, cheering her in. Then, I leashed her up so that we could leave the fenced area.

She did great in her recall, even though a very new dog (not sure his breed mix) got very excited by my cheering and popped up as Lilly passed.

Then, we did some OFF-TRAIL work so that the dogs could practice making way for walkers, bikers and such. Lilly did great, even with bikes whizzing by. This included a couple of small boys, who made all sorts of noise as they passed on their tiny bikes. Lilly looked at them and clearly didn’t like it, but she did not react. She just looked at them and then at me.

She did get uncomfortable and bark, just once, at some kids on the playground behind her during one exercise. So, I moved her across the path, where she could see the kids, rather than have them behind her.

We did some hand-target heeling near a flock of geese. That didn’t go so well. Lilly was very unfocused, but I think it was just interested sniffing, rather than displacement or nervous sniffing.

Relaxation Protocol Work
We finished our first 15-day round of the protocol yesterday. I chose to begin in my office since Lilly spends so much time with me in my home-office and since we do a lot of shaping work in here. As I said yesterday, if you had asked me on day 5, I would have said I thought the protocol was working. But, if you asked me now, my answer might be “no.”

Lilly adjusted from a sit to a down for the protocol within the first couple of sessions. So, that’s a victory, but she has not progressed to anything more since. Sometimes for the exercises where I’m supposed to be out of sight, I climb in my closet, which has louvered doors. So, I can see her. And, during the longer stays when I’m “gone,” her eyes do get heavy. So that’s something.

But, she has yet to put her head on her paws or flop out on her side. Her down is a nice tipped hip, relaxed down … not what people call a sphinx down, where dogs look ready to pop up. But, to get anything else, I’m going to have to shape that separately.

Lilly had trouble with the solo or double hand claps at first, but she has no trouble with continuous clapping since I clap so much for her when she does well in agility or after doing tricks.

So, all in all, we were doing well until I started talking while out of sight. She doesn’t react to “Hello,” but I don’t really say that all that much in regular life. So, I changed it to “Hey, there” and all hell broke loose. Even with Ginko in another room, he heard me and started barking, which caused Lilly to pop up and pop up and pop up. I finally had to stick Ginko in the basement, where he still barked, but it was muffled. I lowered my voice a ton, and only then, could Lilly keep her stay. We got through it, but I was very discouraged.

My office is not near the doorbell, so I’ve been using a regular bell as my doorbell noise for this round. I’m almost afraid to try the doorbell since that will also get Ginko going, which won’t help at all. He also barks when I knock on the wall or door. I don’t even want to get into working on his issues, so we’ll just have to crate him in the basement and turn on the TV down there so he can’t hear quite so well.

Other Shaping
I started working more specifically on blinking this week. I’m still having trouble with blinking being combined with lip licking, which as I’ve mentioned is something Lilly already does on command. So, I’m trying to be VERY patient and wait for just blinking. I click what I can, but she’s not really offering it yet.

I’m also working on a collar grab that we’re calling GOTCHA. Typically, Lilly gets sheepish or defensive/submissive if you try to grab her, so I’m having to reframe that. I don’t think she thinks it’s particularly funny yet, but she likes the treats that come with it.

I tried doing a little of the method Leslie McDevitt calls “Give me a Break,” but I’m not sure I’m doing it right, so I may put that off for a while.

Maybe it’s the change of seasons. Maybe it’s the holiday pressures looming. Maybe it’s my many work deadlines, but I’m feeling really tired with training this week. I know that once I can make sense of each new thing — both for myself and for Lilly — the actually training part goes pretty fast. But, figuring it out before that is depleting me right now.

If you have any ideas on keeping up your energy and commitment, I’d love to hear them.

Have a nice weekend.

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. Someone posted a video of their dog doing the protocol on YouTube. I only watched part of it, but the dog looked relaxed to me. It seems that people on the Controlled Unleashed yahoo group are seeing results. And, surely, it wouldn’t be in these books, if it didn’t work in some cases. Right? Relatively speaking, Lilly looks relaxed, but in that BC way that says, I’m still watching everything you do.

    Like I said, I’m training the sleepy eyes and the lowered chin separately in hopes she’ll start throwing them in the mix.

    Today (Monday 11/19), we’re on day 3 in our second location (the entryway, near the front door). I anticipate we’ll be fine until the door bell stuff in the coming days.

  2. Sometimes training for something feels like a never ending slog. Setting short terms goals can help get you through but sometimes you simply need to gut it out.

    I became too easily discouraged with the Relaxation Protocol lo the many years ago when I tried it with Cody because he absolutely refused to relax. I never gave it enough of a chance though, partly because I don’t think I ever had such a detailed description of it. Somehow the info. I had was more general and vague, there certainly wasn’t a 15 day program spelled out in detail. It’ll be interesting to see if it makes a difference for Lilly. Have you heard of anybody having success with it? Maybe I’ll experiment with Strummer.

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