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Weekly Training Update (June 26)

Last Saturday, we met with Jennie (our behaviorist) for a follow-up consult. We first saw her in summer 2008. I had hoped to check in earlier this year, but time and financial constraints made that impossible. So, we spent a year doing the behavior modification work that many people do in 2-3 months. We’re working on a new plan to take Lilly’s training to the next level — with an eye toward returning to agility training (and maybe possibly competing, even though we’d be the oldest novice team in history). I’ll be reporting on the various details in the coming days and weeks. But, here is the overview.

How Lilly Handled the Consult
Lilly did a great job at an unfamiliar location. When we first arrived, I sat on my tailgate and fed her chicken through the crate door for about 15 minutes as she settled in.

Lilly did bark when our host first called for us to come in, but once Lilly got out of the car, she was fine and approached the gate pretty well.

Lilly greeted our host nicely, including what we call STRETCH, where she stands on her hind legs and reaches up with her paws against you to take treats. With a different kind of dog, clearly, this is a behavior we would NOT reward, but for Lilly it can be a sign of confidence.

And, since people often hold their hands near their chest when they greet her, that’s a physical cue for her STRETCH behavior … where she gets treats up high. For people who are willing, it’s always a nice experience for Lilly to see that other people speak the same training language.

Lilly did seem a little nervous when she heard dogs barking as we came inside, but once in our secluded room, she was fine. She did show a few attention-seeking behaviors with me, even kissing and nibbling on me, but once she realized Jennie had treats too, she became her look-at-how-polite-I-am self, using her laser focus on Jennie’s pocket to will the treats out.

Jennie quietly fed Lilly treats for any calm, relaxed behavior, including a solid DOWN, a floppy head, blinky eyes, etc.

Eventually, Lilly gave up on us both and complete sacked out like a Puppy Horse (flat on her side) for the rest of the consult.

All told we spent just over 2 hours talking about how Lilly is doing and devising a plan for the coming months.

To address continuing sound sensitivity and other anxiety, we’ll experiment with increasing Lilly’s dose of alprazolam (aka zanax) from .5 mg twice a day to .75 mg or even 1.0 mg twice per day. We’ll keep her clomipramine at 75 mg twice a day.

New Attention-Seeking Behaviors
I’m going to try removing Ginko from the equation when Lilly tries to sucker him into the get-mom’s-attention game. As you may recall, the last time I tried that it resulted in Lilly still crying in the hall and Ginko barking in my office. BUT, we’re going to try again.

Resource Guarding
I’m going to work hard to remove myself from the scenario when Lilly guards me from Ginko (or other dogs). Ideally, we can get Tom to do the same thing, but he actually thinks it’s funny and/or cute when Lilly “protects” him. So, I can do what I can do, and if Lilly continues to play this “game” with Tom, then so be it.

Protecting Lilly from Other Dogs
We’re less worried now about Lilly’s interactions with other dogs (that we know), but Jennie suggests I carry (and use) that citronella (or stronger) spray to protect Lilly from off-leash dogs (strangers). I’ve gotten lax about carrying it. If Lilly shows polite interest in other dogs that we know, like she did with Lucky last week, we might let her interact with them … unless snarky behaviors crop up.

Transition Times
I tend to let Lilly to walk around and sniff around when we arrive at class, but Jennie thinks this allows Lilly to amp up in worry, which as we’ve seen in recent classes … can result in her shutdown behavior (laying down and refusing to move). To prevent this from happening, we’re going to re-train pieces of the arrival scenario in a bunch of new locations so that Lilly can practice getting out of the car and going into semi-work mode in potentially scary places.

I have a new understanding of how to use our prior Relaxation Protocol work in new ways to “reset” Lilly’s worry level again and again and again so that we don’t top the rollercoaster hill and end up going for an emotional and physiological ride. (I’ll try to create a graphic that shows this better next week.)

While it’s nice that Lilly functions better, despite her fears, I really need to focus in the coming months on preventing even mild fear manifestations from taking hold. So, again, we’ll be doing a LOT of classical conditioning.

Plateau or Not?
I’m not sure how I ended up thinking that we’d reached our pinnacle of progress, or at least a plateau. Maybe it’s because I all but gave up on our agility dream about six months ago.

But, Jennie has a fresh perspective. Her point? Look how much progress Lilly has made in the last year. Who is to say she won’t make an equal amount of improvement in the next year?

So, if the transition training goes well and Lilly starts doing better consistently at the pet dog class — no matter the location or what other dogs are there, then we’ll pick up some private agility lessons (then maybe some groups) and see what happens.

We might just have an agility career yet. How funny would that be?

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.

Mary - June 27, 2009

Looking forward to hearing about agility work when the time comes. I applaud how much time and effort you put into learning as much as possible about what’s going on with Lilly and working to give her a happy, healthy life.

Sam - June 26, 2009

I am rooting for you and Lilly more than you can imagine. Sounds like you had a very productive visit with Jennie. I look forward to hearing about whatever the future holds for you guys, good or bad.. but I have a feeling it’s going to be good.

Dog-geek - June 26, 2009

Sounds like a good plan. And trust me, Lilly would NOT be the oldest novice dog, or even an unusually old novice dog. I know plenty of people who started agility with older, or even senior dogs. Several of my students began their agility careers in the veterans division! It sounds like it was a productive consult!

Betty - June 26, 2009

I think all you’ve done with Lilly and her obvious improvement are wonderful. I look forward to agility pictures in the future…maybe not near future; but, at least, future.

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