We had our follow-up appointment with the behaviorist on Tuesday. Good stuff.
The follow-up appointments are one-part talking about what’s been going on and improving, and two parts really focused private dog-traning class. Today we did mat work and leash walking.
The mat work was hilarious. Silas had only been in the room a few minutes when we started, so he really wasn’t inclined to settle down. I’d get him to relax, then he would pop back up. Relax, pop-up. Repeat. The behaviorist warned me to be extremely careful with that behavior–a smart dog like Silas, she cautioned, will learn that leaving the mat, then coming back, is a quicker way to get a cookie than hanging out on the mat while you count to five. So, when he comes back, you have to make sure to wait the same amount of time you were going to wait anyway.
The leash walking was probably the most effective training session I’ve ever done. We were walking along the side of the building, away from the road but at the edge of the parking lot. Parking lots are hard for him, but not as impossible as the road. We’ve worked up now where he doesn’t have to sprint through them at top speed just to leave the park. Silas was being himself and wouldn’t eat. I got his frisbee, and he wouldn’t look at it. Everyone I’ve ever worked with has thrown up their hands at this point. “Well, he’ll get better. Just keep at it.” The behaviorist told me to pet him for being good, but he wasn’t really that aware of what I was trying to do. So finally she told me to just crouch down next to him on the sidewalk, make him a little “safety cocoon” up against my body and pet him for a five or ten seconds. A reward that he loved, and that made him actively feel better. A few repetitions of that, and he was not only walking better, but he was also comfortable enough to take the much-easier-on-the-knees cookies.
As a side note, I know most people don’t need a veterinary behaviorist to teach their dog how to walk on a leash. Honestly, neither do I. In a familiar environment, Silas is pretty good on-leash. His first instinct in a moment of panic, though, is to bolt. He is strong. He pulled my mother, who is not a small person, off her feet one day. There are times that I only keep him from getting away because I can run with him until I get him back under control. We’re trying to teach him that walking with me is the safest thing and that I will turn him away from anything bad.
As for the other stuff–apparently not barking when their owners are away is extremely common with dogs like Silas. She blames it on general dog-ness and a reward history (probably unconscious) on behalf of the owner. She was hopeful that the car thing means he’s more “fixable” than we might have guessed based on his original behavior.
Homework: more mat work, more walking, more trips to the park.