I took Silas to a new park yesterday. It was deliberately selected to be a manageable challenge. I could park right next to a large open area, with some trees. That open area continues all the way to a fairly busy road on the right, but on the left it backs onto an endless series of unfenced soccer fields.
We’re supposed to be working places that he can see cars, but not be overwhelmed by them. Our best candidate of our usual parks is out because of the weather–there’s a perfect place where Silas realizes “Oh, crap, that’s a car way out on the horizon. I have to turn around!!!” but it’s about a ten minute walk from the parking lot. Lazy heat-hating dog is not up to walking ten minutes and then doing (psychologically) hard training.
I spotted this new park while I was out scoping a new bike route. The bike route was a bust, but the park was not. It was a great choice because we could basically get as far away from the road as we needed to, even if that was two acres.
We ran around, we played, with chased, and we gradually inched our way closer to the road. No compulsion, just running around. We got so close I took a picture, even:
It looked much closer in real life, and he got a little closer before we left. We were at the park a little over 15 minutes, and he was happy for all but one minute right at the beginning.
I must confess, he does have some medication that we’re using for situations like this. He only gets it as-needed, and it’s a pretty small dose. The medication emphatically does not work miracles–it dials his level of anxiety down slightly, but it doesn’t turn him into a happy-go-lucky, in-love-with-the-world kind of dog. The intention of the medication is to give us room to train–because he couldn’t function if there was a car anywhere in sight, there was no way to do things like reward-based counterconditioning.
Even with his medication, he refused to take any food in this park. He was happy to run and play, though. It is not only huge progress in and of itself, but it gives us a really great place to work from.