The doggie IEP

Ziva doesn’t really have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), but … well actually she kinda does.  Remember when I said the head trainer took me aside after Ziva blew up in the parking lot of Tecla’s K9 Academy after seeing all the other dogs, and said, “we can fix these behaviors”? Well, while I watched some other classes, and Ziva waited patiently in a crate in another room (I’m kidding — she barked continuously for over an hour), Tecla wrote up a multi-page, year-long plan of training. I won’t lie — it was pretty overwhelming considering I thought I was just signing on for Basic Obedience. But she went through everything in the plan, and then told me to take some time and think about it, and then call back with any questions.

Looking at the total for all the classes, it was also a lot more money than I expected to spend on training. But Ziva is only a year old, and I started thinking about the next 10 or more years with her, and how stressful this behavior was getting for all of us — including Ziva. It seemed like an investment that we needed to make. So in January of this year, we began our series of trainings.

Ziva stands in teh doggie daycare room, with other dogs in the background

Ziva at one of her first days at day care. Looking a little unsure of what’s going on, but definitely not stressed about it.

The plan, hereafter known as The Plan, really started with the extreme basics and built up from there. We started with one week of Doggie Daycare, which let Ziva get to know the staff, and let them get to know her and watch her interact wth other dogs. I picked her up at the end of each day and she was always so happy! I felt that we were on the right track, and this gave me energy for the work ahead.

Which was good, because the next thing on the agenda was pretty scary to me — something called “Pack to Basics.” On the face of it, this sounds nuts: Take a bunch of dog- and/or people- reactive dogs and their owners, and have them walk around a room for 30 minutes. But this is one of the thing that the folks at All Shepherd Rescue had specifically mentioned about TK9 — acknowledging that “I know it sounds crazy but … it really works!” And it does!

Tecla is certified in this method, and she always has at least 4 other trainers in the room as well who keep an eye on things. It’s simple: we arrive one by one and stand spread out along the walls of a large multipurpose room (think middle school gym class). Your dog is in Behavioral Down. (We usually do some “bridging” at this time, which I haven’t explained yet but which is a reward/ redirection method that keeps Ziva happy with treats as a new dog enters the room). When everyone is settled in, we begin walking with our dogs on leash, in a counter-clockwise direction. One by one, Tecla calls out a dog’s name and the owner unhooks the leash, and keeps walking. Eventually, all dogs are off leash, and their owners are walking in a circle around the room.

The trainers have long bendy poles with a feather on the tip to tap a dog that might be getting too close or comfort to another (think, inappropriate sniffing). And they keep an eye on dogs that are too energetic. For Ziva’s first few weeks (we go every Saturday morning), they had her drag a slip leash behind her to sort of slow her down a little.  She had to learn how to be social and not get in the wrong dog’s face. The owners don’t interact with the dogs at all — except to clean up after them, since all the dogs seem to make a point of pooping after a few minutes of their constitutional. But everyone helps everyone else with this, and it’s good bonding for the owners as well.

I don’t mind telling you what a proud momma I felt the first times I saw Ziva in this situation. She loves to hurry around the room, but constantly comes back and checks in with me. The dogs aren’t really supposed to “play” but they are supposed to interact and to keep walking. Some dogs stick right by their owners’ side, while others like Ziva tour the room. I have seen dogs come in on Day One petrified to be near so many strange dogs, only to see them weeks later running along with this one, then that one. It’s beautiful.

And Ziva. Well.  I took this too short video recently, and that’s what inspired me to start this blog. Because here’s a dog who used to lunge and bark and be unmanageable around new dogs, and look at her now:

And here’s a slightly longer version. You’ll see that Ziva is trotting off ahead as the video begins, and she just keeps trotting along, checking in with other dogs and people as she goes. I think this video might give you a better sense of what the room is like. The owners are just strolling along, and one of the trainers takes a step forward toward Ziva at one point just to make sure everyone is behaving. She takes the hint and keeps moving, stopping to check in with a white german shepherd that she has never met before for just a second before moving on again.

So, as I mentioned, we’ve been doing this every Saturday morning for 30 minutes. And then we go right to Behavior Modification class for an hour. We have learned a ton in that class, as well as in a series of private lessons we took with a trainer at TK9.  I’ll go into some those techniques in the next post ….

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