In my ongoing quest to expose Ziva to as many new things as I can, yesterday I decided to take her to a dog park that is on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. As I learn more about dog handling skills, I know that what she needs the most, in order to lessen her adrenalized reaction to new situations, is … to experience more new situations. Because she really just needs to begin to understand that everything is going to be ok. As our trainers have said to me many times, “she needs to learn that you have her back.” So I took the day off from work, packed a lunch and lots of water, and we set off on an adventure for both of us. I had never been to this park, and it’s in an area of Maryland with which I’m not very familiar. But we made it with only one wrong turn (following gps leading us to a gate across the road from the actual entry to the park — the attendant said “yup. everyone does that.”)
I unloaded Ziva from her crate in the back seat, and she actually stood quite still for me to put the harness on her. The last time I put it on it her it was like putting a saddle on a wild horse. All bucking and jumping. So I don’t know why she was so subdued this time, but it was very helpful! I wanted her to wear the harness because I knew she would end up pulling on the leash, and I didn’t want her to get used to feeling it pull on her collar. She’s been doing really well on the “With me” command while walking, and I don’t want to blow that with a walk in the woods.
We walked the short distance through a wooded path from the parking lot to the beach. She did a lot of sniffing along the way and I did not hurry her. She very patiently sat for me to take her picture by the Dog Beach sign — it was only 10 am but it was very hot at this point, and we were in the full sun. When we got to the actual beach, I was a little disappointed at how small it was, but there was no one else there so we had a chance to test the waters without encountering other dogs. Ziva loves to jump into the large fishpond in our backyard, but I have no idea what her experience is with large bodies of water — and specifically, with waves. The waves of the Chesapeake Bay are very small — ripples, really. But I think it’s safe to say she found it a little stressful.
So how does it look when a dog gets “adrenalized” in a stressful situation? The following video is Exhibit A. It seems playful and fun, and I was talking to her and laughing with her, but honestly, she is ramping up the adrenaline in this video:
Notice how she runs at the water and growls? Her tail is also wagging pretty quickly but not maniacally. So she’s not out of control, but she is making herself get very excited. She’s kind of scared of this new thing, “waves,” but if she gets herself really wound up it feels good! In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been laughing here — I probably should have been bridging her with “Water, du du du du, YES!” But it’s hard to remember what to do when in the thick of it.
But I’ll tell ya, I remembered how to bridge when another dog showed up! Because Ziva was already so wound up that she just started barking and barking and barking. And then a second dog appeared, and she was really almost more than I could handle. She barked, but she also pulled on the lead so hard that I almost lost my footing a couple of times in the wet sand. (Note to self: Why do you always think Tevas are a good idea at the beach? They are not. Sand gets in the velcro and the next thing you know the shoes are flopping off your feet. )
Anyway, I was just about at the point of thinking that we would need to leave — I was trying to stuff hot dog in her face and bridging, and also trying to distract her with a stick — when her barking began to decrease, and then she started to pay more attention to me. And suddenly I remembered the two golden rules of Ziva: Bridging and Paying for Engagement (with me). So I continued to do bridging with “Dog” and I continued to distract her with the water and really praise her and keep her focus on me and not on the other dogs. The other dogs, by the way, were both Labradors. And neither one was very interested in anything beyond their tennis ball in the water.
We were at the beach for only about an hour, but it seemed like that was enough for this day. It was very hot — in the upper 90’s — and while Ziva seemed to enjoy the water, by this point she seemed just as interested in the grassy marsh area behind the beach. According to her DNA report, she is a quarter Lab, but that percentage had been used up by this point. So we sat in the shade for a little while and had a drink of water. And I was so very happy to see that she could do this — be in the presence of strange dogs with out caring much about them. She watched them at a distance of about 20 feet, without barking or getting excited. Hopefully she knows: I have her back.