Baby steps, baby steps

Ziva sits on a sidewalk next to large green painted footprintsJust like everyone else, our lives get pretty busy this time of year. I’ve started and never finished so many posts here, always intending to write more often. Usually I start writing when Ziva has settled into her bed, but honestly that can only last for a short period of time and then she’s back up and wants to do something. Anything.

Fortunately, we have a lot of tricks in our bag now, as far as “things Ziva can do.” For example, over Thanksgiving, Ziva and I spent the night at my father’s house. I had hoped she would be pretty chill, given that she spent the entire day playing vigorously with several canine cousins. And she might have been, if there wasn’t also a cat living at my Dad’s house. Earl the cat is a very cool cat. He remained on his perch, and aside from hissing at Ziva a few times, was otherwise not interested in engaging with her at all. Which of course drove Ziva crazy. I tried to distract her with a bully stick, and with a toy, but although she might stop paying attention to the cat for a while, she was still very restless.

That’s when I remembered her nose work, and I asked my brother if he’d help me do a couple of rounds in the living room. We did 4 rounds, with my brother holding Ziva in the hallway and me hiding treats in 3-4 spots around the room. My Dad and brother were amazed at how quickly she sniffed them out each time — she’s good at this! And because she really uses her brain as well as her nose, it was enough to wear her out so that after 4 rounds of this she lay down and went to sleep. No longer interested in the cat, the stairs to the basement, or anything else.

So its really great to have nose work as an option on days when the weather is bad or circumstances mean she can’t really get the physical exercise she needs to get rid of extra energy — for example, my Dad’s yard is not fenced so she has to stay on the leash when we go outside. And despite going on long walks when we’re there, she never really gets “worn out” when we are there. So she is usually restless. Nose work gives her something to do, and exercises her brain if not her body.

I am also trying to take her to more new places. The picture above was taken on a busy street near our house. I realized I had gotten into a rut of taking her on the same predictable neighborhood walk every day. Because I like predictably. But it’s not good for her, because then when we inevitably do go somewhere new, she is still getting used to being calm in new environments. So now, sometimes I change it up and we walk along the busy road in one direction or the other. Sometimes we walk right past the front doors to the 7-11, which can be quite busy at times. She’s really doing very well, I am happy to report. I can still see in her body language that she gets excited at new sights, sounds, and smells, but she keeps it together. She doesn’t pull on the leash, and she doesn’t bark at people. I always take tons of good treats on these walks, and constantly tell her how good she is being and reward her again and again. She turns her head and checks in with me a lot on these “new” walks, and I reward her every time.

In that picture above, she is not looking at me. So that I am not happy about. I would love if her focus was totally on me. But, I was busy with my phone and she “checked out” while I fiddled with taking the picture. But … she stayed in her “sit,” and when I said her name after taking the picture she looked right back at me. So yea, baby steps, baby steps.

We’re really having fun at Rally class, and we have a lot of “moves” to show you soon. She is picking this up so quickly that she’s kind of ahead of me in some ways. Next week we will practice a course in class for the second time, and I’m really excited about it. In life, different dogs like different activities — think about how some dogs love to play fetch, while others are all “meh.” In Rally class, there a few dogs in the class who are clearly just going through the motions because the owners are asking them to do the moves. They are very obedient, but they seem about as excited to chase a food lure from cone to cone as they would be to do a simple “sit” at the vet’s office. Ziva on the other hand, races from cone to cone. When I command “Down!” she throws herself to the ground, front legs splayed out dramatically.  It’s like all that energy and excitement she has bottled up finally has a place to go now. She looks me in the eye as if to say, “What next?????”

We’re practicing a long list of moves throughout the day. Before she eats her breakfast I do a few commands — she is very food motivated then! My wife works with her some during the day, and then in the evening I do more after we’ve had some play time. The trickiest thing we’re trying to learn right now is for her to move from sitting in front of me to come around my right side, behind my back, and end up sitting on my left. Mostly difficult because it involves me showing her the food is in my right hand (unlike any other time), and transferring said food from right to left hand behind my back, and rewarding her at my left side.

Because learning in “baby steps” includes me, too!

 

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