A day at the beach is no walk in the park

Ziva sits by a sign that reads 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.

Ziva stands on the beach as other dogs are in the backgroundWe 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.


A tale of a tail

Ziva sitting in the car

Ziva seemed very excited to be back at the Training academy. We did some socialization and behavior modification work, then took a quick break in the car with water and snacks before we went back in for Obedience 2 class. Next week I guess I need to pack TWO peanut butter sandwiches ….

We had a great day at our first Obedience 2 class on Saturday. It is a very small class — only 4 dogs, and two trainers! It’s almost like getting a personal training session. Ziva did really well with the new commands we’re learning: verbal and visual cues for sit and down, and for “watch me.” Previously we just did sit and down with leash pressure, but she picked up on the verbal cues very quickly. She also did really well with “Watch me,” which is something that had been suggested to us at the very beginning of her days with us as a way to get her to stop paying attention to other dogs. It was never successful then, and low these many months later we know that would never have worked with her adrenaline so high. So it’s really a case of understanding each dog’s personality and temperament, and knowing what will work, when — and what won’t. I guess there are levels of dog reactiveness? And if you have one at the level of Ziva when we got her, you need someone who specializes in it, not just someone who kind of just does it along with a lot of other things.

I also learned something new about dog communication on Saturday. Most of the other dogs in this class were in Obedience 1 with us, and Ziva knows them and doesn’t react when she sees them. We don’t do leash greetings in class, but we sit or stand just a few feet apart, and after having done 30 minutes of Pack to Basics, and an hour of Behavior Modification, Ziva has been just fine to ignore the other dogs lying a few feet away. So I was really taken off guard when she suddenly started barking and pulling on the leash towards Lucy Lu, a dog with whom she had been very friendly for the past 7 weeks.

Lucy Lu is young — only about 8 months old — large, white and fluffy. I knew her breed at some point, but I’ve forgotten. I just tried to google that up, as my 93-year old Dad would say, but am not coming up with the right breed. She has long, white, shaggy fur and looks kind of like an all white English Sheepdog. Except she’s not, and she also didn’t have long shaggy fur on Saturday, because she had been to the groomer. She had very short hair, and a little pompom at the tip of her tail, which was kind freaking Ziva out. My first thought was: “Why wouldn’t she recognize this was Lucy Lu? She knows her smell.” But the trainer explained that it wasn’t that she didn’t recognize her, it was that she didn’t know how to read that tail! It was only then that I noticed that the poof of hair at the tip was bobbing all around. Of course Ziva got stressed, and of course her initial reaction was to get excited.

So that was definitely a “teachable moment” — for me! I was being pretty relaxed, not really being aware of the dog near me, because Ziva “knew” her. But I really needed to be aware of the environment there as well, which on this day included Lucy Lu’s tail.

But once we got Ziva settled back down again, class went off perfectly. So much so that I decided to take Ziva in to the offie with me on Monday. I’m trying to get her into as many new environments as I can, all the time working on our leash work and our relaxation methods. Monday July 3rd was pretty dead in my office, since so many folks opted for an extra long weekend with the 4th of July holiday on Tuesday. I had gotten my boss’s okay to bring in Ziva, and made sure it was also okay with my colleagues, since we now work in a totally open office space. There would only be 4 of us on Monday in this large room, but we do try to be respectful of each other in there. They all said “Bring her in!” So I did.

Ziva lies on the office floor, pantingWell, she did okay. We only lasted about 4 hours, but that was kinda what I expected. It was a very hot day, and we went on a very long walk before we got to the office, but she was still pretty  excited to be in a new place. I brought lots of things from home, like a blanket for her to lie on, but as you can see from the picture, she didn’t lie on it. She also was not very interested in her usual bully sticks. She would lie down for a few minutes, and then she would start whining. I also brought in the nose work equipment, and we entertained everyone a few times by doing “Find.” She did better than I expected, to be honest! It just wasn’t enough to wear out her brain. But, she did cheer up a lot of people who were working in an office when most of their friends were at the beach or by the pool! She’s a long way from being a “therapy” dog, since although she loves to meet new people, one stroke from a new person sets her into a joyful squirm. But that’s just who she is right now. And I love her for it.

And all of these new adventures and experiences help to make her more relaxed at home, as well. I know that as time goes on, she will be able to expand her relaxation to new places. But for now, well, remember in the early posts when I wrote about how she would scare the bejeesus out of the cats because she would race towards them? Well, The cats definitely approve of the “new and improved” version of Ziva, even if she’s not sure what’s going on with them:

Ziva on the couch with a cat on her back

Juliet is the shyer, more skittish one of the two cats. But when Ziva is calm, she loves to come over and rub against her.

Before we get too ahead of ourselves ….

My original plan was to post about Ziva’s wonderful progress last week, graduating from Basic Obedience 1 and also getting a certificate for completing the Intro to Nosework class. And I’ll still get to that, but not before letting you know I was just reminded that, at somewhere around 18 months old, she still has a lot of puppy left in her. So when I was vacuuming, and she was being sooooooo good, I probably should have been suspicious. I thought she was just lying in her bed waiting for me to finish the hallway. But no, she had grabbed a baseball cap that I had found on the floor of the hall closet. In my mission to finish vacuuming I tossed the cap next to me when I found it, rather than putting it back on the shelf where it belonged. And at some point Queen Z came up beside me, took the cap, and proceeded to give it an “extra” distressed look:

A yellow baseball cap that has been chewed on the billIt’s been a while since she chewed anything, so I guess I had this coming. (I still need to catch you up on “What Ziva Ate While Her Moms Were in Scotland,” but that’s an entirely separate  post!)

So yes, it’s stops and starts. But mostly starts. And with the starts come milestones like this one:

Ziva lying down behind her Obedience certificateAnd this one:

Ziva's certificate if Achievement for completing Nosework classJust the fact that Ziva could be in a room full of strange dogs long enough to complete these classes still amazes me. She still has her moments, of course. During the final Obedience class we somehow ended up being positioned between the two most restless dogs in the class, and Ziva struggled at times to ignore them. But working as a team, we got through it. And if you can read the tagline on these certificates, it reads “Obedience through relationship.” What I have learned in the past 8 months is not just how to train my dog but how to read my dog. So, at the beginning of the class, when I realized who we had on either side of us, I certainly had a moment of “oh no!” But the difference between now and 8 months ago is that I felt confident that I could anticipate a problem before it happened. And when Ziva started to pay too much attention to one of these dogs, I took her a couple of steps away and redirected her and had her lie down back in the original spot. And at this point, that is all she needs. But we have to work together on this. I have to anticipate, and she has to obey.

In a week we start Basic Obedience 2. I cannot wait!

Sometimes I feel like a fraud

It’s Friday evening, which in my life right now means I’m pouring a tall gin and tonic and chopping an enormous amount of hot dog. Because Saturday is a full day of training and behavior modification. We start with “Pack to Basics” from 8-8:30, then right into Behavior Modification class from 8:30-9:30. That class often runs over a bit, and then we have Obedience 101 from 10:30-11:30. (I bring a cooler with some water and snacks, and we stroll around the area and Ziva rests in the crate  before Obedience class.)

So it takes some planning to be ready for Saturday mornings. For example, need a lot of chopped hot dog. Any one class might require a baggie full of chopped hot dog, but we have Behavior Mod and Obedience. Plus, we have bridging to do all morning. Because as soon as Ziva exits the car, she is still learning to ignore the other dogs. So after a 30 minute car ride, we head to a grassy spot for a wee, and she sees another dog and starts to get excited so I start bridging: “Dog! duh duh duh duh. Yes!” and hot dog. We get into the building and she needs to lie quietly in behavioral down  until Pack to Basics starts. Sometimes that’s easy, but sometimes, like a couple of weeks ago, there’s a new dog (or two) that make all the dogs get worked up. So there’s some more bridging (and hot dogs!)

My experience has been: prepare more than enough treats for training — and then add some more. I have just finished chopping up an entire pack of hot dogs for tomorrow. How much hot is that?

containers of chopped hot dogYes, that’s an entire package of hot dogs. Other folks in the class use different treats. Some use cheese, or other brands of treats (Zukes is popular, and I also use that sometimes, too.) For us, hot dog seems to be the highest value treat, and with bridging it’s all about high value.

But okay, so what’s with the title here. Why do I feel a fraud sometimes?

Because sometimes it feel like as much as I see progress — I also see setbacks. For example, walking on a leash. We’ve been working on this for months, since we started the private lessons in January. Ziva is so much better than she used to be, but there are still days when we are walking and i feel completely uncoordinated and out of control. This often seems to happen right after a day when I’ve felt like “we’ve got this!” We’re walking, and Ziva is by my left side — not pulling. Those are great moments. But then the next day, she’s all over the place — pulling, wandering off to the left. I’m turning right and she’s not following. It’s kind of a mess.

And then we go to Obedience class — after being in Pack to Basics and Behavior Mod all morning — and she’s great! Last class we had a competition of leash walking and we got a 10 out of 10. Whut???  It was a great feeling to be one of the best in class, but then we get home and walk in the neighborhood, and she’s all over the place again. And the first Obedience class (this go-around that is — remember, this is try #2), Ziva and I were asked to demonstrate the first leash walking activity.  We did well — she was exhausted, after all. But knowing how she still is in the neighborhood, I really felt like we were a bit of imposters.

It’s slowly coming together. There are good days and bad, but mostly days that are just in between. My fear in writing this blog is that I’ll come across as someone who knows what they are doing — I surely do not. I am learning every day, and every step along the way.  All I know is that there are more days when it works than days when it doesn’t.

I guess that’s what it’s all about?

Ziva lies next to Sue on the couch

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 ….

Plenty of praise and payment

Whenever I tell someone that we’re not doing “purely positive” training with Ziva, I’m always afraid it sounds like we’re being really mean. But the truth is that she gets more praise and reward than any animal I have ever had, because we are spending so much more time consciously training her than any animal I have ever had.

During the 7 weeks that we are in Basic Obedience 101 class, we’re feeding Ziva her morning and evening meals from our hand. She gets food when she looks at me. She also gets tons of crazy praise. Because when we are trying to reinforce positive behaviors, the praise needs to be effusive — consider this:  You finish a project at work and your boss notices. But she says “Oh. Thanks” rather than “Fantastic job! You’re awesome. Well done!”  Obviously as silly as it may sound, the second version is more meaningful to you. Same thing here. Here’s a quick video of me feeding Ziva this way. Thankfully we’re only doing this for 7 weeks, because it is pretty time consuming. I thought I was doing enough by having Ziva wait for a minute after I placed her food bowl down, but our trainer said (to the class in general, because I guess this must be a common misconception), “Making your dog wait 1 minute for an entire bowl of food is not making her work for it. That’s like telling you to sit still and you’ll get a million dollars. That’s what a bowl of food is worth to your dog.”

I won’t lie and tell you that we do this for every single meal. Life happens, and sometimes I’m in a rush to get out the door, and I do put her food in the bowl. But I would say about 90% of the time we do the hand feeding right now. Here’s a quick video:

What kept us going

Reading that first post, you might reasonably surmise that we had lost our minds. I can just hear some readers muttering “That’s just crazy. Why didn’t they just give the dog back?” Well, maybe it was the sad story of how she was almost euthanized. But mostly, it was because even through all the ramped up energy, she showed us again and again how smart and trainable she was. I have never met a dog who looked so deeply at me and seemed to be waiting for me to tell it what to do. We believed she could be trained to be a better companion, but just felt completely overwhelmed and out of our depth. And the days started to get slightly better as Ziva began to understand our routine of daily life. She began to see that yes, we left her in the house, but yes, we always came back. We always used the same phrase:

Ziva is on the couch sleeping with her head resting on a blue scarf

I managed to go on a quick trip to the grocery store, and when I got back and she settled down again, I realized Ziva had dragged my scarf to the sofa while I was gone. She didn’t chew it, but seemed to take good care of it.

“You stay here and take care of the house,”

and she started to be less manic when we left. It still took time time for her settle down when we returned home, but she would turn it down for short periods of time.

So those moments kept us going. She would sit on command but it was all she could do to stay still. We kept trying to walk her but it was so incredibly difficult to see another dog, or even other people. She would bounce as if she had springs in her legs and jump on anyone she met. The cats were still in hiding, mostly, slinking down the hallway when she finally closed her eyes, because if Ziva saw either one on the other side of the baby gate she would launch herself in their direction. As Zeke, the bolder cat, began to stand his ground a little bit more each time, we saw that Ziva was not in “prey mode,” but was just so freaking excited to see the cats that it was entirely overwhelming. These bits of progress, and the insight into her spirit when she finally settled down at night kept us going through the all the madness. She destroyed several t.v. remotes,  a cell phone screen, and too many random things in the living room to count. She was wired and she was bored — until she crashed at night. She still slept in a crate in our bedroom at night, and went in quite willingly. She usually settled down once the lights were out and slept all night. This gave the cats the freedom to roam the house at night, and I think it gave them the confidence to stand up to Ziva over time.

Ziva lies on the bed with her head tilted backTo the question of “Why didn’t they just give the dog back?” That just really never entered my mind. If we also had children, or different jobs that took all our time, maybe we would have considered this option. But she just won our hearts, and despite a few stressed out conversations, it never got to “It’s me or the dog” because, well, belly rubs. Belly rubs are Ziva’s kryptonite.

We agreed to try a new trainer and see if we could get a handle on what was going on, and get Ziva to reach the occasional moments when she could just “chill.” After doing a little more research on the suggestions from the rescue group, I called one of the trainers, described the situation, and signed up for Basic Obedience 101. It went … not smoothly.

To be continued …

The backstory …

Ziva sitting on the back step of our houseIf I’d had any idea what I was in for, I would have started this blog about six months ago, when Ziva first joined our family. But I didn’t, and so now I have to catch you up on how we got to where we are today. When we adopted Ziva, we knew she was young, energetic, part German Shepherd, and very friendly but a little dog reactive. She had been pulled from a shelter in North Carolina 24 hours before she was scheduled to be euthanized, and had been living with a terrific foster family for a couple of weeks.  Sounded like a bit of a handful, but we were experienced dog owners, so no big deal. Right?

Eh, wrong! She turned out to be kind of a big deal. We collected Ziva from her foster mom at the vet’s after she had been spayed, so she was a little subdued. She pretty much slept the entire ride of about an hour home. She entered the house wearing the cone of shame, and our two cats came right up to her, thinking perhaps she was dear, sweet, 13-year old Fritz, our dog who had passed away a few months earlier. She didn’t react to the cats at all, and we spent a pretty calm night.

Then I went off to work the next morning and things got real. My wife spent the day trying to calm Ziva, who paced and whined and barked and climbed onto the radiator. She tried to give her some exercise, but with fresh stitches from her spay, Ziva was on “light duty for a week.” Light duty. hahahahahahaha.

Instead of getting better, each day got more stressful for us all in those early days. I took a few days off from work, because Ziva couldn’t be left alone at all, and even when you were there with her it was impossible to get anything done. She was velcro-ed to your side.  She went willingly into her crate, but if left alone she barked and clawed at the crate door, and even bit the door so hard she bent the wires. Even after her stitches were out, we could never wear her out. She loved to chase a ball, and we spent hours in the backyard trying to make her tired. She might stop for a few minutes, panting and tongue hanging out — only to race around the yard at lightning speed again. But she never wanted to be alone. She got so upset that she seemed panicked, frantic. We put up baby gates so that she could have more space but stay out of trouble, hoping that would help her relax more than being confined in the crate.  But if we both left the house, she barked and barked and barked. And when we returned, she raced around the room, barked, and flung herself against the baby gate. It was kind of a zoo. (The cats hid.)

Ziva lies in the grass with an orange tennis ball in front of herWe had always planned to sign up for obedience classes, but clearly we needed some help asap. Thus we began with our first trainer. We needed someone good, and we needed them fast. I did a little research and found a very highly rated trainer who lived right in our neighborhood. Her methods were completely positive training, and seeing that Ziva definitely had some underlying fears or issues that were causing her to be so wound up, we thought that would be perfect for her. And indeed it was a very good start. Several private lessons with this trainer helped us work on some basic things like “leave it” and “stay,” with the idea that we would gradually be able to walk further away and even out the front door and she would remain calm. It was very slow, but steady progress addressing Ziva’s separation anxiety.

Then we went for a walk.

The other thing I forgot to mention, is that although Ziva clearly had a loving home in her first year, where she was house-trained and taught some basic commands like “sit,” walking on a leash did not seem to have been something she had ever learned.  Because the moment we put a leash on her, she bolted ahead, yanking my arm practically out of its socket. Combine that with seeing another dog across the street, and she was uncontrollable. We were using a “no pull” harness in those days, but she missed the message on that “no pull” part. Even getting the harness on Ziva was an ordeal — it was like putting a saddle on a mustang. A wriggling, mouthy mustang.

All of this time, we were using purely positive training: never saying “no” or giving any corrections, just lots of redirecting and lots of treats to reinforce the good behavior. Throughout all of these challenges, Ziva’s potential shone through. But she seemed to only have 2 speeds: 0 or 11, on a scale of 1 to ten. She just could not seem to ever be “calm.” And when she saw other dogs, her reactiveness seemed to be getting worse. The trainer tried walking with her on our street and only got about 50 feet from the front door before Ziva saw another dog and went out of her mind. It was all the trainer could do to hold her back. (In case you haven’t met Ziva, she is 48 pounds of pure muscle.) She said Ziva would not be able to be in her group obedience class until she was able to be around other dogs, and advised we just keep trying to desensitize her by having her get used to being around dogs and getting lots of high value treats.

There were no treats high value enough for what we were going through.

But Ziva had shown us that she could get along with other dogs: although she initially barked frantically through the pickets at sweet Aussie next door, she soon began wagging her tail whenever she saw her, and clearly enjoyed her company.  But encountering new dogs when walking her sent her out of her mind. Chicken, cheese, bison jerky, hot dog — she showed no interest but instead barked and pulled and jumped. I started to dread walking her, and instead took her places where I knew we would not see other dogs. All the time thinking, “Is this just how she’s going to be for the rest of her life????”

But at night when she had finally exhausted herself and put her head in my lap, or when she hopped on the sofa next to me and gave me sloppy kisses, I just knew we had to figure out what was going on with her. I couldn’t imagine returning her to the rescue group, but she was exhausting us all, and something needed to change. It was time to find help from someone who knew German Shepherds, who knew reactive dogs … and who knew Ziva. So I contacted the rescue group where we got her, All Shepherd Rescue, and explained the situation. I cannot say enough good things about the folks at ASR — they were wonderful in responding quickly to find out more about what exactly was going on, and the give us some recommendations for trainers who specialize in these types of issues.

I’ll give you a break from reading now (and me a break from writing!), and tell you more about what happened in the next post. Thanks for sticking with us — I hope you’ll find this interesting once I get into the behavior modification techniques and methods that have really been life-changing for us. I know there are many different opinions on training methods, and I welcome your thoughts.  What we are doing is working: it’s 10 am and Ziva is sleeping soundly on the couch while I write.

We’ve come a very long way.

Ziva and Sue sit on the backporch. Ziva's tongue is wagging.