I’ve said it before and I’m sure this wont be the last time but there are few things in my life as rewarding and complicated as having a fearful Maizey.
But first let me tell you about her Petite Pals Class.
Petite Pals is a basic obedience class for dogs under 25 pounds. In her first class they covered basic sit, down, touch, stand and mat.
For Maizey this class is not about obedience skills, for Maizey it’s about learning to be around other dogs and not react. It’s about learning to meet and greet and play like a normal happy girl would.
For Maizey week one went great! I set the goal of being a serene trainer and I actually succeeded!
I have to give a huge shout out of thanks to Nicole and Michelle at Calling All Dogs for setting up a special place in this class for Maizey. They set up an x-pen for her and then covered it with blankets to further reduce the stimulation.
It worked perfect, I was able to click for calm and quiet orientation to the other dogs. I learned to click for her being quiet even when there is just vocalizing from other dogs, which now seems so blatantly obvious of a thing to do that I can’t believe what an opportunity for reinforcement I was missing.
Maizey only reacts to dogs she can see so I never c/t for her being quiet when a dog was vocalizing. Nicole explained she knows there is a dog there, but she isn’t reacting so she deserves to be rewarded for that. It makes perfect sense and provides many more opportunities for me to reinforce that she doesn’t need to react. It is a perfect example of why I need to take classes, there is just so much I don’t know or think of.
After a half hour they let the dogs have a play time and by that time she was showing some eagerness to interact and meet these other little 4legged friends. I have to admit I was nervous, but by that time I had been able to observe and get an idea of the other dogs personalities. Since I also had Nicole and Michelle there to help I let her loose to meet the other dogs.
She lived up to her moniker of Princes Of The Shrill Bark, but it was not so much conflicted reactivity as really loud vocalizing. It was then I learned a most valuable lesson. I am so protective of her I wanted to jump right in and calm her down, but Nicole had me hang back and watch her. It was so hard for me! I said, “She’s barking! What should I do?”
Nicole said, “Stand there and let her bark, she’s not aggressing forward, she’s not being aggresive, she’s just talking to them.”
With total insecurity I said, “Just let her bark?!?”
With total reassurance in her voice she said, “She’s okay, lets just see what she does.”
I could see she was safe, and I could see her little brain working out this problem that, in my protectiveness, I have never really allowed her to work out for herself, so I just let her bark.
As I watched I was reminded of another valuable 4legged lesson: sometimes dogs learn from other dogs so much better than they learn from humans.
Here are seven other little dogs and they looked at her barking like, “Hey ya freak whats up with you?” Then they would just run and play.
It was like my girl was so confused, “Hey! Didn’t you hear me? I’m telling you all I’m here!!” But the more they ignored her the braver she got and she quit barking and followed them.
Then they would be like, “Oh hey, you want to play?”
It was just so funny and so tragic ’cause she I swear when they tried to play with she was like, “OH CRAP!! DOGS!!” And she would run away.
But I was so so proud because she knows enough now to look at me when she’s scared and the two times she got pretty overwhelmed she ran straight to me and leaned on my legs. I am so proud of us that we have built that trust, we certainly didn’t have it when she was younger. Now I think she is learning she doesn’t have to scare off all the scary dogs by herself, I will always be there to protect her.
I considered the whole thing to be a fabulous success. Thus you would think I would be eager to follow up such a great experience with two weeks of class since then and I was. Unfortunately two weeks ago we lost a close friend in death and his funeral was the same time as her class. Sometimes Real Life is just more imporant than our 4legged life and of course we missed that class.
But that takes me back to the begining of this post. The rewards are obvious, the complications not quite so easy to understand. Yesterday we were all ready for her class, but she has been extraordinarily anxious the last couple days, and frankly yesterday I was the reactive one. I won’t bore you with all the 2legged details, but just let me say, us humans sure can come up with a lot of drama for ourselves and that happened yesterday.
So as I was fighting to get things settled down to go to class I realized if I take my nervous girl to class with myself already in knots I may be doing her more harm than good. It was hard but I made the executive decision that I was not “in the game” and we didn’t go to class.
Was it the right decision? I don’t know.
What I do know is I promised to protect her and yesterday I felt like what she needed protected from was not being able to rely on me to be the stable one. I know others that have fearful dogs have felt the pressure of needing to not communicate their own nerves to their sensitive 4legged friends. I know friends with performance dogs that worry about sending their ring nerves to their dogs.
Most of all I know my Maizey is my little emotional psychic and if I might make her more nervous I will not push her into a situation she may not be successful in. There will be another opportunity and we will take it, but we will not rush in where we may not be successful.
That too is a Maizey promise, and a valuable 4legged lesson: it’s okay not to rush things, it’s okay to play it safe and it’s always okay to do something else together that is good for both of you.
Yesterday for Maizey and I that something else was take a nice long nap together.
But look out for us next week Petite Pals Class, we’ll be back and ready to learn, play and yes, probably bark!