Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gilda's First Year: Background Part 2

When we got Gilda to the point that she seemed to  somewhat enjoy walking on a leash, she was far enough along with her vaccinations to join a "Puppy Socialization Class" at our local Kennel Club. (I don't think either of us enjoyed this class very much which is probably why I don't have any photos of it!)
One thing we learned in this class was Gilda's need for dog socialization skills. Early on, she appeared to be a dog who loved other dogs... her tail would wag, she'd get animated and jumpy and run right at the other dog's face. As she grew however, her actions intensified and we noticed that while she was not aggressive, she often triggered bad reactions in the dogs she met. We learned that she is what's known as a 'Reactive Dog'.

{Reactive is the term coined by dog trainers and owners who own dogs that overreact to certain stimuli. It might be the sight of other dogs, people, kids, loud noises and chaos. The dog’s reaction to these stimuli is usually a bark and lunge type of behavior that scares the pants off both the person or dog being barked at and the person holding the leash. Reactivity may be part of the dogs genetic make up or could be from a lack of social experience or a particularly scary experience.}
Still learning about this new development, we entered into a Canine Good Citizen class with a well-reputed trainer. Gilda was proving to be a quick study and her basic obedience was coming along nicely. (We agreed that she had the best stay and recall in the class!)
I have always hoped to have a Therapy Dog someday and this was the very first step toward that goal. (Bruno passed all his testing but was never very comfortable in the therapy setting)

{Gilda graduates with her Canine Good Citizen certificate}
In true Gilda form, she was initally troubled by being in class with other dogs. Once she was used to the other dogs however, she seemed to conquer her fears and was able to perform in class. This would be a recurring theme for her.
She really did well in the class and was able to successfully pass all but one part of the CGC test which was to walk past another dog without reacting. At 11 months old, I thought we were making pretty good progress!

{Gilda learns the treadmill}
We also had her treadmill trained at this time so that she could still get her daily walks in when the weather was really bad because we had learned months ago that Gilda + No Walk = No Sleep.
Initially, she did very well. We had her walking on it in less than 3 weeks and we used it sporadically throughout that first winter. [At present time however, she refuses to go near it unless we place her food bowl on it].

Our next class was a Dog Socialization Class which had an interesting approach. All dogs were pre-screened by the trainer. If the dog was aggressive, the trainer would handle that dog during class. All of the other dogs (and there were up to 20 dogs) were released from their leashes simultaneously on cue. As soon as the dogs were released, the owners would all start walking around the perimeter of the room in a big circle. The theory was that moving people would induce the dogs to keep moving and moving dogs are less likely to react to each other badly.

This class really did wonders for Gilda. Being with so many other dogs at once really helped her to learn some dog manners that she apparently didn't learn in puppyhood as most dogs do. Also interesting was watching her seek out other high-energy dogs. Dogs that matched her energy level were the dogs she preferred to play with.
It was also during this class that I finally felt like she had bonded. She would run off to play with other dogs and then she'd stop to scan the circle of moving people to find me. When she found me, she would run to me, nuzzle my hand and then be off again. Needless to say I was thrilled with this development as I was already quite bonded to her! (We left this class when the location was changed. Something in the new building caused Gilda to completely shutdown and left her quivering in the corner. I didn't feel it was helpful to pay $$ for that!).

It was around this time that I began seeking out Agility facilities since she was nearing one year old. Knowing nothing about it, I was surprised to find that there were 4 "schools" within driving distance. One of the schools also had Flyball classes and we tried that...once. Flyball was not the sport for either of us. The high-stress, chaotic environment, and ultra noisy facility left Gilda frazzled and dropping hair by the handfuls and me with a splitting headache.

We applied to and were accepted by our current and most awesome facility: Agility Underground:
 Our classes (and our newest adventures) started in early January 2010 with our instructor, Jessica right before Gilda had her first birthday...
{1/15/2010 with canned dogfood 'cake'}

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