May I remind you that in the summer of 2011 my dog was lunging at mannequins in a store window, barking from inside the car at people in cars next to us, threatening people he knew and physically ill- not eating and alternating between being lethargic and anxiety riddled.
This year is different.* Sure, we still have set backs. I have enough friends that I shoot emails and messages to in near tears that know how hard it is to deal with a reactive dog to testify to that. Make no mistake about it- it's hard. It's something that I signed up for though, when I agreed to take on this dog. I had no idea he would become reactive and a troublesome guy, but that's just part of the commitment when you agree to care for another life. You do what you can until you can't and then you make the right decision.
Today I took Toby for a training session. It was our first outdoor, stimuli experiencing training session in... months. I suited him up with his Thundershirt and harness, put an extra leash on his collar just for extra safety in the event of a hardware malfunction and drove him to the Petco parking lot. This parking lot gets a moderate amount of traffic, but on a Monday morning it was just the right amount for Toby to be out and about in some bustle and activity, but not overwhelming. We actually didn't see any dogs and that's okay. I parked at the far end of the parking lot and walked Toby around back there for a few minutes. If he saw a person in the distance, I instantly gave him high value treats. We eventually walked closer and continued the game. Two large trucks pulled up and three guys got out and stood around talking for a minute, so Toby got to look at them and got lots of treats.
After fifteen minutes, Toby began to chew on his leash. For him, this is a sure sign of mounting anxiety and was actually something he was doing the night that he targeted Allen. I always try to listen to Toby and know when he has had enough. As soon as the chewing started, I got his leash away from him by having him offer other behaviors, oriented him towards some people and treated a lot so that we could end on a good note. After that, I loaded him up and set off for home.
The real triumph of the day, to me, was when we were stopped at a light and a guy rode his bicycle right in front of my car and then right past Toby's window and began moving away from our car, so Toby could still see him. A year and a half ago he was barking and freaking out about a woman in the car next to us at the drive through bank. Today, he didn't bat an eye at the bicycle (something he is skeptical about to begin with). Granted a month or so ago he was barking his fool head off through the storm door at someone walking down the street, but I'll take victories anywhere I can get them.
Upon arriving home, I took Toby out of the car and there was a guy walking down the sidewalk on the other side of the street. As soon as Toby looked, I treated him. This type of training never ends. Toby took the treat and looked back. Due to the distance and Toby's relaxed nature, I decided to try and push my luck by not treating him immediately for looking at the guy. After just a hair longer than it normally takes me to shove treats at him, he actually looked back at me. I gave him a jackpot. Maybe he gets this game better than I thought he did!
*And I can't thank my friends that listen to me and support me, my amazing vet and the trainers that I've worked with enough.