Sometimes it helps to have a friend. Stacy’s sheltie Kamin came to visit for a long weekend and Patrick is clearly happy to see one of his own. Stacy’s son Ben kneels down in front of Patrick, gently cups his hands around Patrick’s head and give him a squeeze. Perhaps reminded of the two boys in his own home, Patrick accepts this gesture of affection. I’m curious to watch this little interaction because Patrick often freezes at anything that he perceives as “making him” do something; his body gets stiff and tense. He clearly enjoys Ben’s attention.
By the time Kamin leaves, Patrick is joining us in the TV room, lying near the couch or under the table with the other dogs. You might wonder what the big deal is, but they are signs that he is relaxing, and not reverting to his crate as a safe haven.
Patrick has been here two weeks now and we’re making progress. He’s learned to sit and understands, although he sometimes forgets, that he must sit for everything—sit to go outside, sit to come inside, sit to get his dinner, sit for his leash, and sit for just about anything else I can think of. We’ve started going places, too; to a handling class that’s out of doors in a quiet setting. No pressure, no asking him to do anything but sit, and he does well. I’m always watching for clues though, if he is stressed. He won’t take a treat that I bring, and that tells me he is anxious and I shouldn’t push. We just sit and watch the other dogs, go for a little walk, and hang out.
A nearby park is another location we visit, where we go for a walk and then do our sits. Again, he won’t take a treat, so although I know he is enjoying his walk, he still worries.
What is Patrick worried about? I can’t definitively answer that, but I know he won’t stop worrying until he learns to trust I will not ask anything of him that he can’t handle. It’s all part of the compliance and deference I work on at home.
We’ve started some training on other things too. He’s learning to “shake” to make a game of me holding his paw. We’re also working on “come.” That’s a difficult one for him, and he compromises by running a little distance and then sitting several feet away from me. I appreciate the effort, but put the long line on to help him understand running and sitting is not part of coming to me.
Patrick is here to learn a new way in his life, that when I ask for something, if it is fair and kind, he will comply.
Fairness--it would be unfair to ask Patrick to do something that I haven’t taught him or shown him what I want. It would be unfair to force him to do something because of his overriding stress-and it would be counter-productive. But it is fair to ask for something and then help him understand that I will follow through with the expectation that he can do it. So for me there is a constant evaluation of what to insist on and what to let go because he simply isn’t ready for it. It’s a balancing act that there isn’t always a clear answer for; you have to use common sense, and experience helps too. If I feel that he knows what I am asking and I feel he can comply, it is fair to insist he follow through.
We just started with clicker training, too. Since I can now get Patrick to take food during our behavior modification protocols, every time I give him a treat, I click. He doesn’t know it, but we’ve started the first step in associating the click with food as a reward.
Of course we have our frustrating moments. Times I say, “you should know this,” or “you shouldn’t be afraid,” or “you are being silly.” But I go back to what we have succeeded at before the frustration set in, and we start over. Then the next time, in some mysterious way, we are just a little bit further ahead.