|that is close enough, please!|
How it was possible her first meeting with Kenzo went well remained a mystery for us in a long time. But more about that later in this story.
As you might remember, Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT) was brought to our attention by dog trainer Irith Bloom and blogger/author Edie Jarolim and we started making some progress. So where do we stand now?
I'm cool when you are cool
Training different BAT setups enhanced Viva's vocabulary of calming signals. She also feels confident enough to use them in a lot of situations. We can pass any other calm dog on a distance of around 5 meters (15 feet) and her normal response would be to look away and ignore the other dog. She has no wish to come up and greet. But that is also not necessary. Just that she chooses to tackle the situation with these calming signals instead of agression, is wonderful.
One of the good things with BAT in Viva's case was that it took the edge off of things. Which allows us to use other techniques like counter conditioning and desensitizing - see Debbie Jacob's explanation of this training jargon. Something that had no effect on Viva at all before BAT.
Some of the calm and well-socialized dogs she has gotten to know in the neighborhood are allowed to come and greet. In Viva's world that means the exchange of a sniff. That will do for Viva. Thereafter it is all turning away and ignoring. Again a good display of Viva using her newly adopted social skills.
We still have a lot of progress to make trying to approach a more "excited" dog. From a distance Viva will try some lip licking as calming signals, but she still will not feel comfortable to approach closer than a distance of 10 meters (30 feet). Although she will not lung or bark at them anymore if we come closer, she is clearly outside her comfort-zone. I always make sure never to go over her threshold, praise her for the lip licking, and turn around.
To help Viva further we found a great BAT setup with Kenzo's friend the Yorkshire terrier "watchdog". Because he knows me from all the walks me and Kenzo did past his property, he barks excited, and runs up to the fence, ready to meet us and receive his treats. I watch this with Viva on a safe distance and we have made it into our 5 meter barrier where we even were able to do "look at me". I throw some treats at the Yorkie too.
Our biggest concern are off-leash dogs. We have become quite savvy in avoiding other dogs, also when they are off-leash. But unevitably some come up and meet. The good thing is that she doesn't lung at them anymore head-on. When the other dog ignores her after the sniff she allows them to leave in the best of health.
Amazingly, the best the other dog could do is to make a play-bow. That calms her down tremendously and she will fully accept the dog. I had to rub my eyes the first couple of times that happened. She will do some tail wags and grins to the other dog. Suddenly we realized, it was also the key Kenzo used in their first meeting together, and explained why she accepted him from day one. Just luck? or another display of Kenzo outsmarting me once again on the social dog front?
Anything else than ignoring after the sniff or play-bows clearly sends her in distress and she will start focusing on trying to convince the other dog to leave. She will take a more confrontational stand, and will snap them in the neck or back if they keep on coming back. Those meetings send her stress levels sky-rocketing. She is clearly very unhappy the rest of the day, and can start with a heavy panting that goes on for hours, like some kind of constant state of hyperventilation. After such an encounter we usually take it calm for the next couple of days. Make some short walks and ensure there is not even another dog in sight.
Our biggest challenge is of course other reactive or aggressive dogs. I think I am now able to spot them from a great distance and the tactic is simple: get the hell out of Dodge! We are absolutely not ready for a meeting, on any distance, with one of her equals.
"Viva's long road to rehabilitation" is a series of updates how Viva is doing almost one year after her adoption: