It was really just an attempt to begin to identify Bella as a "Highly Sensitive" dog and our realization that there was a dimension to her education that we weren't even aware we needed to address. We knew she lacked socialization as a puppy and we had tried to set up appropriate meetings/play dates/group play.
What we didn't understand adequately at the time was her deep-seated fear of losing the comfort and safety she had found with us. And more specifically, how she saw me as the single point of failure for that potential loss.
Our dog is a Momma's girl
Later she began showing her disapproval when I was between her and another dog by moving to position us differently putting herself in between me and the other dog. (While we didn't recognize it at the time, it's clear in retrospect that Bella has some herding dog in her and was herding me away from 'danger'.)
When we brought her home with us and as we began to introduce her to other dogs, we were mindful of this 'over-protective-ness'. We made a point of having me less involved in the meet and greets as Bella would be worried and defensive about the other dog getting too close to me. And we worked on it at the dog park where I could move closer to other dogs while she was too busy playing to care if I patted a pal on the head.
However, after Bella's little dust-up with Maggie, we realized we needed to address this behavior in a more structured way. (Read: we were in over our heads and didn't know how to fix this.) And so began our first venture into reactive dogs training.
We are very fortunate to have a number of trainers in our area. One place barely 5 minutes away offers a number of different classes for a whole variety of 'issues', skills and levels. It's a big place that can easily hold 6 - 8 reactive dogs without the dogs having to be too close to each other. There are fences with sheets draped over them so the dogs can't see each other except deliberately during exercises.
|Who are you calling a ruffian?!|
The Douglas Adams' fan in me couldn't help but chuckle when we were also instructed to "always carry a towel". Seriously. It is to become the dog's "mat" and "safe space" during class and, subsequently, at home and abroad.
Unfortunately, there are all levels of trainers in the world and some work better for some dogs and people than others. The person running our class was well-versed in clicker/positive reinforcement training but obviously had little experience with actual scared-y dogs.
In one session where Bella spooked because of the banging/booming of the garage doors, we were told to "get your dog under control". Um, dude, you're the trainer and we're here for you to teach us "how" to get our dog under control, not just tell us to do it.
|Bella and her towel|
Okay, I get it. We're all working with dogs who have issues here and ideally we want to give each dog in the class the opportunity to be successful with their task at hand. I get that, I do. But I've gotta tell ya, not at the risk of my dog getting stung by a bee that she's already terrified of. Grr. Arg.
Finding the silver lining
Anyway, turns out the absolute best part of this 8-week course comes near the very end when the dogs are introduced to a couple of agility obstacles. Everyone in class noted that Bella just 'lit up' when she was running the jumps. Even our less-than-observant trainer said she looked like a different dog and recommended she go on to Agility for Reactive Dogs. Happily discovering he didn't teach it, we began making plans to sign her up.
And then I fell off a chair and turned Bella's world on it's head.
To be continued... ;)