Even while we were making progress training Bella over the various agility obstacles, and she was taking her prescribed medications, eating a low(er) protein diet and getting as much exercise as we could work into our schedule, in January/February 2012, Bella started showing signs of increased anxiety at home again. She began darting from the room at the slightest sound, not sleeping through the night and becoming even more frantic about storms and unexpected events.
|What? Me, worry?|
Things came to a head in February culminating in 2 events that made us realize not all was well in the state of Bella:
- First, Bella and Jan had another scuffle in February. I called Dr. D.s' office immediately but it would be April before we could get back in to see him for a follow-up.
- Then, a week or so later, we learned how quickly things can turn south in a classroom full of reactive dogs.
In the early days of class, our trainer, Carolyn, would have us walk the dogs around the room in a parade route fashion - each dog staying appropriately distanced behind the next to keep them under threshold. The idea was for the person following to be responsible for maintaining the distance behind the dog in front. But sometimes the dogs have other ideas.
Bella had been toodling right along in class for a couple of months when one night, while she was stalled admiring the alluring aroma of classmate Elmo's mat, classmate Willie decided to trot his way over the dog walk heading straight towards Bella at a pretty good and noisy clip. I, sadly without eyes in the back of my head, was watching Elmo in front of us and missed the signals Bella was most certainly sending me before she blew up like a mad dog in Willie's direction behind me. Hrumph.
Landing solidly on one of my knees and following that with my face, the best I could do was hold on (and pray I hadn't just broken my knee). Bella continued to lunge and growl at the end of the leash and Willie gave his owner a good tussle mimicking Bella's behavior back at her. It took a moment for everyone to realize I wasn't able to get up and suddenly Jan and Carolyn sprang between the dogs - Jan getting Bella back under control and Carolyn helping Willie's owner handle him and herd him back to his mat.
Sweet little Elmo remained rather oblivious to the whole encounter as he was now on the opposite side of the room.
|Still not quite calm but getting better.|
That practice may have sent me sprawling but it saved Bella from breaking free of my grasp and getting to Willie which would have been a disaster. (Willie had previously been attacked by another dog IN a training class. No wonder the poor guy has reactivity issues.)
The mark of a good teacher, in my mind, is the ability to read a situation, understand the needs and motivations of her students and change her teaching methods if and when they're not working for any individual. Carolyn is a very good teacher. And she has made several modifications to her approach in teaching us and helping our dogs over the life of our class.
After Bella's little outburst, Carolyn stopped having us walk around together in a circle and had us all line up along the same wall. Baby gates and sheets separating the dogs so they couldn't see each other at all except during controlled warm-up periods. Over time, as the dogs got better at that, we started working them on some of the obstacles during the warm-up sessions, first one dog at a time, then two and finally the whole class working together at the same time.
|Bonding over treats and training.|
Jan and I learned we need to take turns as Bella's handler each week. Improving Jan's relationship with her is our highest priority but at the same time, we can't have mine suffer as a result. We could end up having the same problem but just reversing to whom it's directed. Everyone has a role to play in helping Bella heal and we each have to be a part of the solution if this is going to work.
|Thank you, daddy, for teaching me.|