Bursts of Work

Vito accompanied me to a puppy raiser outing at a public park this weekend.  I was planning on bringing Gracie but she's still in the slammer.  I knew that this would be difficult for Vito as he has a hard time adjusting to "non-dog show" environments but was also pretty certain he could handle it.

On arrival Vito did a bit of stress whining from the parking lot to the entrance.  I parked farther away so that he would have a bit of a walk and hopefully tone down the whining before getting to people.  And for the most part it worked.  We were able to hang out and wait at the park entrance for the small group of puppy raisers to arrive.  It took Vito about 20min of looking around at all the people walking by for him to be able to work for 5 seconds.  Then he came into heel position nicely, did 5 great steps of heeling, got some cookies, and then I released him back to the environment.  He needed more time to soak everything in so I put him back in a down and waited again.  Another 10 minutes passed before he was ready to work again but this time after 5 seconds of work, a reward, and a release back to the world he re-engaged me with me almost right away!  I think we did maybe 4 or 5 more bursts before I could feel him waning and we went back to hanging out.

A little bit later we went for a walk around the large playground and made several stops for the dogs to work on attention and behaviors.  Vito was able to work at a few.  In the 90 minutes we were at the park we probably did a grand total of 5 minutes of quality work.  At one spot towards the end he started getting anxious about nothing in particular.  I found that just giving him treats for being calm and lying down nicely did nothing to help him.  But work he understands.  Vito wasn't in a state of mind to offer nice work and focus but I could fake it by showing him a cookie upfront before doing our 5 seconds.  Repeat.  The heeling was lovely and his attitude was great.  But that's still not something I want to get in the habit of doing with Vito.  Bribing doesn't get you very far in the long run and certainly won't hold up in the ring.  At least it kept Vito from having a melt down in a situation we couldn't leave.

All in all, I am very happy with how Vito did at the outing.  The park was very busy and there were kids running around everywhere.  Because it was so busy I didn't expect Vito to have any reactive episodes (nothing stands out in chaos) and that held true.  He took a very long time to acclimate and if I was there on my own I would have brought out his crate for him to hang out in.  But he did eventually choose to work and wasn't bribed or pepped talked into doing so.  Some of the times he worked I feel he did so purely because he's a good dog who knew what I was waiting for.  So he did a little work and upon his release he went right back to watching the world.  That tells me he really wasn't ready despite choosing to do so.  It makes me happy to see that choice, but it also means I was greedy and pushed him too hard.  Overall we were there a long time and he mostly handled the environment well.  See the relaxed eyes and face in the pictures above?!

In case you haven't read it yet, Denise Fenzi posted a brilliant post on the topic of working in challenging environments..

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