This time we trained outside, and the arrangement was much easier on Una! We trained with Onni for a while, and then with Tommi’s BIG, handsome white shepherd (valkoinen paimenkoira).
We walked past Onni, who trained his stuff, back and forth. First, Una wanted to explore the unfamiliar place and couldn’t concentrate very well on my attempts to get her to walk with me. After a while, however, it got better. Tommi instructed me to keep myself between Una and Onni. This meant having Una heel on my left AND right, since we were walking back and forth…
We have practiced our right-side-walking with Una after our first session. I decided to use targeting as a tool. First, I introduced the idea to Una while she was on her familiar position, on my left. In practice, I walk slowly, say Una’s “heel” word and offer my left hand for a nose-touch, click when she touches while heeling, give her a treat on the run, and repeat for as long as is needed. When the light bulb went on in Una’s head, I introduced the same concept, mirrored to the right side. With some (an understatement) fumbling, I started to get my act together well enough for Una to have a chance of understanding what I want. We made good progress, and performed reasonably well in the training session 🙂
After Onni left, we did some parallel walking with Tommi and his dog. Again, we walked back and forth, and Una walked with me on both sides. I didn’t ask her to heel, but let her walk freely and explore the area (we had changed the location). When we had walked back and forth maybe three times, Una started to relax more. So, again, the most difficult thing for her seemed to be the unfamiliar surroundings.
I asked Tommi if we could address Una’s “I will bark a couple of times, just in case that person tries to invade my personal space” -routine. What I mean here is my observation that the barking starts in a split second, without any preliminary gestures of anxiety/aggression that I can see, and sometimes Una seems to be reasonably calm while barking. Therefore, it seems to be partly a learned behavior.
The following incident sped up my resolve to do something about it right away: last week, a young girl was passing us and suddenly took a few steps towards Una, stretching her hand forward while asking if she could pet her. Una barked instantly, startling the girl. Luckily, she was maybe one meter from Una at this point, and wasn’t badly scared. I explained to her that Una startled because she approached so quickly, but I could see she was quite bewildered by Una’s behavior. These kinds of situations are not nice, and I want to get more tools to handle them. The girl did the right thing, asking if she could pet Una, but, to be fair on Una, she did approach already, while asking… Anyway, I don’t think it is enough to train Una to tolerate strange people. I want to teach her to expect good things when she sees someone approaching.
So, I suggested that we will find a way to make Una think that people approaching her are potentially rewarding, not threatening. Tommi had a suggestion: we could teach Una to greet people by touching their hand with her nose, earning a click and a treat. I liked the idea a lot and we decided to focus on this on our next session.
Overall, we have made very good progress over the last couple of weeks. Una is more relaxed on our walks. Very rewarding, for me, after all our hard (again, fun) work 🙂 Today, a person we encountered said he has never seen a dog as obedient as Una. Yippee 😉