Last night, I was doing some basic distraction work (my husband has Laev's supper, and she has to recall to me and do work for a click and a send to him for a snack), which took much longer than usual due to my dog's difficult in re-focusing. She was constantly scanning for prey. Once, during a recall, she never made it to me, pausing midway to pounce double-pawed on a passing leaf. Ouch. We HAVE regressed, haven't we?
I was scheduled to do clicker training demos for a veterinary open house today, and drizzly weather meant the event was moved entirely indoors. I got for my training area a very nice matted area -- which also happened to be where the boarded cats lived in one corner of cattery runs.
No matter! This is an excellent opportunity for training and working through our current issues. I would try it with Laev. If she were too bad, I'd just stash her in the car for the day; it's not fair to traumatize the cats, who didn't sign up to be guinea pigs. But if she could learn to work beside them, that could be a giant step forward again for us, right?
Fortunately, I'd brought three levels of treat values for the day.
The cats were perfect; I'd like to rent this batch for the future. One shy kitty was covered so she didn't have to see us, and the other two were just awesome -- nice and laid back, not particularly active or spooky. If Laev got too close, one hissed at her, but there was no frantic prey movement and that was ideal.
I did my first acclimatization before any spectators arrived, with Laev safely on leash so that she couldn't rage against the cattery cage doors if she were inclined. She did alert on the cats and go all predatory, but I stayed calm and backed away until she turned, at which point I clicked and treated.
We gradually worked our way closer and closer, until Laev was sniffing most eagerly at the cage doors but could, with great effort, tear herself away when asked. Since I would not have guessed we'd ever be able to get to that point in several weeks, I was very pleased, and we stopped there.
Laev and Shakespeare each did some shaping demos, and Shakespeare "volunteered" for training by a number of visitors. He's forgiving enough that slow or mis-timed clicks, while confusing and frustrating, don't stop him working entirely, and I am coaching to keep the rate of reinforcement high enough that it's worth his while.
Intermittently, however, I'd bring Laev out and work her. When we could heel off leash past the cats without losing eye contact, I thought we'd achieved some sort of training miracle. It's been only three days since The Cat Incident! Is this Laev? Is she ill?
Then we went out front for a bit, where chaos reigned. The building was crowded with an entire fair's worth of exhibits and activities (ferrets, wildlife rehabilitation, toss games, tortoises, raffles, quizzes, a food bar, pet caricatures, photography, etc.) compressed into one space, and of course there are always folks not watching where their leashes pull because their dogs are nice and won't get into trouble, they assume. Laev was pretty freaked out by the press and activity, actually cowering and even trembling twice. (That is NOT my dog.) She snarked at one dog who pushed cheerily right into her face, but only for the second it took to remove the offender. I had given her a toy to carry, so that helped vent her stress safely, but she was clearly having a rough time of it.
But that can't stop us! We were going to work through it. I pulled out the squeeze cream cheese (which had been working miracles near the cattery) and began treating her regularly for sitting still beside me, buffered by myself and a wall. It took probably 10 minutes, but she was soon working promptly for her licks of cheese -- no more hesitation or glancing about. Another 10 minutes, and she was a pro, moving about and not even glancing at the other people or dogs that pushed about us. While she was sitting at front, eyes on me, a strange dog jabbed its head between my legs -- I simply closed my legs to push it out and treated Laev, who barely blinked at it.
I would really like to have returned to the busy lobby later for another practice round, but we didn't have a chance. But it was an excellent experience for her.
Of course, my high came to a crashing end when I arrived home and discovered our outdoor cat beside my car as I released Shakespeare. He chased her (he enjoys making cats move) and Laev, watching through her crate door, went slightly berserk. I didn't release her for some time, hoping she'd forget about it, but nope! she downed and waited nicely for the door and then went screeching off in search of the cat, finding it in the tree and going quite mad below. I collected her physically and put her in her run, but that battle was a loss.
Still, in the grand scale of the war on predation and distraction, I have at least one victory.