Thursday, November 13, 2008

Laev goes to school again.

I'd been asked to do a training demo for an ESL classroom, as they've been doing a unit on dogs. I waited until the last moment to decide which dog to take, and I made a fairly arbitrary decision -- Shakespeare needs a nail trim, so Laev went with me.

This was under our own name, as Shakespeare is not a therapy dog now and I have never heard back on Laev's status. (At this point, I don't really want them to accept her -- the registration and fee is based on the calendar year, so if months later they do register her as a TDI therapy dog, it would be valid for only another month and then I would have to pay the full amount again. Hardly worth it, and I have my own insurance.)

But that was just fine, as I can't do a training demo under TDI visit rules, anyway; I talk specifically about shaping and reinforcement, and I am NOT going to try to use a tug reinforcer in a crowded classroom of 100 or so kids. Nope. We use food treats, so we could not go as a TDI team anyway.

We were a little late arriving to the school, due to a traffic accident, and had to hurry past lots of kids in the hallway. As we were about to enter the classroom, the teacher mentioned that there was another dog already in the room as well. "Is that okay?"

"Sure," I answered without thinking. Laev works past other dogs all the time. And I took her in.

The other dog turned out to belong to one of the teachers; apparently she comes to class sometimes and possibly serves as a reading dog. She was on the opposite side of the room and very intent on Laev as we entered. Someone said they would take the other dog out.

Something whirred deep inside my brain, but I was in Demo Mode, not in Good Trainer Mode. I should have taken Laev right out the door again and taken her down the hall as the other dog exited, but Demo Mode was telling me, "These kids didn't come for you to tease them with a dog and then leave, and you're already 15 minutes late!" So I moved Laev away from the door into the open space left in the center of the rows of kids on the floor and parked her on her mat.

There wasn't much space in the room; it was filled with kids. There was a 3' wide path from the door and a clearing in the middle of the room. The other dog had to reach the door, and so had to come by us. And she was dragging and leaning hard toward Laev, lots of eyeballs.

I really don't think the other dog meant to be aggressive; she struck me as a very typical rude adolescent, or possibly an adult who never learned correct social manners. But Laev, in a down on her mat with dozens of kids behind her, felt threatened by the lunging staring dog, and she barked defensively.

It was a bark. She never even left the mat, much less was there any contact between the two dogs. But even a single defensive noise can sound scary. The kids erupted with, "Whoa!" and the teacher snatched his dog away and out. I took Laev's collar, had her target my hand, and tried, "Well, that's one of the things we're going to talk about today, how to behave safely around dogs...."

I think we actually recovered decently. I got a student to shake hands with me and show polite human greetings, and then I lunged at her with over-the-top effervescence. We talked about how it made her uncomfortable, and that was why Laev barked at the other dog -- and why when WE greet dogs, we have to be careful to do it safely so we don't scare them.

Several kids were selected to practice greeting Laev, and things went better from there. I was a bit rattled, though -- I am always so sensitive to appearances, especially with yet another breed ban revving up locally, and then I was especially fretful when I talked about using reinforcement instead of punishment. Were any of the teachers wondering, "Yeah, and that obviously produces a dangerous dog?" But I don't think we left a bad impression, I hope, though my part wasn't nearly so smooth as usual.

So we did some shaping demos with Laev and kids both, and we talked about dog training and teaching incompatible behaviors to get rid of unwanted behavior, and Laev flipped over for her "dead bug" trick while I was occupied and it got so many giggles that she never really stopped doing it again.... I think it ended okay, but I just felt sub-standard.

Someone told me that the other dog had dragged toward the visiting service dogs, too. It's sad, because that's probably a very nice dog, really. I hate the dog park culture that says all dogs must be friends and that all friendly dogs may rush one another, and that any dog who doesn't appreciate being rushed isn't friendly or a good dog. If we don't accept glomping from strangers, why do we allow or even encourage it in our dogs?

End of soapbox. There was no harm, no foul, today. I just am hypersensitive to such things, I think.

And at least some kids got to practice dog safety and learn about reinforcement. I hope that was useful to someone.

No comments: