We’ve reached a stage in the Dingo’s training where we’ve decided it will be easier to move forward if we extinct her reactions to certain scenarios. The dog has got pretty chill, or zen as they call it on the training levels, but there are a few key things that still get her amped up.
These are: excited dogs, excited women with high pitched voices, and prey (like cats and babies, well OK not babies really though I think the world would be a little better off if she ate a few of them). She also got a bit too whiny after a certain debacle involving an agility trainer.
We’re tackling each of her quirks separately. We go every day to a park where we’ve managed to reinforce a high level of calm by rewarding her with stalking squirrels.
The tactic goes like this: we put Scherzo into a down or sit and wait for a squirrel to wander down from a tree. When she spots the prey we tell her to “walk up” and release her from her down. If she pulls, we tell her out and back up until she turns and walks away or until the squirrel is back up a tree. She’s learned to stalk up a few feet away from squirrels, to do all her basic commands while stocking, and we’ve managed to show her that the point of stalking is to get the animal back into a tree, upon which she gives up and gets a treat. We have very Zen walks together in the park, listening to music,walking slowly around, “chasing” squirells, and standing at the bottom of trees looking up.
We’re now trying to generalize this behavior to more difficult prey like cats and bunnies. The problem with these two is that they are make much fewer appearances. Still the other day I managed to get the Dingo to stalk up to a cat and lay down a few feet away, pretending to ignore it. It helped that the cat took an offensive approach and didn’t run.
At the same park we take breaks when crazy off leash running dogs show up, retiring to a safe hiding spot under a tree and treat her for watching the dog and then looking at us.
We’ve been setting up meetings with strangers by recruiting people off Craigslist and bulletin boards to meet up with us and help train. These have gone great! In about six sessions now the Dingo has started to ignore the strangers right away, which is way faster progress than we’d ever imagined.
Lastly we’ve been working on her whining by setting up scenarios where she is likely to whine about something we control. The best one has been having one of us go away for a few hours and then show up randomly out on a walk with another person. We plan to meet in places that aren’t likely to have other triggers like prey, excited dogs, etc, and then wait until her whining stops, or extincts. In five days of this, her whining has gone from lasting 16 minutes down to 3! First day took 16 minutes for her to stop whining and walk completely calmly up to Sarroar, second day took 11 minutes, third day took fifteen because she noticed from a farther distance, fourth day took 7 minutes and the fifth day took 3 minutes. Very soon we think she will be able to be suprised by the appearance of someone she knows and walk up to them completely calmly. Stranger will be very happy about this if Scherzo can generalize it to her!!
The best part is that her overall attention has also been increasing. As she is less excited about these key distractions, she seems to be watching for them less on her outings and instead paying more attention to us.