Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Week Three: Shelby Becomes Sydney

It's our third week with Shelby -- whose name is now Sydney -- and she has an adopter! She will be leaving us on November 2 to live on 15 acres in upstate New York with a wonderful couple and their three other dogs (one of whom is already named Shelbee, necessitating a name change for this Shelby to Sydney). It's a lovely home and I couldn't be happier for this little mutt.

I was super picky about placing her and will freely admit that I discouraged a couple of other inquiries because, honestly, I felt like they wouldn't have given Sydney what she needed. But I'm very excited about the home where she's headed and think it's a great match. (What a relief, too! I was afraid I'd have a hard time letting Sydney go, but instead I'm just thrilled she's landed so luckily. It's going to be quite a life change for a little dog who once had to scavenge roadkill for her puppies while herself on the verge of starvation.)

Sydney continues to do well here. She has finished her heartworm-related crate rest (making her an Official Heartworm Survivor) and has gone to the dog park a couple of times, where she alternates between mugging every human in the park for attention and trying to sniff all the dogs' butts. So far she's shown exemplary social graces and has been appropriate with bigger dogs, smaller dogs, puppies and old dogs alike. She plays nicely with Dog Mob both inside and outside the house.

Training is still going slowly, which is mostly my fault since we have our next Rally trial coming up this Sunday and most of my attention has been diverted to that. (Crookytail still doesn't have a reliable left pivot. STILL. With four days left to go. AND he regularly stalls out on runs because he gets distracted by urgent imaginary squirrels and/or a need to pee on things. Sigh...)

We had a breakthrough this morning, though. Sydney finally gave me a Down on a straight verbal cue! Then she did it twice again and hit five out of five on a discrimination drill (where I say either "Sit" or "Down" and wait for her to give the correct response). Most dogs, especially when they've only just learned those two cues and haven't had a ton of practice yet, get confused and have difficulty distinguishing which is which. April would always Sit first and then slide into a Down if I didn't mark and reward the Sit -- she didn't really understand that "Sit" means Sit and "Down" means Down, so she would always respond to any verbal cue by doing the same sequence as trial and error. The majority of dogs do the same thing, and only learn to distinguish verbal cues after lots and lots of practice.

I've only done one drill with Sydney so it's hard to say whether she really understands the difference between the cues or just got lucky, but regardless, I'm excited that she's responding to straight verbals. We'd been stuck on this for quite a while, and I'm happy to see signs that we may be moving past it.

Another recent breakthrough is that Sydney has started playing with toys!

When she got here, Sydney had no idea what toys were. She didn't display any interest in balls, squeaky toys, tug toys, or stuffed animals. She did seem to recognize them as "dog items" (as distinguished from "people items" like shoes and remote controls) and she picked up on chew toys pretty quickly, but for the first few weeks, she had no apparent concept of how to play with toys at all.

In the last couple of days, that's changed. Now she will occasionally pick up the raggedy remains of a Kong gecko and use it to entice one of the other dogs to play a game of keep-away.

Sydney still isn't too adept at toy play, and toys don't seem to be a strong motivator for her in the absence of other dogs (i.e., playing with me and the toy is not of much interest to her yet), but I view that as progress too. She's learning things from Dog Mob, and I expect she'll continue to learn from the resident dogs in her new home as well.

Her heartworm cough is almost gone. I hear it very rarely these days, and only when she's gotten seriously over-excited about something. I'm hopeful it will be completely vanished by the time she goes home in a little over a week.

Her leash walking skills are slowly but steadily improving. It's a little tricky to work on leash skills with Sydney, because she is so much more interested in what's going on around her that even the tastiest treats are barely reinforcing. Freeze-dried chicken is working today, but who knows if she'll still be interested in it tomorrow. She's a dog who likes novelty, Sydney is.

As with everything else, practice will eventually make perfect. She's doing really well on name recognition/response exercises on the street and isn't zigzagging in front of me quite so much, so that's good; on the flipside, she's now really interested in and anxious to interact with every other dog she sees (including the yippy-reactive ones that want nothing whatsoever to do with her), so that has become a New Thing to Work On.

And that's where we are for today. I'll try to have one more update before she goes home, but we're definitely in the winding-down phase of Sydney's story. Happily ever after is just a few days away.

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