Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Shakespeare Learns to Walk on Leash

In between assorted other projects, Shakespeare has been slowly building his confidence on leash.

As expected, he's actually making excellent progress. In less than a week, he has gone from total pancake paralyzation outdoors to (1) ignoring a loose, dragging leash indoors while playing; (2) grudgingly following me around indoors on leash; (3) following me around more readily indoors; and now (4) cautiously following me around outdoors.

Given that the environmental jump from "indoors" to "outdoors" is considerably larger in Center City Philadelphia than it would be in most other places, this is a huge hurdle for the little guy, and I'm proud that he's coming along so quickly. I feel pretty confident in predicting that his adopters will be able to get him walking normally on leash within two to four weeks, depending on what their neighborhood is like and how regularly they practice with Shakespeare.

These clips are from last night and therefore poorly lit and shaky, but I'll post them anyway to demonstrate where we are right now.

Shakespeare on leash walking around the park:

He trots along with me readily except when we pass by another person (at which point he shrinks off to the side, does a Sit, and watches the person cautiously until they walk away or I can coax him past) or, as shown in this clip, when a car goes by blaring loud music. With a few more exposures these things will cease to be a big deal and I anticipate he'll stop being so scared of them, but right now they are new and foreign and make him worry a little.

Shakespeare is almost too afraid to take treats outside the house right now. He'll do it, but only irregularly and when it's relatively quiet. Again, this is normal and I expect it will pass: he's not a fearful dog, but a temporarily overwhelmed one. What works best for him as a reward currently is praise, petting, and occasionally (when I need to coax him forward out of a frozen moment) turning toward him and lowering my body in a crouch. This induces him to start moving toward me and then I can turn around and resume the walk and he'll be "un-stuck" and able to continue.

He does sometimes accept treats and seems to find it easier to take small soft ones (bits of string cheese and cooked chicken) rather than dry or crunchy ones (dehydrated lamb lung and beef liver, while his favorites indoors, are things he's not yet ready to take outside). We are, of course, currently using the highest-value treats in my repertoire for outdoors work.

I'm also allowing him to self-reward occasionally by sniffing, at least when I know he's sniffing "legal" things like other dogs' pee and not illicit treats like half-eaten chicken wings or drunk-people vomit (a constant hazard along South Street).

The goal here is to encourage him to believe that there are interesting, non-scary, enjoyable things to encounter when he goes outside, so that he'll start to look forward to walks instead of dreading them. If he likes to sniff pee, that's fine with me -- that is a normal doggy thing to do and, unlike trying to hassle other dogs or people on the street (as many of my fosters have before!), it doesn't generally bother anyone else. So for now I'll allow Shakespeare to self-reward in this fashion. Later he might not need it so much and I'll get a little more insistent about our cues to keep moving.

His confidence has improved to the point where he takes the condo stairs at a pretty good clip now. These also used to be cause for total panic and pancaking. Not anymore!

So that's pretty much what we've been doing lately and where we are with it. I'm not quite optimistic enough to expect that Shakespeare will be walking around with full confidence by the time I send him home, but I do think he'll get there within a month or so.

I may try taking him out to the dog park later this week. I expect he'll do just fine there, but expecting things is not at all the same as actually seeing them in practice. So we'll give that a try, and it will probably be the last of Shakespeare's Big Adventures before I kick him out of here.

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