Thursday, November 13, 2014

Silver Gets Ready to Go Home

We are winding down our time with Silver. Tomorrow she's scheduled to go home with wonderful adopters, and I hope she'll go on to have an amazing life. I always feel so lucky to be able to help these little guys move from a desperately bad situation to some of the most caring and committed homes in the world. Where they go is lightyears better than where they've been, and every time I place a dog, I'm thrilled for that dog and sad for the others who didn't roll such a lucky number in life's lottery.

But anyway.

In her last few days here, we haven't really been working on anything new. Some other stuff popped up over the past week or so that's unfortunately derailed a lot of my attention away from training the foster dog, so poor Silver has mostly been on the back burner this week.

One of the things we have been working on is impulse control in outdoor environments, also known as "not freaking out and losing your mind when another dog walks by on the sidewalk, plz kthx." On Sunday, Silver suddenly started jumping and barking at other dogs she saw around our neighborhood. I'm not entirely sure what's going on there, except that it seems to be some stripe of excitement/frustration/territorialness and not a fear reaction. Which is good, because excitement is much easier to fix than fear.

So we've spent some time figuring out Silver's threshold distances (i.e., how close she can be to another dog before she starts losing her mind) and then working on various alternative incompatible behaviors at or below threshold distance. I'm prompting her for attention, immediately rewarding that, and then either prompting for a Sit or a quick, happy walk away from the other dog, depending on which is more appropriate in that particular situation. If the dog is already moving away from us, I ask for a Sit. If the dog is either staying in place or moving toward us, then I prompt Silver to move away.

That gets rewarded too: once we're sufficiently far away and Silver is paying enough attention to me, I throw a big party of treats and praise and a little bit of chase/tag play or petting depending on whether I want to ramp her up or calm her down.

After three days of this, we've made enough progress that we're pretty much back to where we were on Sunday right before she started reacting at all. We took this picture on a side street this morning with another dog about 40 feet away on a cross street:

...and that was one of five or six pictures I was able to get with only the briefest diversions of eye contact away from me. Silver held that Sit for almost a full minute and was, with only sporadic reinforcement (because I was trying to take pictures and couldn't rapid-fire treats the whole time), able to ignore the other dog at that distance.

I am, accordingly, pretty confident that her adopters should be able to get a handle on this behavior without too much trouble. They seem to be pretty on top of things, and Silver is not a dog that I'd currently characterize as "reactive." Her behavior is no worse than what I've seen from many, many excitable sport dogs on the competition circuit. You can't have a firecracker that doesn't throw a few sparks!

But, on the flipside, it is an issue that we're dealing with right now, and it is not hard to accidentally make reactive behavior worse by putting the dog over threshold or turning it into full-blown defensive aggression by employing punishment at the wrong times (these borderline excitement/frustration cases are really, really one of those situations where if you are going to use punishment, getting the timing right is super important -- one of many reasons I don't choose to go that way), so it's definitely not a place where you'd want to go "okay, problem solved" and just ignore it. This is going to need continued work to strengthen and maintain.

Also Silver met a cat today:

She was reaaaally fascinated with that cat. I think she was as amazed by the invisible forcefield protecting the cat, and the cat's resultant fearlessness, as the presence of the cat itself. Silver is still a little bit confused about glass doors (she's finally stopped walking facefirst into the glass doors around our condo, but that took about a week, and I can see her get confused by other glass doors that she encounters on walks), and this glassed-in viewing portal just about blew her mind.

On the health front, I'm keeping an eye on the two raw spots on her legs. When she arrived, she had a ton of little nicks and cuts all over her front legs and paw pads. I'll never know for sure how she got them, but I would guess that she probably picked up those cuts while wandering around in the woods. It can be a rough life for a dog out there.

Most of her cuts healed up within the first week, but she's got two that are not healing like the others, and I'm starting to wonder if she's been worrying at them and turning them into hot spots. I haven't caught her licking or chewing at them, but it's possible that she's been doing that in the crate while I'm at work and can't watch her. The spots themselves appear inconclusive at this time -- they're not definitely hot spots to my eye, but they also aren't definitely not hot spots. If they persist for more than a week post-adoption, or if they get any worse, that might warrant a look from a vet.

Finally, she's been spending a lot of time playing biteyface with Crookytail, up until Pongu intervenes and ruins their games (which he always does, because Pongu thinks playing is Against The Rules):

And that's more or less where we are as we start wrapping up Silver's stint as a foster dog. Tomorrow morning I'll pack up her tiny suitcase, and tomorrow afternoon she is scheduled to go home.

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