Just when we thought our days of puppyhood mania were over, a slew of new and more challenging behavioural issues have cropped up that make the sleepless nights of potty-training pale in comparison. [Lil’ Miss Maple sure knows how to keep us busy!]
This training log will help us stay on track with Miss Maple’s progress in overcoming “leash reactivity” (you can read about our ordeal here), as well as document our journey through an 8-week Good Canine Citizen Course (GCCC).
Let the fun begin! Oh, and do wish us luck (PLENTY of it). 😀
DAY 1 (well, technically, DAY 3)
- Practiced “heel” and “look at me” along the footpath in front of our apartment block.
- Saw Mr Landscape Gardener. No barking –> reward with treat!
- Bistro, a senior Shih Tzu, came from behind us. Maple was eager to backtrack and say ‘hello’. No barking –> reward with treat!
- Walked further down the footpath towards the playground and past a house, where Betsy the Golden Retriever lives. There’s an invisible ‘barrier’ here that Maple refuses to cross over. By luring her with treats, we continued to walk straight through the barrier, made a U-turn, and walked right back through the barrier. We did this several times over.
- On our return back to the apartment, Maple saw Mr Beagle and his handler sitting at a bench. She growled and lunged midway before I quickly got her attention with the “look at me” command. As she sat, waiting for her treat, I praised and praised and praised her. No barking, attention on me –> reward with treat!
- Mr Beagle and Maple do not get along, from their very first encounter several months ago to this day. And it may just have to be this way for the rest of time.
- I was feeding Maple her treats as she sat within meters of Mr Beagle, when Honey, a Cocker Spaniel-Poodle mix, approached us. I informed Honey’s owner that I’m currently in the process of training Maple, and he understood. But, friendly Honey inched her way to greet Maple. And Maple reciprocated. No barking, just lots of sniffing –> reward with treat!
- As Honey left, I gave out more treats to redirect Maple’s focus. She has a tendency to turn her head around and bark rudely at the dog that is leaving, as if to say “You can run, but you can’t hide!”
- I wasn’t expecting so many distractions in one short morning walk but, given the circumstances, I think it went well (and, of course, the fact that this was essentially the third day into our training already).
- Significant Other, MM, took Maple for her walks today.
- According to MM (who did not bring treats along… SHOCK & HORROR!), Maple did just fine with “heeling”.
- Not much drama today.
- There was, however, a barking fiasco at the elevator entrance of our apartment block. When the elevator doors opened, two barking dogs greeted Maple as she and MM exited. Maple then decided it was OK to join in on the clamour. MM redirected Maple’s focus with “look at me” and walked her away from the scene.
- Brought Maple to the neighbourhood lawn where we saw two dogs walking by on the footpath. We’ve seen these two fellas around the block, but Maple hasn’t exactly warmed up to them. There have been a few barking exchanges before in the past. As the duo walked by, I had Maple in a “down” position and gave her treats. No barking, which was nice.
- We continued our walk and bumped into Precious, an energetic and playful Cocker Spaniel. Precious is no stranger to Maple—they first met when they were puppies. Maple sat calmly as Precious tried her best to initiate play. No barking, no signs of nervousness –> reward with treat!
- Further into our walk, a pedestrian with a huge suitcase was coming towards us. I had Maple move to the side and “sit”, all the while redirecting her focus to me and the treats. It worked well, she didn’t bark at the stranger or the suitcase. BUT… as the stranger left, she let out a bark. I knew it! I had an inkling it would happen, but I was too slow to react. I should have maintained Maple’s gaze a little longer with “look at me” and treats—this would have given the stranger ample time to gain a bit more distance from us so that, once he was within safe range, Maple wouldn’t have any reason to bark.
- On our return home, we walked by a small dog on the same footpath. No barking, but Maple was skittish and yanked on the leash as she surged forward so that she could quickly get out of the way, thereby breaking off from her “heel”. *sigh* Definitely no rewards for that.
- Today, our “heel” was not particularly very good. Maple refused to budge 50% of the time. We’re hoping for a better session tomorrow, following our first Good Canine Citizen class!
DAY 5 (GCCC Week 1)
Our first GCCC class! (Read about it here)
- Miss Maple was a little intimidated by some of her canine classmates, but warmed up to them by the end of the lesson. She barked once at a Sheltie puppy and growled softly at a Dalmation, but stopped when we said “no”.
- Rewarded Maple with lots of treats when she remained calm in the presence of her fellow canines, particularly the larger breeds.
- Homework: practice “heel” by walking between two reference points, all the while being aware of your own posture and body language.
- We’ve been very diligent with our GCCC homework the past week, and I’m pleased to say that Maple’s “heel” has improved remarkably.
- I am now convinced that a simple change in your posture—walking upright, shoulders back, eyes focused to the front, confident stride—can alter the way a dog perceives you. Before, I would often hunch down to Maple’s level, engage in unnecessary conversations with her, give-in to her meandering ways, and beckon her with lots of commands that go in one ear and out the other. Now, we limit the amount of “noise” during the walks (commands like “no”, “sit”, “stay”, “come” are said only when necessary, and praises like “good girl” are given sparingly). It’s amazing how focused Maple becomes when there is silence during our walks. I guess all that chatter we used to do was just too distracting.
- Lastly, we were advised by the GCCC instructor to continue marching forward, eyes ahead, should Maple refuse to budge (which she had a tendency of doing). Initially, Maple would put on her brakes in a show of defiance. But, as we continued walking at a slow, steady pace—in a way, guiding her in our direction of movement—Maple eventually learnt to follow our lead. No exchange of words were required. Our body language said it all: we are in control of this walk.
- We can now finally enjoy our walks with Maple, as there will seldom be any tension on the leash. It’s an amazing feeling to have Maple trot right by my side, both of us relaxed and taking in the scenery.
- In terms of leash-reactivity… we’re still working on that. One small step at a time!
DAY 11 (GCCC Week 2)
- Maple entered class a nervous wreck, barking at the larger dogs (notably the ‘strangers’ who did not appear for the first lesson). After a potty break, she did seem a little (just a little) more at ease.
- We formed a large circle and demonstrated our “heel” by walking counter clockwise for several rounds. Next up, we formed two lines face-to-face and practised our “heel” while passing by one another. This was followed by “heel”, then “sit”. In a situation where the dog breaks from “heel” and lunges/charges forward, we were informed to turn around quickly and walk/run in the opposite direction.
- It was a full class and a small space, which meant that we were all working in pretty close proximity—dogs and humans. The distractions proved to be a bit much for Maple, who become overly concern about MM and only wanted to inch closer to him where he was standing by the sidelines. To help Maple refocus, MM decided to wait by the car. I think our furball was feeling kind of miserable because it was drizzling with rain, the ground was wet, and her butt was soaked. Here’s hoping for better weather next week!
- Homework: practice “heel” and “sit” with distractions from surrounding environment—commands shall be said only once, and not repeated.
- This afternoon Maple and I went on a long walk to take advantage of the cool, cloudy weather. I chose a route that would provide plenty of distractions, from joggers to construction workers and bulldozers to rumbling buses, so that I could help Maple learn to focus on my commands despite all the commotion.
- The walk went fairly smoothly with Maple either trotting behind me or heeling on my left for the most part. What I’ve begun to notice is that Maple would cut in front of me and veer from the left to my far right whenever there is an object on her immediate left that makes her nervous—it’s her way of gaining distance, by placing me in-between her and the object. I’m not sure whether to let it slide, or insist that Maple maintain her “heel” at all times. It’s especially difficult when the footpath is narrow and I’m not able to arc around the object without having to put myself and Maple on the road while cars are passing by. I’ll have to remember to ask the GCCC instructor about this next week.
- We also took the opportunity to practice “sit” on command. I did this each time I saw a pedestrian coming towards us, such that Maple would “sit” and “stay” on the side of the footpath so as to give the pedestrian right-of-way.
- Today, we had a burst of leash-reactivity. But it was a reaction to another creature altogether. I saw two dogs approaching from afar and thought it would be a good chance to train Maple to sit calmly at a generous (yet visual) distance from the dogs. So we waited at the bench for the dogs to make their way past us. Within a matter of seconds, Maple began to bark frantically. What could be the matter? The dogs were still quite a ways off. I scanned the area once more and noticed a monkey performing acrobatic stunts on a handrail no more than 15 metres in front of us. The monkey had tipped Maple beyond her threshold. It was time to leave.
DAY 17 (GCCC Week 3)
- We finally managed to arrive early for class this week. And a good thing, too, because it gave Maple a chance to warm up to her classmates. She was curiously sniffing her peers, including the ones that she was offensive towards the previous week. There was no barking at all—yay! What also did the trick was that I played 30 minutes of fetch with Maple prior to the class and also withheld her breakfast. Normally, Maple would have her breakfast at 9:00am. But, on Saturdays, Maple won’t get her treats until 10:30am when class begins. That way, Maple will direct her focus on the food rather than the canines. And it worked!
- We learnt the “down” command today, in which the dog goes from a sit position to a down position with some gentle guidance. Not all dogs will willingly go into a “down” position, and Maple is one of them. At home and when outdoors playing fetch, Maple listens to the “down” command with ease. But, when in the company of other canines, she is very reluctant to assume the “down” position. I suppose it makes her feel insecure and vulnerable. We’ll definitely have to work hard on making her feel comfortable with this exercise.
- Homework: practice “heel” and (silent) “sit”—in other words, the dog will sit automatically by your side once you have stopped walking—and “down”.
DAY 23 (GCCC Week 4)
- Oh dear, today Maple was a nervous wreck. Poor gal was taken aback by the larger class size because there were some canine students that had not shown up for some time and whom she could not recognize. We had quite a difficult time gaining her trust and focus—all she wanted to do was run off to a corner and hide. When the class was instructed to perform a “sit/stay”, Maple would sit and slowly rotate 180 degrees so that her butt would face the group and her eyes would target the closest exit as she mentally planned her escape route… then, within a split second, she would be inching away from my side.
- I think Maple’s confidence dropped to its lowest level—today’s class proved to be a bit too challenging for the furball. We’ll have to work extra hard this week to help Maple regain her confidence. I think we’ll start with shorter but more frequent practice sessions in order to keep it fun and allow Maple to gradually build up her confidence.
- Homework: as per last week, with the additional “stand” command in which the dog will transition from a “sit” to a standing position by your side.
DAY 29 (GCCC Week 5)
- We are half way through the GCCC and I have to say that it has been quite a journey for us humans. We think we’re training our pooches but, in fact, we’re really training ourselves to better understand the virtues of patience, determination, and compassion.
- Maple was still quite nervous entering class. In spite of that, she was a trooper and was a lot more focussed compared to last week. Perhaps the new liver treats that I brought with me helped in that department 😉
- We did several iterations of the commands that we had learnt so far with the addition of “stand-stay” and a recall exercise. At the end of the class, we were informed that there would be a test on Week 8! I don’t know if it was the muggy weather that day, but I was sweating profusely… TEST? Oh boy, we really have to keep on top of our homework.
- Homework: we’re going to focus hard on the “sit” (automatic), “stand”, and “stand-stay” for this week.
- What a difference one month makes! By applying our lessons from the GCCC and practicing with consistency, we have managed to mitigate Maple’s on-leash reactivity. Now, whenever we see a dog approaching on the same footpath, we would cross over to the other side and give Maple the “down” command all the while allowing her to watch as the dog passes on by. At the same time, we would give her a belly rub so that she associates the experience with something pleasant.
- Our “heel” work has also greatly improved with Maple taking less and less control over the leash. There are times, however, when Maple would pick up her pace and inch herself forward. When this happens, we would either stop in our tracks and recall Maple to our side or turn around and walk in the opposite direction. Both techniques seem to work well with Maple.
- As a reward, we always end our walks with an “OK” release. This gives our furball a sense of being a dog again—she can trot about as she pleases, sniff the grass or what-have-you, and investigate the environment at her own pace.
- It’s really amazing how quickly dogs are able to learn if only we are willing to put in the time, effort, and patience!
DAY 35 (GCCC Week 6)
- Not much to comment on here, except to remark on how much Maple and her fellow canine classmates have improved over the course of this program. I recall the first couple of weeks when everyone was still a newbie and a little apprehensive about the training. But it seems that the humans and their canine companions have really been practising diligently on the commands. It’s great to see how the group as a whole has progressed.
- Homework: practice, practice, practice for the test on Week 8!
- Wow, I can’t believe we’re at Day 40! 2 walks/day x 40 days = 80 individual practice sessions. We’ve certainly clocked A LOT of time, but repetition and consistency are key to Maple’s learning curve. In terms of on-leash reactivity, we’re still trying hard to keep her below threshold. During our morning walk today, we passed by the neighbour’s chickens which were cock-a-doodling. Normally, Maple would be terrified (some of the chickens are as big as her!), but we had her sit calmly and watch our neighbour feed the chickens. She was intrigued and curious, but not alarmed – YAY!
- Later into the walk, two dogs and their handler passed by on the opposite side of the road (a distance of about 6 metres). We gave the command “Sit” followed by “Down”. Maple was reluctant to lie down at first, as she eyed the two dogs. But after assessing that the dogs would not harm her, she assumed the “Down” position. And we rewarded her with a belly rub.
- Next, we came across a Chihuahua who was walking a few steps ahead of us on the same footpath. When the Chihuahua turned around to check us out, Maple broke from her “Heel” and lunged forward (no barking, though). We stopped in our tracks and immediately gave her the “Sit-Down” command, which she surprisingly heeded. As the Chihuahua walked on, we gave Maple her belly rub. What can we say, Maple LOVES getting her belly rubbed!
DAY 41 (GCCC Week 7)
- We were given a mock test today, with each canine student taking the spotlight one after the other. Maple heeled and completed the about-turns with ease. After that, it was time for the “Sit” command—no problemo, so we thought. Maple sat, but then decided to assume the “Down” position (oops). If it had been a real test, I think Maple would have been disqualified (lol). Fortunately, we have one more week to take our training up a notch before the exam on Week 8!
- Homework: lots of practice and praise.
DAY 47 (GCCC Week 8)
- This is it—test day has arrived! Did Maple graduate with honours from the Good Canine Citizen Course? Read all about it here.
- Although we’ve completed the GCCC, we know that training is an ongoing process and we intend to continue brushing up on Maple’s good canine citizen skills. Helping Maple to overcome her on-leash reactivity issues is also a priority for us—one that we’ll take with baby steps. So, while this concludes the training log, it is by no means an end to the rewarding work ahead of us! 😀