Lessons from Jester
What I've Learned From Jester (with some reassurance and gentle guidance from the wonderful people on this list)
When you get your new pup, TAKE IT EVERYWHERE. Inside places, outside, places with strange noises, dings and clangs and children screaming. If you thinks you've taken him lots of places, TAKE HIM TO SOME MORE, chances are you haven't gone enough places yet. And when you really confident you've done it, DO IT SOME MORE! They grow up so fast, before you know it they're 6 months old and you've lost that "window". And believe me, its no fun playing catch up.
2. Learn how to read your dogs body language - be able to tell when he's getting stressed - *before* he blows up.
A good place to watch dogs using calming signals is agility matches. Watch how the dogs slow down going thru the weave poles as the handlers are screaming - WEAVE, WEAVE, WEAVE. One guy was yelling so loud he startled me. Watch how the dogs start sniffing and licking when the handler gets upset because the dog isn't having a good run.
3. Have faith in your dogs abilities and in yourself - set him up to succeed, think positive thoughts.
Instead of thinking "Oh, please Jester, don't jump this dog", think (and say) "Hey Jester, look at how sweet this dog is. Aww - he's saying hello. That's a nice wag. Wow, what a great play bow." What a difference that has made with him! And always keep the leash LOOSE! But keep in mind the previous lesson, which relates to the next one...
4. Know your dogs limitations - know when to quit.
Try to end on a good note. If I see several dogs coming into the park, we calmly move to a more secluded area. If I see that Jester is starting to get stressed, we move away calmly. If you think your dog might be getting stressed and are thinking of getting out of the situation - do it then. Trust your first instinct. Don't wait until its too late and your dog reacts. I don't know how many times I've done that. Jester's had a great day of playing but is getting tired so we start to leave. A new dog comes over to play and it seems like they will get along so I let him play with *just one more since he's been playing so well* and then, BAM, then next thing I know Jester is barking and nipping at the dog and I have to pull him off. I almost made this mistake on Sunday. We were going ot go to a freinds house after the run thru to work on her equipment. I was going to go and just watch but decided that I didn't want to push Jester. He had a full day of fun and I wanted to leave on a positive note.
5. Anticipate your dogs reaction.
This can be hard, since we can never know what our dogs are thinking. But this goes back to knowing how to read your dog. When I hear a dog fight at the park, I get out the treats and start stuffing Jester's face as we move away, before he has time to get upset. Stop it before *it* happens (whatever *it* may be for your dog). This is where good timing and good observational skills comes in. Try and C/T *before* your dog goes off. I try to ask for a Watch from Jester when I see that another dog is approaching, but before he sees it. Always be aware of your environment. And if your dog does blow and you don't handle it the way you would like - you end up yelling, tugging on the leash, etc.. make a note of all the details, and think of how you could have handled it differently or better yet, how you could have prevented it. Its easy to panic when your dog sounds like a demon going after another.
6. Understand it is your right and responsibility to keep your dog safe and to stand up for his rights.
That means telling people not to pet him is that makes him uncomfortable, not letting other dogs mug him, never ask him to do anything that would put him (in his mind) in danger. This means being able to tell people not to yell at your dog, swat them, etc if they do something inappropriate. Just remember - he's your dog. Who cares what other people think. If they think you are rude, so what. They are the rude one for not respecting your dog.
Easier said than done, I know. If your dog becomes uncomfortable with someone or their dogs attention, it is your responsibility to take care of the situation, usually by moving away. Complaining about the person isn't going to make your dog feel safe (even though it feels good to vent sometimes!). Sometimes I feel like hanging a "Beware of Dog" sign on Jester so people will back off! (probably more appropriate - Beware of Owner! LOL!)
7. Most importantly - PATIENCE.
Whatever your working on, it WILL happen, eventually. There *is* a light at the end of the tunnel. Just be patient, GO SLOW, keep working on it. You'll get there. If someone told me Jester would be doing agility run thrus and playing with dogs on leash, with food around, I would have never believed them. It can happen - but remember its a team effort.
If I can remember these 7 things, which isn't always easy when I'm in the thick of it, I'll think we'll do all right. :)
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