I've been getting up around 5 for the last few mornings and taking the dogs to the field at the local elementary school so that they can sniff and wander for fifteen minutes or so before being abandoned by me while I go to work. I'm still in my depression slump and it's been hard finding the energy to do anything with them when I get home in the afternoon so at least this way they are getting to leave the house.
There was a full moon two nights ago so there is enough light to see by on the field, except along the fence where there are some bushes and trees. Bosco's blue merle colouring means that he effectively disappears from sight in the shadows and I can only see him when he moves. He's very reliable though – he always sniffs his way down the fence line while Maia and I wander in the field.
Yesterday we followed the same pattern as usual but I trusted that Bosco would do his usual thing and I didn't keep an eye on where he was. I usually alway know where my dogs are when they are off leash. I try not to be a helicoptor mum but I can't just let them go exploring without knowing where they are. I turned and looked for Bosco and didn't see any movement. I called his name and got no response. Sometimes if he is sniffing something really good he won't recall immediately so I didn't worry right away … but the seconds ticked by and I still couldn't see any movement. I called him again, and whistled. Nothing.
I started walking back down the field, calling him and whistling every couple of steps. When I was almost at the other end of the field my car came into view in the school parking lot and I saw a familiar shape standing by the back bumper. I called him again and this time Bosco turned and came running to me. I dropped to my knees and made a big fuss of him when he got to me, and he flopped on his back and asked for belly rubs. I'm not sure whether he got confused as to where I was or what – we've walked in this field so many times and we always do the same circuit, but something obviously happened.
It reinforced for me that I always need to keep an eye out for both my dogs when they are off leash, and I got H to pick me up little LED collar lights from her work. We used to have what we called disco lights on all the dogs when she lived with me and we would take the gang out in the evenings or early mornings. They each had a different colour so we knew who was where. But the batteries died and they got immersed in water a few times too many, and I never replaced them. But now I have a blue flower on Bosco and a pink jewel on Maia (because those were their colours before) so that I can see them even in the dark.
H and I met up last night and we took Bosco and Dennis for a sniffy walk around her neighbourhood. Bosco thought it was the best thing ever because all the sniffs were new. Maia screamed her displeasure at being left alone at H's house while we took out the boys.
Then we swapped dogs and took the girls over to a nearby park where we met up with two other people and their reactive dogs, so that we could all practice calm behaviours. There was some kind of gathering going on in the park so there were a lot of adults milling around, playing frisbee and tossing balls back and forth. There was a group of women doing yoga. And there were a few other people and dogs walking by, including a couple off leash. I had my clicker and very yummy treats, and Maia was like, "Oh, we're working. Ok!" She had happy ears and tail for the entire time. She didn't seem to be bothered by anything that was going on around us. She was focussed on me and getting treats. I had my 12ft long line too and I felt comfortable enough to put her on that and work on a little bit of stuff at a distance.
The amazing success came at the end. The other woman and man put their dogs away and came back to give Maia treats so we could work on her human reactivity up close. She was great at approaching the woman (was her name Irene, H?) and took cookies immediately, bonking her nose into the treat pouch when the cookies were not getting in her mouth fast enough lol. The man (whose name I never caught) crouched down and held out his hand to the side and Maia slowly sidled up to him. She didn't want his cookies but she started snuffling his ear and cheek. I was watching her like a hawk because sometimes she does that but then decides she doesn't like the smell of the person and will start snapping and lunging. She seemed fine but we backed up a ways, took a little break, and tried again. This time I gave him some of my treats to give her and she was taking them from him. And then he started stroking her chest and rubbing her ears. And she let him! H and I looked at each other in disbelief. I have, through trial and error, made a protocol for introducing Maia to strangers, and being petted by them is not something that happens that fast because she would never be comfortable with it. And yet, there she was, taking treats and being petted by a man wearing a hat that she had only just met.
I was so proud of her. I forget just how far she has come because in some ways she is still a reactive lunatic (like in the car!). We are hopefully all going to meet up again to keep working on things with our dogs. I'm also inspired to take Maia out by herself to different places and work with her on ignoring strange people and things. She was so tired after an hour of this that she fell asleep in the car on the way home and then passed out on my bed directly afterwards. Yay for tired dogs!