Frankie and I haven’t done much Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) with Crystal Saling and her wonder dog decoy, Winnie, lately because it’s either been raining — which means scary thunder and lightning — or too hot to spend much time outside. But we managed a get together this past Sunday and saw quite a bit of progress.
That would be in me as well as in Frankie.
Let me backtrack. Frankie gets a tad upset when there’s a strange person or dog in “his” yard; he barks his little head off and has been known to chase the offender around the property. So Crystal and Winnie have been doing set ups (see the first in the series of BAT posts by Irith Bloom of the Sophisticated Dog for an explanation) with Frankie and me. Winnie has been waiting in a corner of my yard with Crystal as Frankie and I move progressively closer to them — but then back off as soon as Frankie expresses discomfort.
After about 20 minutes of the latest encounter, Crystal declared “Mission Accomplished,” and suggested we move on to a larger decoy, her dog Penny.
Really? I’d assumed Winnie and Frankie needed to be BFF before our goal was achieved.
According to Crystal, the training was a success because:
- Frankie was able to be within 3 feet of Winnie.
- He gave calming signals the entire time: head turns, ground sniffs, blinking eyes, paw raises, and yawns (see this post for an explanation of calming signals)
- He gave no distance-increasing signals: barking, lip curling, growling, freezing, whale eye, hard eye etc
- His body was relatively loose
- He was able to parallel walk with Winnie, and continued to give calming signals during the walks
When I asked why she thought that was good enough to move on to another decoy, Crystal said:
Getting him any closer is just not necessary. It is not our goal to make Frankie like other dogs; we want to teach him an alternate strategy to feeling like he has some control over his environment. So, instead of barking at dogs in the yard to go away, he gives them calming signals. This in turn has an effect on the other dogs, who return calming signals back to Frankie, communicating they want a peaceful, low arousal interaction. Frankie will therefore feel safer around them.
It is not necessary for Frankie to want to interact with the dogs beyond those calming signals. It’s just not who he is at this point in his life and I have no intention of changing him!
Thank you, Crystal, for reminding me I love him just the way he is — but want to make the world a better place for him.