First, the good news. The counter-conditioning portion of the get-Frankie-into-the-car-comfortably program is going great. I demonstrated last week how our trainer, Crystal, is accustoming Frankie to street noise by having him associate it with eating. I served Frankie his meals semi-alfresco, moving his dish closer and closer to a door that was opened progressively wider.
The next step was getting Frankie not to fear the gear associated with car rides, his harness and leash. To that end, I was instructed to get him outfitted for a trip outside and then feed him, with no follow up excursion.
It turns out that Frankie is pretty good at eating while ignoring various annoyances such as street noise and outdoor gear. Actually working for his food by performing different behaviors?
Not so much.
Which behaviors? We’re practicing “Look at that,” whereby I point to an object and — surprise! — try to get Frankie to look at it; and hand targeting, which involves Frankie tapping on my hand or on various objects I hold in it, such as pieces of junk mail and my TV remote control. I admit that I didn’t initially see the purpose of these exercises, but Crystal explained that they’re designed to teach Frankie to investigate his environment, and that giving Frankie jobs that he can succeed at will make him more comfortable in a stressful situation. She used a great analogy:
It’s like giving someone who suffers from shyness or a social phobia a job at a party. If that person is passing out drinks or handing out napkins, for example, she won’t focus on the stress of having to make conversation.
It’s a great theory. But Frankie doesn’t seem to want the jobs. He would do the nose tap thing a couple of times and then walk away. Or bark at me in annoyance. I’m not completely fluent in speaking Dog but I’m fairly familiar with the Frankie dialect and this particular bark — a new one — had a definite tinge of irritation to it.
It’s gotten to the point that when I put on the white apron that signals training — it has lots of pockets for the clicker and treats — Frankie runs away.
So what has Frankie learned? To avoid the party hostess.
I have some theories about what’s going wrong. But I’ll wait for the expert analysis.