Four weeks down, one to go, and this last week was one that has been hard to walk away from. While I’ve been able to connect with animals in each area, it’s interesting to see the different reactions each of the species gives when they see you approaching. This is also cut down into more micro-interactions based on individual animals, as all of them are unique in their personalities and behaviors. So for the past week, I interned at Deja’s in the Lodges area of Dogtown. Most of the dogs in this neighborhood are dog-aggressive, which means they are known to have a history of aggression with other dogs – whether it’s resource guarding, lack of manners, or a specific reactivity to something – so they reside in single runs. This doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get along with any other dogs, they just need to be introduced to the right dog at the right time. Also, many would be completely fine in a low-stress environment, like a stable home, rather than in a high-stress environment, like a noisy shelter. In any case, the interactions I was able to have with the pups were extremely valuable to my experience and understanding of their behaviors.
This is Pretty Girl – an American Staffordshire terrier from a dogfighting ring – and she did not appreciate me making her stop and sit on our walk, as is evidenced by her shut-eyed yawn. Pretty Girl was a lot of fun to work with, because she is a little bit of a slow learner. For feeding time, dogs are taught to find their “place,” sit, and wait for the cue (such as “free!” in a high-pitched voice) to begin eating. This ensures the safety of everyone involved, as food is exciting and a leaping, barking dog – as well as one that guards food, can be dangerous. This teaches the dog that once he is calm and listening, a reward will appear, and it will be worth it. Pretty Girl, along with all of the other dogs, go through this routine twice a day for meals, and before and after walks. For some dogs, they pick it up immediately and perform the ritual nearly flawlessly every time. Others take some time, but with enough patience from the human, will eventually sit and wait. Pretty Girl requires a few attempts, and is easily distracted – sometimes with a wall that just NEEDS to be licked, sometimes with a round of dancing and appeasing eye squints. Getting her to understand where she was expected to sit and that waiting for the release cue took more patience than I experienced with many of the other dogs, but once she got it, it was beautiful to see. I somehow even managed to get Pretty Girl to sit and wait patiently (without jumping up to lick my entire head) while I harnessed her for our walk a few times, and was able to practice clicker training with her.
Pretty Girl’s profile: http://goo.gl/1dvjGL
Can I express how much I love clicker training? It is just amazing to watch a dog process what I’m asking her to do with the obvious language barrier between us. The clicker is called a reinforcement signal, or bridging stimulus, and once the dog associates the “click” with a reward, it’s so much easier to reinforce the behavior someone might be trying to condition. It takes a lot of vigilance and a lot of treats, and figuring out how to generalize a cue to fit the context of the environment can be challenging, but it’s so much fun to figure it out with the dog – definitely a bonding and learning experience for everyone involved!
Yuma! This beautiful girl is a bull terrier/Staffordshire terrier mix and is extremely athletic. In her attempts to get attention, she would sometimes do flips off of the walls in her run – though we wouldn’t enforce this behavior, it was cool to see. I’m a sucker for that distinctive sloping bull terrier face, and while Yuma’s is less pronounced (and hard to see in the photo), I was drawn to her right away. She is reactive to other dogs, and during our walks I had to keep an eye on her body language when we were within 50 feet of any other dog, but when we had the trail to ourselves, she was just full of energy and paid attention to everything I asked of her. Yuma has “place, sit, wait” down so well that she actually lays in her crate before I even enter her run with the food and focuses intently on my face until I give the release. Going for a walk was a different story, but with enough ignoring of her rude behaviors (jumping, mouthing, demand barking), she would eventually calm and sit for leashing.
Yuma’s profile: http://goo.gl/X2kdlW
Best Friends not only provides a life-long safe haven for dogs, cats, birds, horses, pigs, and bunnies – they also let in this little hippo, Ebony. Ebony is a Shar Pei/American bulldog mix with the wiggliest hips you’ll ever see. When she’s happy, the whole back half of her body swings wildly from side to side and her mouth opens wide in a great big grin. She was a challenge to walk, as she has a ridiculously high prey drive and is constantly on the hunt for lizards, and she just doesn’t get along with other dogs (at least in high-stress settings). She’s also pretty hefty, and takes full advantage of her weight to try to get where she wants to go. Trying to redirect her attention on a walk can be futile, but I found that if I provided enough stimulation to at least equal all of the dogs yelling at us from their runs as we passed them, she would return to me about half of the times that I asked – which I praised with lots of treats and petting. Ebony is a leaner and loved to press into my legs as I stroked her stubbly fur and massaged her rock solid head (so much muscle!), occasionally looking up at me with a wide smile.
Ebony’s profile: http://goo.gl/YwTxaZ
Being able to work with these dogs, and many more, during my week at Deja’s in Dogtown was so invaluable to my experience overall…I can’t wait to start my next internship with dog training in a few weeks to learn even more!