That Darn Buster*

5 May

*The more apt title may be “Buster’s first official behavior modification session,” but the above seemed a little zestier.

That’s right folks, the moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived! Ok, I may have just gone too far. But it is still exciting, right? Buster had his first official behavior modification session last night! In just an hour, Buster’s progress exceeded my expectations. He was able to tolerate lying near, walking behind and exchanging the respectful bottom-sniff greeting with a fellow canine without his usual Buster conniptions. He did have some setbacks along the way, but ultimately it was a very successful lesson; I think Buster is swiftly heading toward the modification station. Read on to see what we learned!

Focus on Re-direction

A good "Watch Me"!

While Buster’s shiny new Martingale chain collar does help us shock him out of a fit, redirection and focus is what we are ultimately shooting for. What do I mean? Good question. We’ve been using leash corrections on Buster for years. Years! (525,600 minutes…) And he still throws crazed fits. A correction is crucial in averting a near crisis, but a well timed “Watch Me” and treat will go farther. With the focus and treat method, Buster will learn two things. Numero uno: to ignore the other dog and focus on us. Numero dos: eventually associate good things (IT’S BACON!) with being close to other dogs. But for the re-direction to work, we have to be armed with high reward treats (like hot dogs), an awareness of Buster’s mood and good timing. If Buster starts to go into a fit, even the promise of a T-bone steak wouldn’t stop that boy.

Slow and steady, finally defuses Buster’s fightin’ urges

Baby Stepping toward a better Buster.

We learned some patience, patience and more patience along the way. Isn’t that how it always is? Buster would be doing great. Then, he would suddenly fly into a fit of rage. Our helper dog’s handler said, “It’s like he’s fighting an addiction.” And he basically is. His little brain has been programmed that lunging and snarling is how to react to dogs, and it is going to take a long time to re-wire it. He’s a recovering rage-aholic. So, even though we literally had to take baby steps as Buster dealt with walking at the back of the pack, we eventually made it around the sidewalk trail. And by the end of the night, we were one step closer to a happier and well-balanced Buster.

Homework Time – “Settle”

"Settle"

Our trainer taught us a very interesting command to work on this week: “Settle.”  When Buster learns this, it will be yet another weapon in our calm-Buster-down arsenal. How do we teach it? Each night as we are watching our final TV show or movie (who, us?), we are supposed shorten Buster’s leash with our foot to the point where he cannot get up. In other words, he will be forced to stay in a down position. When he goes down, we say, “settle” but don’t treat. With limited session opportunities (once per night) and no treats (that would excite him too much), this trick will take him longer to learn. But within 3 or so weeks, I feel like “settle” will be very powerful.

And that’s it! We are also going to focus on making Buster earn everything. Make him sit a little longer before releasing him to leave the apartment. Make him “Leave it!” on anything he sniffs outside. Make him wait to go on the grass for a few extra moments. In other words, reinforce who’s in charge. US! That sounds like more of a test for me. But since I wrote and shared it here, I’ll have to do my very best to give it my all. As always, I’ll update you on our next session!

Oh yeah, tomorrow is Friday. **Happy Dance**

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