Controlling the beast
Today I took my two poodles to a private field to run. Usually there is no one there but I still enter with Luke on leash and Tilley by my side. As soon as we rounded the corner this morning and the dogs could see the field Tilley's posture dropped. Luke was on auto pilot being a reactive dog, he was about to explode.
I stopped in my tracks to see what the cause of the drastic behavior was, a rabbit. Tilley is truly amazing, she has a chase drive that is off the charts but still manages to keep it under control. At this point she was about 20 feet behind me frozen and Luke was whirling around like a maniac, sublte he is not.
I called Tilley to me, she dropped her head and moved 3 feet closer. I called again, her body slunk down further and she turned her head towards me in a fraction of a second glancing just long enough to let me know she was listening. Finally with a smile on my face I firmly called her to my side. I know this is one of the most exciting moments in their life, a real critter chase.
I was able to calm Luke and had him sitting with Tilley now at my side. Both unleashed and bursting at the seams I continue to talk to them. They can barely acknowledge me now but await their release word. Finally I give them what they want, OKAY!! Shortening their nails as they blast off on the pavement they explode into action and the rabbit easily hops out of range.
I love watching my dogs be dogs and how they try so hard to control their instincts. Instinct tells them to chase the rabbit but training has interfered with their their natural behavior. They both know that they cannot chase whatever they want but their bodies fly into action as soon as they get a glimpse of a rabbit, squirrel or lizard.
They both immediately slink down into staulking position, moving at turtle speed so as not to spook the victim. Tilley simply cannot move fast when she is in the sneak zone, everything takes forever. I have watched Luke try to sneak up on a lizard across our yard. First he will watch it for what seems to be a lifetime and then he dares take the first step. He moves with stealth and purpose, he means to catch the lizard in his sights.
If I should happen to be rude enough and talk to him at this point he will flash me a WHAT? look so fast that you could miss it. He then listens without taking his eyes off the prey, only his ears move letting me know he is listening to me. Within the next 5 min. he may take 3 or 4 steps on tiptoes and never taking his eye off the target. Finally when he thinks he is within jumping range he will make an almighty leap and of course scare the lizard away.
I think it is truly amazing that when a dog is in such a zone that you can actually still control them. I can't do that with my kids. I cannot stop what is going on in my dogs heads but I can interfere and this is extremely important because if they could not be stopped it could be a very dangerous situation.
Training a dog when they are in a heightened state of arousal is tough. As I said Tilley's chase drive is off the charts but she has learned when I put her in a down stay that it is Luke's turn to chase the frisbee or ball. She is a tense bundle of fire during her stay and ready to spring into action the minute she is released, but she stays until that moment.
This type of training takes a great deal of patience and time, breaking each "goal" into very tiny increments to get there. Every success no matter how small is a success, it may take a while but with persistence you can train a beast.