Last night was Cooper’s first night at his reactive dog training class, and I learned something interesting about him…
It started a little bizarrely (is that a word?) when we left the house. Apparently, Cooper has decided that he’s scared to jump in the car. When I opened the door, he tucked his tail and tried to dash. No amount of encouragement or treats would get him to jump in, so I had to lift him up and stick him in the back. Odd.
When we arrived at the facility, he saw a couple dogs and barked a bit, but I distracted him with a “find it” game with treats in the back until it was our turn to go inside. He got out of the car, and he was trembling. His tail was curled under all the way, touching his belly. He walked into the training room shaking from head to toe. I got him settled into his cubby – the dogs are all separated by partitions so they don’t have to stare at each other the whole time. He immediately started to stress pant.
As the trainer talked through the exercises, he whipped his head back and forth, trying to figure out where the other dogs were.
But once the class began, he had a moment. His whole demeanor changed slightly, starting with his tail coming untucked. I saw the change, and I realized what he realized.
“Oh. This is training. I know what to do here.”
And he did (mostly) fine. During the exercises, he did his “watch mes” as other dogs walked past. When it was his turn to walk, his sits were automatic, and he stayed relatively loose on his leash.
He completely lost it once. The trainer stood in the middle of the room and stretched, and that somehow set him off. The next time it was his turn to walk, he was eyeballing her. She tried to give him a treat, but he refused to take it, so I gave her my can of cheese and he accepted a cheese squirt from her.
Cooper’s bottom line, I guess, is that his fear bubbles to the surface when things are unexpected. Once he understand what’s going on – and if everything stays “normal” from his perspective – he can maintain his cool. It’s when something is unpredictable that he reacts. Which is the opposite of Lucas, whose reactions are so completely predictable.
Class ended about 15 minutes early because it was clear that all the dogs had had it. When it was our turn to leave, he once again refused to jump in the car. Add that to the list of things to work on…
Overall, I think this is going to be a great experience. The trainer is arranging for a variety of people to come by the class, which will be super helpful for Cooper’s reactions because he’s FAR more people-reactive than dog-reactive. Again, the opposite of Lucas.
Mostly, though, I’m just thrilled to be back in formal training with him! I’m working toward the goal of getting him back into agility, but for now, we’re taking it one class – and one car ride – at a time!