There are a lot of things I’m learning about Dexter as he comes out of his shell a little (not that he was very far in, but you get the idea). Many of the things are absolutely wonderful and fantastic–like how he is almost lab-like in his sheer happiness and love of life or how he has this great enthusiasm about almost everything. One thing I’ve learned is not amazing or great… it’s actually quite dangerous and concerning. Dexter is a car chaser–both while on leash and off.
What makes his car chasing habit a smidge more dangerous than just chasing, is that he has the habit of “pogo-ing” (vertical jumping) at the fence. He has such an impressive leap that he can actually get about 1/2 his body over the height of the fence–he could easily clear it if he ever wanted to. If he simply ran the fence-line after cars it wouldn’t be nearly as concerning. I am unsure if this behavior is something he’s always done, or something he learned while in the shelter but I know he was exhibiting this behavior at the shelter regularly. When he’s on-leash he lunges, full force, at the car, barking, spinning and snapping as he desperately tries to get at the vehicle (I’m not sure if he’s a tire biter or just after the car as a whole).
This week I’ve almost exclusively worked on this problem and not so much on other obedience behaviors. He has made some great progress in some respects and some ‘respectable’ progress in others. Car chasing is not an entirely uncommon problem for herding dogs… and for some terriers actually, so I thought I’d document our journey a bit. Since we’ve made the most progress on leashed walks, I’ll start there!
Before Dex came home with me, I met the founder of the rescue at a park to introduce him to my pups. During our walk, Dex saw a car drive past and spun, barked, lunged and pulled to get to the car. He pulled and whined at the car until it was more than 200 yards away and continued to key-up on it even after it was out of sight. The extreme focus (even after the stimulus was out of sight) was a very clear example of his car chasing intensity. I had a pretty good idea of the work needed to be done and this weekend we really dug in.
The weather this past weekend was really amazing–not freezing cold, no rain, very few clouds in the sky, and bright, warm sun. There was no way I was spending the days inside. Normally I’d like to go on a trail walk, but given the rain and melting snow pack there is quite a bit of flooding and ponding locally so that wasn’t the best option. So Friday, Saturday and Sunday we took all four dogs to a local park–this is a 1.5mile loop, that used to be two-way street but they made it one way and painted lines for two walking paths on the road. There is ample space for pulling off the pavement in most places and there are ways to walk through playing fields and the like to get way off the road. Cars do regularly drive around the loop (getting to various parking areas, fields or playgrounds) but they are all going one direction, single file, and pretty slowly.
On Friday, I filled my pockets with three sticks of string cheese (Dexter’s favorite so far) and prepared myself for the challenge. Dex was wearing Shayne’s front-hook harness and was still very full of himself from the get go. Dex was just so excited to be out and about that he was all over the place–super excited to see people, dogs, and see a new place. The first 1/4 of the way, I pulled way off the path/road whenever there was a car coming to give me some space to handle two dogs. Dex would have a huge reaction even if there was cheese virtually right in front of him. Once the car had passed, but was still within sight, he was able to notice the cheese. For the middle part of the walk, we opted to walk through a clearing because the road on that section doesn’t have the best “pull off area” and since he had a hard time during the section without a field to walk through. Dex could see and hear cars but was under threshold enough to focus on me, sit and get cheese. The last 1/4 of the walk wasn’t too bad, he’d make an attempt to chase, get to the end of the leash, turn around and sit for cheese. On this 1.5 mile walk we saw probably 15 cars and we went through all 3 string cheese sticks but there was a HUGE improvement.
On Saturday, it was a little cooler so it wasn’t quite as busy. Dexter was really quite improved on this walk. We were able to stay on the road the whole way because he was doing so well. When a car was coming we’d move 6ft off the road (about 12 ft from the car) and he’d half lunge then sit for cheese. He would look at the car and whip his head around to me for cheese. Occasionally he’d lose control of himself and sit-lunge sit, but most of the time he was really good at staying calmer around the cars. He didn’t have a single melt-down for the entire walk. We also learned that he isn’t as amped up by motorcycles and hasn’t yet reacted to a bicycle. On this walk we encountered maybe 7 or 8 cars but we only needed 1 string cheese to make it all the way around.
Sunday was like a completely different dog. Still excited and “all over the place” during the beginning part of the walk but he was great with his car chasing. Today was the busiest of the three days in terms of quantity of cars, people, AND dogs (oh and two horses). At the beginning of the walk we were passed by three cars and he whipped his head around, saw them, then whipped back to me and sat…. SUCCESS!!! For about 3/4’s of the walk, we would stop (not really pull off the road) and I would ask Dex to sit and I would feed him cheese after the car had passed. He was great, he would whip his head around to look at the car but not a single incident of lunging or pulling … and half the time he didn’t even care about the car. He actually sniffed a tree as a car went passed at one point!! The last 1/4 of the walk, I wanted to see how he would do if we didn’t stop, but continued to walk. This was more challenging for him but he did pretty well. There was no lunging, barking, or spinning, just some extra pulling but he would come back to me if I called his name. He was really a very good boy! On this walk we saw over 20 cars (I lost track) and we only used 1.25 sticks of string cheese!
Day one–15 cars and 3 string cheeses (and we were only 1/2 on the road)
Day two–7 cars and 1 string cheese (the whole way on the road)
Day three–20+ cars and 1.25 string cheese (the whole way on the road)
He’s really made such GREAT progress in only those three days of work, very impressive. At this rate, I’m hoping to really improve his on-leash car chasing pretty quickly and easily. I live near a city, so some of our potential adopters may live in the city or suburbs where cars are a daily encounter, my goal is for him to be able to reliably walk on leash around cars without totally losing it.
So there’s clearly been quite a lot of progress…but how did I do it? You’ll find out tomorrow!