Implementing the action plan

I got distracted, this post’s about what we did to implement the action plan I wrote about here.

Implementing the action plan involved some interesting techniques.

To keep Chico out of the road, I bought two sets of the reflector-on-a-stick things used to mark the edges of a driveway so the snow plow doesn’t dig up the yard. The idea was to create a zone right around the house called ‘home’ that he wouldn’t leave unless he was on the leash. One set of markers went at the top of the driveway, the other in a narrow part of the yard. Chico went on leash, I took the clicker and some treats and showed him the reflectors, clicked & treated when he sniffed them – that showed him that they were important. Then we’d walk up to the markers (and later the line across the driveway (or yard) created by them) and I’d make a surprised noise when we stepped past the markers or over their line, and retreat to the ‘inside’ of the area they demarcated, saying ‘home, this is home’ and giving lots of treats. We made a ritual (with praise and treats) of stopping right at the markers to do ‘leash’ – putting him on the leash to walk a hundred yards up (or down) the road before releasing him to run and sniff. Which are high on his list of fun things to do. He’s not 100 percent reliable about staying in the home zone, but he’s very good about coming back to it if he wanders. We’ll call this a work in progress.

M, the caretaker/property manager, got his own jar of super high value treats and instructions that Chico has to do something, on request from the human dispensing the treat, before he gets one. The treats are kept in M’s shop, which we pass almost every morning on our walk. After a very short time, Chico started dragging me over to the door of the shop to get his cookie from M. I’d say that now they have a very good relationship. If Chico does go running up to M barking, M just looks at Chico and says “What? What are you barking at?” It’s really very cute.

The machines used for yard work are still very upsetting, but M has taken an active interest in conditioning Chico to the machines and maybe someday we can have peace when the lawn is being mowed. Right now, it’s just a cookie-fest. The machine starts up down at the shop and Chico alerts me to that, if it drives down the road past the house to another part of the property Chico will calm down, but if our yard in being mowed, I just start cutting cookies into teensy-weensy pieces and throwing them by the handful. If the treats are super yummy, Chico will race around frantically (and quiet), finding them and hoovering them up. As soon as the floor is clean, he’ll start barking again. Only more treats will stop the barking. Again, a work in progress.

He’s much less sensitive to cars driving by the house since this training started, he used to bark furiously, now he gives a low growl/whine and comes to me for a cookie. If he’s outside and someone comes jogging by, he still can’t resist going and barking at them, but he will respond to his emergency recall word* and come back.

*The emergency recall word (ERW) is something I trained by using it in first easy, then increasingly distracting situations. When he comes to it, he gets a HUGE reward, a real party. Lots of people have ERWs, ours is the Dutch language pronunciation of the letters WC (as in water closet – hey, I have an odd sense of humor and have had a bathroom emergency or three in my life); Chico’s friend Sophie’s ERW is “Yipee!” – it’s whatever works for you. Heck, it could be “squid.”

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