Today’s blog post was supposed to be a video illustration on teaching a dog to “out” (let go) of a toy.
Lyra had other ideas. She decided that my video assistant, Katie, was a potentially scary person, and playing with me and my silly toys was not as important as monitoring the lady with a camera in front of her face.
This post is now a video illustration of the problem, and I how I chose to address it.
I start by asking myself, "How great is the dog’s fear?" In this case, Lyra’s fear is mild. Most of the time she is not watching Katie - a very concerned dog would not take her eyes off of the fright inducing circumstance. Lyra is not alarm barking, growling, hiding behind me, or stopping motion to stare for seconds at a time. She is curiosity sniffing the ground (not avoidance sniffing), and she able to function (albeit at a low level) with me and a toy.
Under these circumstances, I decided to ignore the issue and let Lyra figure out for herself that there was nothing to be concerned about. I made no effort to hurry this process. I do not introduce her to Katie – she does not need to meet Katie to understand that she is not a threat. I do not encourage Katie to make friends. Yes, that would make Lyra comfortable, and Lyra would see that Katie was a friendly, harmless person, but Lyra already knows that people who call to her are friendly and harmless. She also knows that video cameras are harmless, when held by people she knows well (such as my husband). Now she needs to learn that new people who stand and stare in her direction with cameras are also harmless. THAT is the issue to be dealt with, not cheerful people calling her to visit while holding cameras. I want her to learn that staring strangers with video cameras are neutral people; nothing to worry about. The way to learn that is to have neutral to positive experiences in the presence of such people.
If you change the interaction, then you’ve dealt with a NEW interaction, not the problem inducing one. This might have value if the dog were completely over faced. For example, if no one had ever videotaped Lyra, or if she were uncomfortable with people in general, then I would have treated this situation differently.
Let’s look at the tape:
5 sec: Lyra moves sideways away from Katie while watching her. This is my first indication that there is an issue.
11 sec: Lyra comes when I call her, but keeps her front end partially oriented towards Katie rather than coming into me directly.
25, 31, 33 and 36 sec: Lyra moves towards me to engage with the toy, but sneaks quick peaks at Katie
36sec: Lyra is offered the toy but she does not grab it. She looks at Katie instead.
42 sec: I start moving slightly away from Katie. The additional distance allows Lyra to function and to play.
49 sec: I pull her back into Katie’s direction and she disengages to look at Katie again.
50 sec: She is able to fetch in a direction away from Katie, but all the way back she is looking back and forth between the two of us.
1min, 2sec: Lyra continues to orient with her head/front in the direction of Katie.
1 min, 14 sec: Note that Lyra is again able to engage if I increase distance from Katie.
1 min, 18 sec: Lyra is beginning to relax. She is playing with me (though tentatively) and maintains focus. She is able to keep her rear end to Katie, which suggests much improvement in her comfort level. While I can “feel” that she is not 100%, I also see that we’ve progressed from where the session started.
After this I stopped playing with Lyra and chatted with Katie for another five minutes before ending the session. During this time, Lyra wandered around the yard, mostly sniffing. She also walked around near us as we talked. Katie never visited with her, but if she were to visit, this would have been a good time for it. Then Lyra could make the association between staring camera people becoming social people later in time. I chose not to go this route because I prefer not to have new people interact with Lyra in my training area.
If I had been carrying food on my body, I would have given up the toy idea almost instantly, and I would have worked with the food. But in real life, you get what you get, and you deal with it according to the circumstances as they are at that moment in time. Hence, the interactions as shown on tape. Hindsight is 20/20.