We found a training group that was started by a woman that just needed to train with others because her dog had some issues. Now they are quite a lot of dogs that train together, they sometimes have trainers come in for seminars and they have one professional trainer that sometimes attends for free and helps out. I joined their facebook group and read all comments, saw what they shared of links and saw videos of them training and I was so happy to see that they used positive training and were very knowledgable.
I asked if it was ok that we came and just trained Bella to get used to being there and the response was very understanding. I also got a tip of another meet-up on Wednesdays with fewer dogs. So for now we have been there two times. The first time Bella did good, but needed a lot of distance and we kept it very short, and today she could go a lot closer. They were maybe 17 dogs, some were running, some were barking and most were just quietly working on different behaviours. Bella had a couple of times were she froze, shivered and started whining and I asked her to follow me to a greater distance. She came like a little rocket and we took a break, walked around just sniffing and did some “find it” far away and out of sight. Then I let her decide what to do and where to go and she chose to go back and look more at the dogs, so we did. I have to remind myself not to interfere too much as I want her to control most of it herself. If I feel she is getting too close I carefully stop her or encourage her to walk a little away. She does really well with this set-up and we got really close today. The whole group also moved at some point and she was so happy to go sniff the ground where they had been. We do some “find it” while we are close to the dogs, I heavily reward all contact with me and we just try to make it a relaxed and nice experience.
We also just walked around and let her release some tension and explore
Our goal is to get her habituated to the other dogs and handlers so that we can eventually join in the training. We don’t really care so much what we train, but we do care that she is motivated, has fun, that we work on cooperation and that we get input from others that see us as a team with fresh eyes. Bella is so curious about all of them while still insecure. She is has never been reactive on leash in the sense that she acts out towards other dogs, but she tenses up, can shiver, freezes and can go into a stalk. She does quite well when we meet other dogs while out on a walk, she follows me when I direct her further away and she likes to just keep an eye on the passing dog from a safe distance while eating yummy treats and when it has passed she is eager to go check its scent. Sometimes she will also follow it and I let her if the other dog isn’t bothered.
We have signed up for a training class that starts in the middle of May. It gives us the extra push to keep at it and hopefully she is ready for it by then. If she isn’t then we will just cancel but I really hope she is as it’s good for all of us to get a break from our bubble in the fields and woods 🙂 I just have to remember not to get impatient and not push her.