Hooray for spring! The temperatures are rising, the days are getting longer, and the pollen is out in full force (at least if you’re in Georgia). While this season wreaks havoc on my allergies, it improves my mood just the same. Topher also enjoys the extra time he can spend out in our backyard chasing his favorite egg and getting extra muddy. He had his first hose bath of the year last weekend; there will be plenty more to come.
With another season comes a recap of our training goals. What did we do well? What will we work on more? Here’s what’s new in our little world of reactive dog training.
Winter Training: How Did We Do?
Our training goals for winter were more like loose resolutions. I’d say we get a solid B for the execution of them. When it comes to manners and anxiety, we sought professional opinions before we moved forward on our own—more on that when we get to our spring training goals.
As far as daily walks and running, we had some good weeks and some bad weeks. I ran my first 5k last weekend, and Topher ran with me a few times in the lead up to that race. While he won’t be able to join in on the actual races I sign up for (that’s a recipe for reactive disaster), the additional exercise certainly has its own payoffs.
Now, what are we working on as the weather warms up?
Spring Training: New Season, New Goals
To really tackle Topher’s case of stranger danger, we sat down one-on-one with a few of the trainers from Frogs to Dogs for an in-home training and advice session. It gave the trainers the opportunity to see Topher in his home environment and gauge the level of his anxiety towards new people in the home—and in turn allowed them to give us advice and homework that would be most helpful.
Our spring goals focus almost entirely on that homework.
1. Desensitize Topher to door knocking. We have bits and pieces of a routine in place for when people knock on the door, but we need to set that routine in stone and work on it every week to minimize excessive barking at the door. The more we can go through the motions, the better Topher will be able to rely on this routine when company comes over. This will also help him relax as door knocking becomes more common, rather than the most exciting event of the day.
2. Work in small increments. Our trainers introduced us to the concept of “levels of freedom” for Topher. Simply put, it’s the amount of freedom he gets to have for exhibiting relaxed, acceptable behavior. When company comes over, Topher remains in his crate until he can calm down. Then, he can come out on a leash for small periods of time, as long as he’s relatively calm and not too stressed out. It’s important for us to work in snippets of time to keep Topher from getting past his threshold—using these levels of freedom helps with that.
3. Practice without company. A key part of our homework is practicing these techniques and routines alone as well as with company. The more Topher can get used to routines in completely stress-free environments, the more helpful they will be in more stressful situations, like when we have a larger group over.
4. Work on impulse control, with regard to personal space. Topher is 100% velcro dog. He needs to be where you are at all times, preferably right next to you or in your lap if at all possible. While I don’t mind my ninety pound cuddle bug on the average day, it’s hard to deal with when lots of friends are around. Especially because Topher is also too excited to control his strength and has head-butted or nearly toppled more than one friend in an effort to be extra-close.
5. Know the limits. Topher is a work in progress. Sometimes a big group of people will just be too much. In these cases, we can create positive experience by keeping Topher separated from guests in his own comfortable environment with toys and treats to keep him occupied.
When you add this list onto our usual routine, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re planning to focus on these tasks alongside Topher’s dog-specific classwork for the spring and summer, so we’ll be recapping how everything is going at the start of fall.
For mini-updates, you can follow Good Dogs & Co. on Instagram. We may post additional updates on Topher’s Instagram as well, depending on how much we have to say!
What training goals you’re working on? Do they change when the weather gets warmer?