Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Good Dog Gauntlet

As previously established, Astrea is a barker and we're constantly working on it. I've tried just about everything, but I've found that the squirt bottle and telling her to be a good girl are the two best tools for her. With Daisy around this past week I knew I had to be really on top of the barking because two barking dogs is way worse than one. Because we don't have a yard, we go on four walks a day to get some exercise and go potty, that is a lot of opportunity to bark.

After the first day Daisy was with us, I realized if I was going to make it through the walks with my sanity and without making my neighbors hate me I had to take the squirt bottle with me. It's awkward to carry with the dogs, but it's easier to manage than two barking dogs; and those first couple of walks, man did they bark. I've found that the best technique is to shoot them right in the butt with the water. It startles them and then they sit. Normally on a walk we maybe run into one person, two if it's a busy day. They were doing well, but Sunday night, we walked right into the gauntlet.

We left the house and started on our merry little way. We have a general route that we take for our evening walk but as we headed down our normal way I noticed a kid drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. Rather than having to deal with trying to get by this kid without the dogs barking and pulling to say hi, I steered them down another route. BUT WAIT - plan B failed too, there was a big group of people hanging out by their cars. Those people would want to pet the dogs and they'd get all riled up. No go, plan C. This is when I realized I was just going to have to suck it up and trust that the dogs would be good. Plan C featured a golden retriever in the back of a truck with his owner. A prime candidate for barking at. I held their leashes tight, told them to be good girls and headed down through plan C. We survived. Astrea and Daisy were interested, but another reminder to be good girls and they kept on walking. Success.

We turned the corner and ran into our next obstacle. Our normal first stop on our walk was totally taken over by a big family BBQ. Astrea LOVES food. She really wanted to go that way in hopes of a hotdog. We had to stand for a minute and stare, but no barking or pulling. Good girls. We kept on and were soon turning another corner - right into a little girl on an electric scooter. Astrea hates bikes, scooters and wheelchairs. She LOVES barking at them. When we go to the dog park her favorite activity is running along the fence "chasing" the people riding by on bikes and scooters. This little girl would pose a big challenge I thought. The second I felt Astrea start to pull and growl I got her in the butt with the squirt bottle. She immediately sat. The little girl slowed down and walked the scooter past the dogs. Again, they were interested, but they were easily redirected and kept walking again.

That's when we ran into excited little boy. "OH MY GOD! YOU HAVE DOGS!" Yes excited little boy I do. Two. And they are dying to bark at you right now. Astrea started to growl a little which got Daisy alert. I shot them both in the butt. They sat. Once I calmed them down, I let excited little boy come over and pet them. Astrea and Daisy gave him lots of kisses. Then along came little girl on scooter again. When she saw that the pups were nice they dropped the scooter and came running over for her own pets and kisses. The dogs didn't even react except to happily take some belly rubs. Seriously, at this point I was beginning to think someone switched these dogs with someone else's. In a week they had not been this good and this non-responsive to stimuli.

We finally got the kids to move along so we could head home. But of course, it wouldn't be that easy. This is the point where I realized it was the gauntlet. We rounded another corner and found ourselves face to face with another dog. A very cute little dog about the same size as Astrea and Daisy who really wanted to play. Little Mr. Happy dog lunged toward Astrea and Daisy with his tail wagging ready to play. Normally Astrea would run forward too, but instead she and Daisy took a couple steps back and then waited for me to take them over. They all sniffed each other and it was a grand ol' time. Astrea has a short attention span with other dogs when she's on her leash so it doesn't take long for her to get bored and move on. I was so impressed telling them both what good girls they'd been that I didn't even notice another dog coming toward us ready to play. It was fabulous, everyone was happy and said Hi and sniffed without any pulling, growling or barking.

I think I may have floated the rest of the way home, I was so happy with how the dogs behaved. They each got a cookie when we got home and lots of belly rubs for a job well done. I still have been carrying the squirt bottle on our walks - mainly for the threat - but haven't used it again yet. I think I can officially say we've made major progress in the barking department - now if I can only get Astrea to take out the trash...


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