Behold Toy Time

Isis has started some new training. I’ve described before various incidents that were amusing, or embarrassing, or perhaps frightening to the person on the other end. And I’ve watched The Dog Whisperer and thought all I had to do is walk, walk, walk this dog until she stops scaring people.

It used to be that she’d bark and lunge at other dogs. When I started walking her daily, in about October, I found that she didn’t always bark at other dogs. Sometimes we were far enough away that she barely noticed. She did always completely freak out at a particular golden retriever who hangs out in its front yard behind a rather short (for the purposes of containing a dog) fence. I blame it partially on the golden retriever itself, because it freaks out when we pass. We pass plenty of other fenced dogs whom Isis ignores.

She developed a new target: bicycles. In particular, bicycles headed directly toward us as we walk on the lefthand sidewalk. It started as a bark here and there, but evolved into a very scary barking and lunging at every single passing bicycle, which probably has made us very unpopular with all the bicycle commuters in the neighborhood.

Isis is what those in the dog behavior biz call “reactive.” So I’ve hired a trainer who specializes in reactive dogs. And what do you know, everything I’ve done so far is wrong. With a reactive dog, evidently fearful of bicycles, it does not “cure” her to doggedly (heh) walk her past the stimulus every day and expect her magically to learn to ignore it.

Also, not a good idea to let her sit on a couch looking out the window all day long. Silly me. I thought she loooooved looking out the window. But what that’s done is give her the idea that she has to monitor ever passerby, and made her excessively protective.

I like our trainer. We’ve had one actual session so far, but I’ve been working on making some changes in the house to facilitate this personality overhaul. One is the excruciating 5-minute rule, in which we must wait for her to, on her own, settle down and relax completely for five minutes. Not looking at me. It’s taking her a while to get it — that the way to get me to play with her is not to rest her adorable little head on my lap, or whine. And it’s hard for all of us to avoid making eye contact or petting her, when she stands there smiling so eagerly.

By the time she’s accomplished her five minutes, and I call her to me to lavish praise upon her, she’s not smiling anymore. She looks worried. And sad.

Fortunately, we have an activity that puts the smile back on her face. It’s called “Toy Time!!” The idea is we only let her have two toys at a time, which we rotate each day. Every day, for 15 minutes, we dump open the toy box and let her play with whatever she wants. This is to be accompanied with squeals and cheers of encouragement (I may have added that rule myself).

She has a lot of toys, and I’ll admit, the house looks better with them off the floor. Amusingly enough, there is one that she picks up first every single time. It’s a white squeaky Milk Bone. It came in a gift package of toys that I both gave (to her) and received (from Quin) two Christmases ago, and maybe I never actually gave it to her before. Hadn’t occurred to me that she would prefer this to the stuffed squeaky squirrels or the obnoxiously squeaky plastic lotus flower.

The Milk Bone squeaker wore out yesterday, but as I said, I had another one! I might even have a third one, since I think Mom’s dog Millie got the same gift bag, but she’s not allowed to play with toys. (Just kidding, she doesn’t like them).

She also is quite fond of a pink leopard ring, which we call “the donut” given by Aunt Louise. We usually spend 15 minutes with her squeaking the Milk Bone. I throw the donut, which she chases and brings back in her mouth with the Milk Bone.

Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

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