P is for Progress?

My favorite guys

My favorite guys

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether you’re making progress or not.

As I’ve explained in previous posts, I’ve been taking Leo to a parking lot to work on desensitizing him to bicycles. During the cold, dark months, I discovered that the adjacent residential neighborhood has many fewer bicycles and joggers than our own neighborhood, so that’s become a regular walk route. Now that it’s warmer and lighter, we’re starting to challenge ourselves around distractions again.

The parking lot is next to a sports stadium that’s encircled with chain link. Leo pretty much ignores what’s happening on the field. Instead, he’s often triggered by teenage hooligans skateboarding through the lot. There’s a dirtbike park and a skate park next to the parking lot. That’s actually why we go there. The idea was to bring Leo close enough to the bikes and/or skaters to be interested, but not react. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to predict when a cyclist or skater is going to cut through the lot.

Lately, the jog-away technique has been surprisingly effective.

We’ve had a couple of glorious, peaceful strolls, even when there’s a lot going on: high-school soccer in the stadium, little kid soccer on a nearby field, a little kid P.E. class on a patch of grass directly across the street from where we walk. I’ve noticed that if Leo’s leash is completely slack when he sees a stimulus like a moving bicycle (at a decent enough distance), it removes his barrier frustration and he is capable of remaining calm.

The other day, despite the soccer games on the nearby fields, and the shady characters hanging out in their parked cars (to sell drugs to the skater kids, I can only imagine. Unless they’re parents waiting to pick up their skater kids, who are also honor students), the parking lot had a very serene energy.

Skaters and cyclists were enjoying their parks, but the lot itself was quiet. Leo and I made two successful approaches where he watched the skaters and cyclists, then looked away. I praised him and we moved farther away.

He was sniffing some grass when a car pulled alongside us and a woman said through her open window, “Your dog is gorgeous.”

Yes, yes, I know, and if you look at him a second longer, he’s going to bark at you in 3, 2, 1 …

I smiled and said thank you and sort of shrugged off the barks. What does she expect from a German shepherd in a ThunderShirt?

I decided to make a third approach and get Leo to watch the dirtbike riders in particular. We walked to the fire hydrant just outside the chain-link fence. He sniffed and peed, and then noticed the group on wheels. I noticed a man leaning against a pick-up inside the stadium on the other side of the fence. Maybe a maintenance worker.

Leo watched bikes of all sizes leap through the air while maneuvering the dirt moguls. He turned back to me and I praised him, enormously proud.

Then I noticed the maintenance guy running toward us and I recognized him. Several weeks ago, he did the same thing — race toward me and Leo on the other side of the chain link. He happens to be developmentally disabled, which explains why he didn’t understand not to run directly toward us, although it does not excuse Leo barking at him. Leo would bark at anyone running toward him.

I called out, “You can’t run toward us; he’ll bark,” then turned and ran away, chirping my stupid, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” cue that I give when I’m trying to redirect Leo from something scary.

Leo barked a few times; it wasn’t the scariest sound he’s ever made. (The last time he barked at a bicycle in the middle of this parking lot, it echoed throughout the stadium. I was quite grateful there were no sporting events happening at the time.) What bummed me out was feeling like we’d just had a tremendously successful exposure to the bike park, and I didn’t know what effect the running man incident had. Did it completely negate the “progress” I thought we’d made 5 seconds earlier?

Leo and I left the parking lot and made our lap around the apartment buildings where apparently no one jogs or bicycles. My mild discouragement evaporated as I realized the experience would make a good post for P day of the A to Z challenge.

Before we got back to the car, I moved Leo into a driveway to get some distance from a bicycle. I kept his leash loose and let him look. He did not bark.

So I guess he’s made some progress after all.

P is for Progress!

P

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6 thoughts on “P is for Progress?

  1. Yay for Leo! I’d definitely count that as progress. With our reactive dog, Pyrrha, progress often seems infinitesimal, but it does happen, and recognizing such progress — however tiny — is always encouraging. Keep up the good work!

  2. Yay! I’m thoroughly enjoying your posts. Full of great information, although I don’t have a dog at the moment (just 3 mental cats…) 🙂

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