Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hops in the Right Direction: The Next Direction

If you've been reading my "Hops in the Right Direction" column for any length of time, you know Prada has come so far in the time I've had her.  She has become so much more confident in her body and in her environment, and her socialization is coming along very nicely, though of course we'll always be working toward something new.

There is one area, however, where she could still use a lot of improvement.  She still gets overexcited when someone is about to touch her.  Don't get me wrong--I love the fact that getting loved on sends her into throes of exultation.  It's the fact that she dances around like an ADD-ridden kindergartner on a caffeine high and suffering a seizure that's the problem.  For me, it means minor inconveniences, like giving her time to slightly settle before getting her into her harness and clipping her leash on before going on walks, and holding her in her "safe position" (i.e., like a football) when people ask to pet her.  And those inconveniences are mostly offset by the fact that her dancing almost invariably makes me laugh.

There is one place, however, where this becomes a more serious issue:  at the vet.  We've already experienced one example of this--the vet wanted to aspirate when she had folliculitis on her cheek, but was unable to because Prada is just too wigglesome. 

Prada will very likely end up with arthritis at some point.  I'm trying to stave it off as long as possible by keeping her at a healthy weight and giving her plenty of massages, but arthritis looms before us, and that means more vet visits.

So, the way I see it, I've got a couple of years, at least (hopefully), to teach Prada to calmly accept touches.  Here's the plan:

  1. Sitting is her go-to "see what a good girl I am" pose, and it immediately puts her into "work" mode.  I'm going to try to use this to my advantage and start touching her here.  The challenge I'll need to work through is how to reward her for doing it right without getting her too excited.  Maybe a long-lasting treat like a rawhide would keep some of her focus off what my hands are doing until she can build up a tolerance to it. 
  2. I haven't had too much success using the "stay" command during touching, so perhaps I can come up with a different vocal/hand cue to prepare her.
  3. Practice when she is already calm and relaxed, usually when she is laying next to me.  This is usually when I rub her muscles loose, since straight-up petting overstimulates her.  I'm going to need to practice other kind of touches--handling her ears, muzzle, toes, and tail, especially.  Hopefully if she is already calm, she won't be as quick to overreact.
  4. Use her fatigue to my advantage.  Practice after long walks when she's ready to settle in and rest for a while.
That's pretty much as far as I've gotten.  What do you think?  Anything you would try?

(True:  Dog people will totally relate to both this, the touching side and this, the disgusting/funny side of dog ownership.)


  1. I'm so glad I'm determined to read all the posts I missed (sniff). This was a great read and I loved your links! I hope the touch training is going well Dana.

    1. It's a long road, but we're enjoying the ride!