Last night I was standing in the hall talking to my husband. Finna was standing with us watching him closely but quiet and not in the hyper-vigilance stance we frequently see. But when he gestured slightly with his hand which was not far from her face she snapped at him. She's very controlled in her threats, she didn't come very close to connecting at all (a good four inches away) but what I want her to learn is that it's possible to walk away. I understand that she was frightened by this unexpected movement of his hands not far from her (maybe a foot away) but the appropriate response would be to back up. Sadly, Finna doesn't back down or walk away and I'm still working to figure out how to teach her that walking away, backing up, leaving the scene is an available response and one that should be the first tool out of the box when dealing with people that scare her.
But this is life with Finna so we went from that low point to a very nice high point this morning. My daughter had a friend picking her up today, a big, bearded, glasses wearing, scary male (for Finna at least) friend. With his permission we set up a training exercise. He was to remain outside the fence and when Finna came charging at him barking, growling and generally freaking out he was to yawn and turn his back, two very definite calming signals. I'd just started playing ball with her when he arrived and Finna did charge over to the fence trying to bark around the ball in her mouth. He yawned and turned his back to her and you could see her ratchet down a few notches. I immediately called her and asked for the ball. She was slightly reluctant to give it up but after a few glances at his turned back gave me the ball which I immediately scooped up and threw. He turned back to pet Ranger and talk to my daughter and Finna continued to play ball earning lots and lots of praise and my undivided attention. She looked over several times but made no further effort to scare him away. There was a stranger standing right outside her fence and she was not freaking out. I was so pleased! This is a dog I can work with and have hope for. Last night's version is a dog about whom I have serious concerns.
Which dog is Finna; the one that responds appropriately and ignores a possible threat or the one that is determined to keep all possible threats at bay using aggressive behavior? The hard part is that she's both dogs in one complicated package. My job is to set her up for the kind of success she had today and to manage things so that she isn't in a position where she automatically reaches for her favorite aggressive tools. Sadly, that's often much easier to write than to do.
On her road to recovery and rehabilitation where is Finna? The truth is that she's very much the rollercoaster ride. Over all I think she is improving. Rather than always mugging The Great Catsby for some roughhousing when she starts getting wound up she's sometimes asking to go out and play ball. She's developing a more reliable response to "Come" and early this morning even aborted a run out to the edge of the fence near the street to investigate and no doubt scare away something that she saw when I asked her to come back. She's learning that "Sit" and "Watch" are the default behaviors we want. Is she a safe dog? No. What she is can best be described as a work in progress. I think there's hope that in time she can become a more reliable dog but I'm not sure she'll ever be safe, not in the way that Ranger is a safe dog.
The Great Catsby is not exactly thrilled to have Finna licking his head but he's very patient with her as is Ranger. I hope the incredible social skills exhibited by Ranger and Catsby rub off on Finna.