Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ten Month Finnaversary: The Saga Continues

We continue to make slow step by step progress in our efforts to rehabilitate this severely damaged dog we've named Finna. Before our most recent lesson the trainer and I amused ourselves by speculating on the various high strung breeds that went into Finna's mix. Finna's paperwork says she's half GSD and half Corgi but we decided there's probably Cattle Dog, Belgian Malinois, JRT, and Border Collie in there as well. We agreed that Finna is certainly crazy enough to be all of those mixed into one high strung petite package of issues.

Everything we've been able to expose Finna to she takes in stride. Vacuuming withing a few inches of her, using power tools within feet of her, bicycle pumps, etc. are not a problem for Finna. Things about which she had formed an opinion before she came to live with us are a problem. That tells me that if we'd raised Finna from a puppy she'd be an awesome dog but being raised in an inconsistent environment by animal hoarders she's a dog with massive issues.

I learned something important at our last lesson. My previous experience in training a dog is not a good guide for training Finna. Training Ranger is a hugely different experience than training Finna. We adopted both dogs at about a year of age from the Kitsap Humane Society. They are both very smart herding breeds/mixes. But that's where the similarities end. Ranger came from a great beginning with lots of socialization and positive experiences. He learned early on that it was possible to affect his environment to create positive outcomes and that people are partners. Finna learned that what she most wanted was to keep scary people and things away from her and that that was the best outcome she could hope for in her efforts at affecting her environment.  Ranger came to us predisposed to working in partnership and relying on me to give him clues about what I wanted. Telling Ranger "no, that's not the behavior I'm looking for" was useful for Ranger. Finna has no understanding that it's possible to be partners and that my feedback has any value. Finna needs to figure out everything for herself. I can reward success but I can't offer any other feedback. If I want Finna to down from her sit and she stands up instead; telling her "no" isn't helping her. Taking a step back and starting over is the only help I can give her. Please, note when I say telling Ranger or Finna no I am not talking about screaming or shouting at them I'm talking about a conversational tone indicating that the behavior offered was not the one requested. Ranger can be coached in this way and he understands that I'm helping him decode the requested behavior. Finna needs to work it out for herself.

All dogs require patience when training them but in Finna's case it will need to be endless patience. There was a Dogster blog awhile back that summed it up especially well. The subject was why clicker training would be a ratings disaster on TV. You can find the article here. The author described in the article about helping his dog learn to focus everywhere.  They went out to a field with interesting smells and tied the dog's long line to a tree. The trainer set down and watched his dog sniff around for 8 minutes before the dog checked in. Clicked and rewarded. Dog sniffed around for another six minutes then checked in again before being clicked and rewarded. Eventually the dog was focused on the trainer and they moved to another spot in the field and started over. It isn't exciting but the dog learns to figure it out and what it is that gets rewards, in this case focused attention. This is what I need to be doing for Finna, I need to give her as much time as she needs to offer me the behavior I want. Coaxing her or otherwise trying to short cut the process isn't doing her any favors.

Another thing we need to be working on is making Finna feel completely safe in her house even when Dad is home. She feels pretty safe with me and the children but much less so when Dad is home. We don't know why she often feels unsafe with him around. It might be the way my husband moves, some studies have shown that men carry their weight forward as if they are about to suddenly lunge forward which is going to feel more threatening to dogs especially dogs like Finna. It's also possible that Finna is reacting to the extra testosterone he has compared to anyone else in the family--Finna can smell that very easily. Or it could be that her previous life taught her that men cannot be trusted, that they are unpredictable and inconsistent--imagine if you are rewarded for jumping up and solicit petting but the next time you do it you're grabbed and thrown on your back on the ground and the same person that was petting you for jumping up before is now holding you down and yelling in your face; would you know how to behave or would you start to be afraid of that person and maybe generalize it to all people of that type? I know that back in the days when I was in college and built like a barbie doll it didn't take me long to reach the point where I crossed the street to avoid walking near construction sites. In my world at that time construction workers were sources of discomfort; I didn't enjoy the catcalls, wolf whistles and multiple propositions. Having passed my half century mark and broadened into more of an Earth Mother shape I no longer cross streets to avoid construction sites; I no longer get the same reaction I did as a twenty-something babe. Maybe time will help lessen Finna's fear of men. Meanwhile, I'll be thinking about ways to help Finna feel safe when Dad is home. Feeling safe in your own house should be a fundamental expectation for everyone two footed or four footed.

I notice this blog entry has been more focused on the problems of life with Finna. It isn't all bad. In fact our last lesson with our Trainer turned out to be the best yet. Finna was able to exhibit a new behavior that we'd worked on a little bit at home a few months back and touch my hand. She was able to sit and actually offered sits and watches in an effort to get treats. And Finna was able to down even with the Trainer sitting in the room. It was really heartening; Finna was acting like a real dog and not like a Finna dog. She was focused, paying attention and giving me the behaviors I asked for. She wasn't stressed out and over threshold. Shade, our Trainer, and I were both delighted with how well Finna did! There's hope for our psycho bitch yet. Maybe someday, I'll be writing blogs about Finna our super bitch instead of calling her psycho bitch. But that day is a long ways off. In the meantime we'll celebrate our tiny victories and be proud of any advance. That's life with Finna.

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