Thursday, January 21, 2016

How Do You Solve a Problem Like My Finna

At my house we often parody songs suiting them to the dogs and cats as the spirit moves us. Lately I find myself humming the tune to "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" from Sound of Music and changing the words to fit Finna. I recently discovered that Finna can learn in a flash as long as it's relevant to her. I discovered this by accidentally teaching her the cue 'give me some slack.' We've been working on leash manners specifically not having Finna dragging me around on leash. When she starts pulling hard I stop and wait for her to come back to me and see what's wrong, as soon as there's slack on the leash I start moving forward. One night (because Finna is still so reactive to people we're walking her at midnight--quite literally) she'd reached the end of the leash and was pulling as hard as she could trying to drag me forward she was so focused on whatever goal she wanted to reach. Just to be doing something I said, "Finna, give me some slack." She turned back to me, probably in response to hearing her name, and I started moving forward again. Seconds later she reached the end of the leash again and started trying to drag me forward. I said, "give me some slack." and she did so I started moving forward again.That's all it took, just two repetitions, because getting to continue moving forward is very relevant to Finna, it's what she wants to do. Now if she's starting to pull I just tell her to 'give me some slack' and she eases the tension on the leash.

Thinking about it, everything Finna has learned has been because she wants to, because in some way it's relevant to her. And that's where the problem of my Finna comes into play. Finna has her life organized pretty well the way she wants it and strange people aren't relevant to her; in fact getting strange people as far away from her as she can is really what Finna wants. How do I make strangers relevant, how do I make strangers ignoring her relevant, and how do I keep everyone safe while I figure it out. If she was an adorable 10 pound puppy with her huge ears and paws she'd need to grow into some day this would be easy, I'd have everyone we met toss her treats. All her meals would be feed to her by strangers. Unfortunately, she's no an impressionable 10 pound puppy she's 70 pounds of teeth and muscle who doesn't want treats from strangers she wants strangers gone from her presence and she knows just how to get it--bark fiercely and show them your teeth and they'll go away or Mom will drag you away; either way no more strangers in her presence.

Ranger likes people. He never meets strangers just people who haven't fallen in love with him yet. To him new people are all potential sources of interesting things, maybe treats, maybe petting, maybe new behaviors. To Finna they are unpredictable monsters who might hurt her and will certainly push her outside her comfort zone. So how do I solve a problem like my Finna, how do I stop the barking and the growls. How do I solve a problem like my Finna. Can she learn to mind her Ps and Qs and even vowels?

It's an interesting challenge. We're starting with something that is relevant to her and that's her walks. Finna likes going for her midnight walks. We live near a busy church so throughout the day there are people coming and going and in our neighborhood the mail is delivered not to individual mailboxes at each house but at two central mailbox stations so all of the neighbors are likely to visit that area frequently. Walking her at midnight we're pretty certain that there won't be a lot of people to contend with but there will be lots of scent of people. I encourage her to explore the areas of the church where people have congregated and to spend time around the mailbox stations. Sometimes I'll see her tracking someone's trail and learning about them through their scent. The hope is that learning about people through her nose in their absence will make their presence less threatening.

It may be helping. I'm taking her out during the morning to collect the newspaper at the end of our driveway. Several houses down someone was out working in the yard. Rather than the wild barking that would typically have resulted from seeing someone I saw Finna watching carefully and sniffing the breeze. I'm hoping she was making the connection, that this was someone she'd smelled by the mailbox station and observing that this somewhat familiar through scent person was paying no attention to Finna so was clearly no threat.

Finna really makes me think about things. Ranger finds cooperating with me and doing the things I ask interesting. He enjoys the puzzle of figuring out what I want and seeing what happens when he does what I ask. Finna, though doesn't care about figuring out what I want she cares about what's in it for her and whether or not what I ask is relevant to her getting what she wants. Ranger enjoys the cooperation. Finna is all about the results. Lots more thought is going to go into how I solve the problem of motivating my Finna and how I make other people relevant to her but knowing that it's the relevance that's the key faction should help.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dogs at Play

Part of the reason we adopted Finna was as a playmate for Ranger. Unfortunately, Finna's efforts at wrecking her knees have made playing together less of a constant than we'd like. At the moment though Finna seems to be fairly sound so I've been encouraging them to play together. I'm sure my cheering for "dog fight, dog fight" to encourage some play fighting is very politically incorrect but Ranger and Finna seem to enjoy it. And in the context we all know that it is a play fight that I mean and that if things get out of hand or either of them seems to be getting too amped up I'll be putting an end to the game.

Today I was encouraging them to play and Ranger got just a little too rough for Finna's taste. I was fascinated and impressed with how they both handled it. Ranger was popping Finna with his paws and hit a little hard. Finna whirled around clearly irritated and bit the fur around Ranger's ruff about four times really hard and really fast. She wasn't making contact with any part of him that she would hurt just making it clear that he'd played too rough and if he didn't play nice she could hurt him. After she finished explaining that with her bites she stepped away and Ranger turned to her and gave her a couple quick apology licks. Then they raced around the yard a bit and I called them to come in. No one held a grudge, no one escalated, no one went off to pout, both clearly communicated and they worked it out.

Here's a video from a couple years ago of Ranger and Finna playing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juXAQYwE3oA