Good news! I’m going to write a post about dog training (it’s been awhile right?)
A little background on Jasper might be useful for this post. Jasper was brought in with several other German shepherds as a humane acquisition, so in layman’s terms, he was seized by PSPCA’s humane law enforcement officers. PSPCA offers humane law enforcement services to several counties across Pennsylvania (which you can read about here). Long story short, Jasper was kept on a chain outdoors for most, if not all, of his life. He came into PSPCA underweight (55 pounds, he should be about 70-75), unaltered, with bad, itchy skin, a touch of arthritis and a nasty ear infection. He was subsequently surrendered but was not made available for adoption immediately while the fabulous shelter vets, vet techs, kennel techs and amazing PSPCA staff and volunteers worked on getting his weight up and checking off the boxes on his bill of health. He was put on an antibiotic and some tramadol for the pain in his ears and to clear up some minor skin infections and after he was finished his oral antibiotic and up to about 63 pounds, he was altered.
When I first met Jasper, I had come to evaluate three of the German shepherds at PSPCA for foster: Smokey (who has been sent to rescue); Dakota James (pictured below who is still available) and Jasper.
I was pretty convinced before even meeting them that we were going to end up with Smokey. Maybe it was the name, but I was swayed to like him from his description as well, medically sound, a few years old, friendly and big. We like big shepherds, and I did like Smokey, I liked him a lot, but Jasper was the one who stole the show. In his kennel, Jasper paced, constantly spinning and whining, whereas both Dakota James and Smokey laid there quietly. When we took Jasper out into one of the runs, he immediately came to me and leaned against my shins the way Panzer did the first time I met him. I was sold. As long as a dog meet went well, we would take Jasper, not because I liked him the most, but because he was the one who needed out the most. Fostering isn’t adoption, I reminded myself, go with the dog that has the greatest need.
It’s only been a few days, so I know that Jasper needs to work out the shelter jitters still, but the pacing is nearly incessant when he’s not in his crate. When he’s downstairs with us in the evenings, it’s back and forth between the dining room to the front door (which is in the living room), back and forth, back and forth. When he’s in the kitchen with me, it’s from the sink to the kitchen gate, back and forth, back and forth. When he’s upstairs with me in the morning while I get ready it’s from the bedroom to the bathroom, back and forth, back and forth. He never.stops.moving. Even on walks he paces, from the left to the right, swaying. He’s not a puller. He’s a pacer.
Last night, I decided that instead of waiting for him to settle, I would be a more proactive foster and try to work with him on calming down, for his sanity and mine. The soft padding of his feet on the carpet as he paced was starting to bore into my brain to the point I felt like screaming, “Just stop already!”
I brought him into the kitchen and cut up 10 small, soft treats (so far he seems to like the Bill Jac peanut butter treats the best, not as nutritional as I’d like, but he likes them, so we go with that). I charged the clicker, click and treat rapid fire style, then I took another 10 treats and stood in the middle of the kitchen while he paced. I waited. For a brief second, he stopped, click and treat. The pacing began again. A few minutes later, another pause, click and treat. By the end of the 10 treats the pauses had become longer and closer together. I ended the session and sent him off to his crate to rest and think about what he’d learned.
While I solicited advice on the internet from some other clicker trainers, Jasper snoozed. I received a lot of great advice, but most of it still seemed a bit too advanced for Jasper. Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol, great, but he needs to learn to sit first, and I can’t teach him to sit if he won’t.stop.pacing. Rescue remedy? No help. Tellington Touch, now there’s an idea I really need to read up on more, but for the immediate moment, wasn’t going to help me. More walks? Admittedly, I could stand to do that, but it was real feel of something like one degree last night and more than 15 minutes out in the cold had my back seized up and tensed. Medication? Possible, but I wasn’t convinced we were there yet. Thundershirt? A good thing to look into but again, not immediately helpful. After about half an hour of getting very good advice that I think will help in the future, I let Jasper out of his crate and brought him back into the kitchen for another round of “click for stopping.”
This time though, he had the game completely figured out. For all that pacing, there was a smart and eager dog under there! This round, I was able to up my criteria to click and reward for pause and voluntary eye contact. I was amazed. I thought getting to this level was going to take days. Ten treats and voluntary eye contacts later, and he was sitting right in front of me, staring up adoringly. Sitting! Not pacing, sitting! I ended the session with a jackpot. My heart hammered in my chest. It’s been a long time since I have been so excited about something so simple.
Fuzzy butt back in crate, more advice gleaned, I started to hear a noise from the direction of Jasper’s crate. Was that squeaking? I got up and went to him and there he was, lying down on his bed, contentedly chewing on the stuffed animal I’d bought him the day we brought him home. He hadn’t as much as looked at the thing since I’d put it in his crate, but there he was, happily gnawing as it squeaked. And you know what? I clicked that too! Play with toys! Yes!
For the final session of the night, without even intending to get this far, Jasper offered three sits in a row. Sit, click and treat, sit, click and treat, sit, click and jackpot treat, here’s half the bag of cookies, end of session, good night world, boy do we have a learner on our hands!
And you know what? This morning when I took him on his walk, he weaved less on the end of the leash. Oh yes he did! And he met a new person (again) and didn’t pace around. Instead, he sat in front of her and leaned his head into her hand. And he sat for his breakfast and he sat at the front door to go out. Holy crap, miracles are happening with my foster dog!
If you’re interested in adopting Jasper and continuing with the miracle working, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org