With her retirement, Tajji’s life got a lot wider. Since she’s no longer a working dog, we’re able to allow her many more choices about what she does and does not want to do.
Yesterday I walked Tajji down to the San Lorenzo River, a trip that took us about halfway to town along West Park Avenue, about 3/4ths of a mile. That in itself was tremendous progress; a week ago or so it was hard to get her around the block. Despite several canine and human encounters, she managed her arousal pretty well, with the help of a lot of click-treats for checking in, and “puppy zen” as needed.
The path from the road down to the river is very steep and slippery: just dirt and duff zigzagging between redwoods, and Tajji showed her service training by walking slowly as directed down the trail, making it easy to maintain my balance. This is the only way in and out without walking through someone’s yard, which makes for both privacy and safety, as I expect to have plenty of warning if someone else shows up; no one did this time.
At the bottom, once she’d settled a bit with the new scent-landscape, I took her off-leash. Oh, what a transformation! She’d been happy enough on-leash exploring all the “trails” she could sense, and splashing about in the rocky pools that the San Lorenzo wanders through here in the dry season (which started early this year). But once I took the leash off, I could see her gather herself and start following her senses rather than mine: such pleasure! Her tail came up slightly (still below the line of the back!), her ears swiveled forward rather than sideways in hypervigilance, and her gait became more springy.
She also began checking in less frequently as she decided that there was no suspicious activity or sounds anywhere nearby, nor the expectation of such. At this point she was still under voice control, but I thought I sensed increasing arousal. For once, it was entirely excitement, but I knew that a negative stimulus could quickly convert excitement to fear or even aggression.
Of course, this anxiety almost immediately caught Tajji’s attention; I think I was likely giving more commands, and doing so sloppily. She began to push back, ranging farther afield (no more than 100 feet, always within sight), moving faster and less predictably. When I finally decided to put her back on the leash, she took my command to “come” as an invitation to keep-away, which I thoughtlessly escalated by adopting a minatory tone as I told her, fruitlessly, to wait as I approached.
That was easily dealt with by accepting the ritual and chasing her around the riverbed, trusting that she was truly playing. When Tajji readily obeyed my command to stop as she surged up the trail back towards the road, I was able to relax, and so was she. She splashed happily back and forth across the river as I leapt carefully from rock to rock, and finally ran straight into my arms. Seventy-five pounds of wet, kissy-faced GSD: heaven on a near three-digit day. The walk back went very smoothly; she seemed more relaxed, and spent the next few hours after our return flat on the floor.
So yesterday was one of quiet satisfaction with our dog’s progress, and of an important lesson underscored: dog training is trust building, and to get your dog’s trust, you must give her yours.