That’s what life with a reactive/fearful dog can be like. In truth, it can be like that with any young dog when you’re training them. It just seems like when they have issues like our Luke does, even at 4 years old, there is simply more to work on as time goes on.
One….Maybe Even Two, Steps Forward!
Sometimes you make progress and have breakthroughs. I was so proud of Luke recently when we had company and he did well staying in his crate. Later in the evening as our chatting continued, he got fidgety and whiny about being in the crate. I can’t blame him for that. I decided to let him out on a leash. The Dadz was sitting on the couch watching TV while I visited, so we let Luke sit there with him. At one point, Luke sat right up and looked at one person who he was still fearful of. He did not bark or react in any way, not even when they got up to move around and leave!
Then there was the day I was painting at my sister’s, and the Dadz was home with the crew. It was snowing lightly on my drive home, and when I got home I was surprised to see paw prints in our driveway. It’s certainly not like the Dadz to take the dogs for a walk, and neither dog likes riding much lately either.
Of course, I quizzed my hubby when I got in and this is what had happened: the guinea hens had gotten in the dog yard. When he decided to herd them out (yup, we herd them!), he accidentally left the gate open. He then later let the dogs out, went to do something, and came back to see them running around the driveway!
It’s not surprising that Cricket would come back, but when he called Luke, Luke ran right into the house too! He did take a short detour into the garage where the guinea hens were, but he turned around without doing anything, leaving the birds behind!
Wow, was I ever proud of him when I heard this! In addition, hubby said that Luke had been in the yard once when the guineas were there as well, and he did not bother them then either. Perhaps I was being overly concerned about him and the birds, after the small incident we had last summer where he chased one? (“Luke’s Little Adventure“)
The Rest of the Story
If you’re reading all our posts, you know that Luke did have a run-in with Harry the guinea hen, however, and I promised to tell that story. That happened just two days after I was swelling with pride over Luke not just not chasing the guineas….but coming back when called! Our training was paying off!
I was out playing in the yard with both dogs after working. With much of our snow melted, all the birds were happily digging in the dirt near the dog pen. There is no issue with the chickens, they won’t fly into the yard. Even though Luke had done so well the other day, I still didn’t want to encourage the birds to come into the yard. They are apparently more afraid of us humans than the dogs, so if I just moved towards the fence, they would usually move away.
However, Harry was close by, and I think Luke kind of ran towards him. Instead of running or flying in the opposite direction, Harry went into a panic and flew up towards the house and onto the roof. Well, we have a metal roof, so that was not going to work. He scrabbled and flopped around, and next thing you know, he’s falling right onto the patio and Luke is already headed that way. I’m right behind him, but he took a shortcut through the snow bank and I went around. By then, Harry had tried and failed to fly away again more than once. When I got to them, Luke had him pinned to the ground and was pulling his feathers out. My yelling “leave it” was falling on deaf ears. I had to literally haul Luke off of Harry and pull him away.
The last time this happened, it was fortuitous that Luke had his harness on after we’d had a walk. Luke does not like to have his collar held on to, and he was trembling with excitement and way over the top wound up. He would not move, and his eyes kept wandering over to where poor Harry was lying on his side on the ground.
There was no way I could let go of him, but I also couldn’t get him to budge. I took a deep breath and calmed myself, then knelt down beside Luke and spoke calmly. That settled him down enough that he would listen to our cue “with me”, and I was finally able to get him into the house.
I went back out to check on Harry, who was still lying on his side, but was alert. I saw a lot of feathers around but did not see any blood, so I just gently picked him up and set him on his feet. He immediately ran away from me and started pacing up and down by the fence – the other guineas were on the other side. I called my hubby who was at work, and we decided we should just leave him there for now and see how he was. He wasn’t going to let me near him again, but I did my best to look at him, and though I could see some redness on his back, again, I saw no blood running anywhere.
The big concern with an injured bird is that the other birds will pick on them. When hubby got home, we decided to just let Harry out and see how everyone did. The prospect of getting him into any kind of cage to separate him was a daunting one (we may have been able to get him later when it was dark, because that’s usually the only time we’ve been able to handle them).
We got a little first aid spray on him for a couple evenings and watched things for a few days and all seemed fine. Phew. Oh, and for those of you wondering? No, Harry did not learn anything from this experience and he has been back in the yard many times since. We’ve had to manage the situation, not letting Luke out until we know the “coast is clear”. When I can, I play with the dogs in the morning while the birds are still in the coop. Now that we have snow on the ground again, the birds are staying away for the time being anyway.
The Other Step Back
I was so disappointed….heartbroken really. I had been so proud of Luke when the Dadz told me he hadn’t gone after the birds! However, I couldn’t be mad at him. That bird was scrambling around and flopping all over the place….there are many dogs who could not have resisted that. Though, on a lighter note, while all that was going on? Cricket was oblivious and still just kept bringing me her ball to throw, so I guess some dogs can!
I can try to work with Luke on a leash when the birds are out there (and I will)…..but, sigh…..another thing to work on. In Luke’s defense, if you research on the internet what the biggest predator is for chickens? They will all tell you that it is dogs…..your own dog, the neighbor’s dog, a stray dog. It’s just natural for them. Harry did not have any bite wounds on him that we could tell, so we really do think Luke was just playing with him like a toy. Not that that is acceptable, but at least it doesn’t seem that Luke’s initial intent was to kill him.
Then it was just a couple days after that when we had the incident with hearing the shooting in the woods and Luke freezing up and refusing to come home (“At My Wit’s End“). You probably have a better understanding now of why that event drove me to tears!
No one ever said life was going to be easy, and I think the older we get, the more we know just how true that is. It was our choice to add guinea hens to our flock, though we really had no idea it would lead to this challenge. With all of the area we have for them to roam, who would have thought they’d become obsessed with the dog yard? I think it’s the fence they like. They want to sit on it, and then just naturally jump to the other side. I do think (hope) it will get better when all the snow is gone so they do have more snow free areas to go to.
We stick with what we commit to, even when it’s difficult, and we will manage things the best we can (we do want them in the yard at times, so they can eat any ticks that might be in there). Most backyard bird keepers say that you’re going to lose some birds to predators sooner or later. We’ve been lucky so far; and we will continue to do everything we can to keep our birds safe. Management is a big part of living with a reactive dog, and it seems to be a big part of keeping our flock safe as well (not just from Luke but from all predators) – so we certainly know the drill!
One thing I know with Luke is that the work with him is probably never going to end, whether it’s due to his fears and reactivity, or just the fact that he’s a dog. But I also prefer sometimes to focus on his strong points: his intelligence, his eagerness to please (most of the time) – remember that great recall! – and his loving and affectionate nature. We will celebrate each success, manage what we need to, and work on the rest as we can. The good will always outweigh the bad in my book, and we’ll just keep plugging away and hoping for more steps forward than back.