(Note: I realize it has been since June that I have posted to this blog. Needless to say, Darwin has still been very busy (as has his mom between lab work and volunteering for the humane society as well as the typical summer vacations and weddings. I do not know what my posting rate will be from now until the end of the year as I am working on my comprehensive exam for graduate school, but, starting in January of next year, I hope to a) get Darwin into agility finally, b) get his canine good citizen, and c) start posting to the blog regularly.)
Darwin, for whatever reason, started to develop a fear of strangers about a year ago that became progressively worse to the point where he would growl, woof, and try to run away from any unfamiliar person that wanted to pet him (this made taking the canine good citizen test very difficult for us). I have been trying a variety of methods to help him realize that people are not scary, and that he should have nothing to fear from them (Calming signals, trying to praise him when a Scary Thing is in sight with treats/frisbee before we go over his threshold, diverting his attention elesewhere, etc.). He is afraid enough of them he won't even take a treat when offered. He seems to be making some slow, but sure progress. He has been better at the vet lately, and I've been trying to make him "check it out" when something bothers him. He understands that he gets to play if he goes and touches the object with his nose and then is not afraid of it any longer. This doesn't work quite as well with people.
A few weeks ago, we went out of town on a trip where Darwin couldn't come with us, so we kenneled him for the first time. This kennel is also a dog day care, and they speicalize in training and breeding Karelian Bear Dogs to help teach bears to stay away from civilization (their application was also 9 pages long when I was done with it and they required him to be there 4 hours for an eval prior to acceptance), so I felt very comfortable that they could understand some of his fear behaviors. Upon returning, Darwin had gone from being afraid enough of the people he wouldn't get out of the car to loving the entire staff, and they told me he'd even go up to strangers for treats! Of course, he is fantastic with dogs, so that wasn't an issue.
To see if this was something more than a fluke (and to get Darwin into a new place and out of our daily schedule of frisbee and play), we took him to Petsmart last night and he was the best that he has been there since he was a young puppy! He remembered the trainer and went up to her, was interested in smelling all the people, and would lay down and wait in the aisles while we got crickets, checked out the critters, etc. He was so much calmer and it was just wonderful to see! That made my week. I am hoping to take him on a walk in an unfamiliar park this weekend to help boost his confidence.
He has also been showing lately a willingness to at least approach people, or calmly walk by them without fear, which has been good. I think part of this is the body language I've been working on to communicate with and calm him, and part of it is that he's learning that these threats are not real.
"Mom, you know I'm awesome!"
I'm so proud of him!
I love this dog so much and can't imagine life with any other.