Monday, August 29, 2011

Non-Reactive Akita Training - A SUCCESS!!!

Today was the first time I put all of the training Coco and I have been doing with introducing her to new dogs and non-reactive training. She was amazing.

I have a neighbor with a five month old male pitbull. Coco has seen him and he has seen her. But no closeups. My neighbor and I talked about letting them get to know eachother. So with both dogs on leashes Coco and I did our first walk by. Then we walked up closer and then turn away from the new dog and kept on walking. Coco and I would walk around a little bit and then we'd go back to Bully and let them smell each other again. Once she made an umph sound and I told her to be gentle and we walked past and turned around again. We walked back and forth and Coco was completely non-reactive. After we did a few passes and they were showing signs that they liked eachother I gave her more time closer. I introduced a new command, which is one I used when I was fostering but haven't used it for awhile. I told her, "Gentle Puppy Greet." And when she was gentle I told her, "Perfect! Great puppy greet! Good gentle! Good girl!!" I used this one a lot when she was becoming friends with her Chihuahua and Toy Chihuahua buddies.

I started letting Coco stay closer to Bully with each new pass. He rolled over early on. And she bowed. And then she did this cute playful chase me move and I knew they were going to have fun together.

My neighbor was fantastic. This was a training opportunity that only happens once. After Coco has made friends then the introduction part is over. So I was making the most of having us walking near one of her favorite neighbors and being all excited to say hello and then continued walking past. Impulse control is a crucial part of our training.

Coco was perfect. She wasn't the least bit aggressive. She kept her focus on me. Whenever I stopped she sat and looked at me as if to say, what do you want to do? I wish we would have had the camera going. Next time I'll have someone taking some video so I can catch it.

She did beautifully.

We did a fundraiser over the weekend and she just laid beside me for two hours and rolled over so people could rub her belly. She charmed everyone.

There are so many places we go where Coco spreads love and gentleness around. I always knew Akitas were amazing. I did not know for sure how much they were capable of learning.

Back when I had the farm we shared our lives with our first two Akitas, among several other dogs and llamas and donkeys and dingbats. My first Akita Angel stole my heart. She was the first dog who taught me about communication. She understood that there were times when I got tired or dizzy and she took it upon herself to brace for me. She would lean into me and I would put my hands on her back and she would take me to the couch or if she thought I needed it, to bed. She did so many amazing things to help me on the farm. She was a student of behavior and she specialized in human behavior.

Bear, my second Akita had those same traits. He healed my grieving heart after Angel. He had his own personality and he was huge. He had long hair. And he too took care of me. If I was weary he would put his paw on my shoulder or knee and I knew he would keep doing this until I stopped and took a break or rested for a little while.

They were amazing animals. Truly amazing. I knew how they were wild; with a few basic obedience commands and good manners. Whether or not they would take to service dog training, I wasn't sure. Everything we learned together took longer than it would have before my brain injury. Because I only have so much energy and focus in a day. But slowly and very surely we kept moving forward. And she has done absolutely everything and then some, that I trained her to do.

There were so many times when I wondered if I'd be able to work through something. And I'd just keep at it and eventually we learned each new thing. Now Coco has put it together what I want her to do. To greet dogs gently and to stay focused on me and what we are going to do next. I think the long leash training has been a great addition to our working. With her freedom to move more and me relying more on verbal commands or casual language or sounds, she knows that I am trusting her to listen and to respond to me. And she is rising up to the challenge. Everytime she voluntarily comes to pace with me on our walk, and she steps in at a beautiful, relaxed heel,she is telling me she wants to be with me. She is enjoying our walks and our little runs in the park. I am so happy. In the next day or two I'll get some video and I'll post it.

I am so grateful to everyone in Japan who took care of these amazing creatures. They truly are a treasure. And I'm grateful for everyone who carefully bred them and who recognized them for their amazing minds and character.

I have heard it said, "Akitas aren't for everyone." I think that is true. If someone wants to dominate them or have them and not exercise them or train them, then they will have their hands full. These are brilliant animals. Intuitive and smart. They need to always have new things to work on. They love to learn and they love to work. But you have to be strong enough to put your foot down, eye to eye when you need to. If you do it right though, you'll only have to do it once. But there had better be a good reason for the correction.

I remember the first time I needed to do this with Angel. When we got our Akita we were given three sheets of paper filled with instructions. I figured it was all hype and didn't pay much attention to it. But when Angel turned about nine months old I began to understand that there was something very different about an Akita. My daughter got in her face and made growling sounds and was showing her teeth. She was just playing. But Angel interpreted this as aggressive. So she head butted her. I had never seen a dog do this before but she head butted my baby girl and no-one, not even an Angel was going to get away with doing that. So little old brain injured and not moving so great all the time Mama grabbed her up by the scruff of her neck. I opened the slider door to the back yard and I threw her outside. I yelled at her and told her, "No, Don't you ever do that!" And then I left her outside for the rest of the day and all night too. Which was really, really hard to do. She howled under my window. I wanted to give in but I knew I couldn't.

I had three teenage children back then so there were lots of people in and out of the house. Angel was good with people. She was more aloof than Bear or Coco but Angel had her favorites. In this picture she looks more like a wolf than a dog. The breeder told me she was a real throwback.

This is a picture of Angel when she was close to a year old.
The dogs napping on the couch. Both Akitas and our English Bulldog were best buddies all of their lives. You can see Mo on the couch too.

I decided to eliminate buying rawhide bones and things like that and instead gave them puppy biscuits and worked them. With a German Shepherd, Akita, English Bulldog a mixed breed and a Maltese, it was best. Here they are after dinner waiting for a little treat. All waited without moving and when I called their name they knew it was their turn and they took the treat gently. I always began and ended with Angel. But she had to wait her turn like everyone else. Bear was more relaxed. And Coco lets her Chihuahua buddies eat out of her bowl, and even take her bone right out of her mouth. When they come over I don't pick up toys, they all play. But this is always a gradual process. Introductions to new dogs needs to be gradual. I learned that when I was fostering dogs and I never experienced any trouble with any of my dogs. Once dogs are relaxed and they are sure they are not going to have to defend their food or their people or their toys, then they can get to know eachother and become friends. Then very slowly I might leave a water bowl out. When they are playing and friends inside and outside then I toss a couple of handfuls of dog food on the floor and let them eat it. I may do this several times during lots of visits before I would trust them to eat and drink and share treats. It takes as long as it takes. On the farm I always left food and water out. There were no fights, ever. I think they usually went into the kitchen and ate when the other dogs were in another room. But if they felt like eating at the same time, they did.

I remember one time when this young guy decided he was going to play the put-food-in-my-mouth and make the dog take it out of my mouth game. Akitas, and many of the large breed dogs don't like this kind of play, especially with someone they don't know. I told him this was not a good idea and to stop. Then he took her head in both his hands and forced her face up to his. She looked at me, she was shaking with restraint and I stepped in and told him to stop. Angel was so amazing. But she knew that I expected her to be non-aggressive with people, well with everything, and she lived up to it. Had I not corrected her that first time and stuck to my guns, or given her all of the love and respect and training in the years that followed, or had I given up and taken her to the pound and been too timid to correct her; I would have never known what an amazing creature I was going to share my life with.

I could write a book about all of the good things she did. And all of the good things Bear and now Coco have done. And maybe one day I'll do that. So when people say, Akitas aren't for everyone, I agree with them. But if you are willing to put in an hour a day walking them and you research and apply yourself to learn how to train this wonderful breed, you will be amazed at the relationship you will have.

Akitas are the most fair and respectful dogs I've ever shared my life with. I say this because you will never own an Akita. If you are very lucky, and you treat them with respect and fairness, you will get a glimpse into their heart and then chances are, you will be transformed by the gratitude that you feel, knowing that you have been lucky enough to share life with an Akita too. But you can't give up if you have an obstacle. You need to find a way to work through it. Because you and your Akita will have a meeting of the minds.

Akitas are hunters. They will kill a squirrel or a skunk or anything else that comes into your yard. They will make friends with a dog but that doesn't mean they are all warm and fuzzy and will make friends with all dogs, all of the time. Each introduction has to be handled carefully. And even though I have heard that they are not good with cats, all of my Akitas have lived around our cats and even had their favorites.
Bear loved Crazy Cat. She used to curl up in his big fluffy tail and nap there.
Coco loved Dinah. She used to lay her head on Dinah when they napped together.

They did not eat any of the cats. I know; I've had several cats and they all survived my Akitas. And my last two cats have out lived two of my Akitas and none of them got eaten. Not even a little bit. And none of my llamas or baby llamas or donkeys or our goat were ever harmed either. Because I set those kind of boundaries. If they were playing too rough I would yell, "Hey, not too rough. Be gentle." And all of the animals knew the rules.

Though Angel did get into my chicken coup and ate six chickens. But that'sa another story for another day.

For now, I am painting and not doing a whole lot of writing. Though lots is going on in the world I could write about, for right now, most of my world is on the canvas in front of me.

My son just sent this to me because he thought I'd get a kick out of it. I thought I'd pass it on.

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