I learned (am still learning!) so, so many things from having two reactive dogs in a row. But the most game-changing of them all was this: there is no behavior more important than simply having the dog engaged.
I’m really happy with Titus’s puppy class. We graduate from Level 1 next week and are signed up for Level 2 starting mid-August. The instructors are great, the facility is lovely, and it’s been excellent for both of us. Motivation to practice! Appropriate and useful distractions! Actual feedback on my handling skills and opportunity to ask questions/debug issues and get input that I haven’t already tried!
(I feel like that last shouldn’t be a rare thing in a class, but it’s something that I’ve struggled to find. I drive almost an hour each way to this facility; this is why.)
But of all the class’s many fine qualities, the one that I value the absolute most is that not once have I gotten even the slightest bit of side-eye for totally bailing (often very briefly, but occasionally not) on the exercise at hand in favor of just rewarding attention and engagement, happy and calm.
I was (am) never, ever going to apologize for doing so. I learned from Lilo (and from the places where I fell short with Casey) that these are the priorities that work for me. And I learned from Tucker the horse that sometimes you have to say, “Fuck it; I’m doing what’s right for my animal.” And Titus, bless him, reinforces this decision-making consistently.
I take a lot of pride in being a good student, though, and in the past I’ve felt a lot of conflict about going my own way right there in the middle of, you know, studenting. It’s not something that instructors (of all stripes; this is not at all dog-people-specific) take well. And it can be a little scary in its own right, in lots of ways. It’s a big responsibility. A necessary responsibility, I think! But big.
Must figure out how to communicate to the puppy-class instructor how much I appreciate being so freely given the space in which to move.