After a six week training course, this weekend Luka and I passed the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. The course was really for me, not for Luka. He could have easily passed the test with a good handler. I was the one who needed the training.
One of the challenges I faced during the fall was managing Luka’s behavior during interactions with other dogs. When we came across another dog on one of our daily walks Luka tended to bark and growl even from a distance. I wouldn’t say he was aggressive but he definitely wasn’t friendly and it made those interactions very intimidating to me. We had worked on this in Austria but I was obviously doing something wrong.
I spoke to a local trainer and she explained that Luka had probably learned to assert himself around other dogs out of necessity. We don’t know anything about his life before being rescued but she theorized that he may have had to fend for himself and is therefore wary of any potential threat, especially strange dogs. She reminded me about the proper way to desensitize reactive behavior with classical conditioning then lots of repetition with operant conditioning. The problem was that as the weather turned colder and snow started to fall from the sky people seemed to stop walking their dogs. The opportunities for exposure to strange dogs rapidly dwindled and repetition was out of the question. She suggested we take a Canine Good Citizen class which, besides being good practice for us both in basic handling, would give us a chance to work regularly around lots of other dogs.
So every Saturday morning we met with other student teams and practiced for the test. I quickly learned how to capture Luka’s attention around other dogs and hold it in exchange for lots of high-value rewards. In very little time I gained a great deal of confidence in these situations which, as it turns out, was the piece I was missing. Now when we meet strange dogs we fall into a practiced routine which gets stronger and smoother every time.
Here is Luka and I taking the CGC test:
And here is some additional footage we recorded over the weekend of Luka demonstrating several “distance” commands that were not part of the CGC: