As I hinted in my last training post, I am going to extend my discussion of our nightly walks into a full-length blog post. Since tomorrow night is our last day at the agility field before indoor classes, I figured I'll have more than enough to blab about in the training update without this.
We've continued our routine of walking in the evening. I'm still really not sure how to feel about it.
(If you're new to the blog, Marge is fearful of walking on regular streets thanks to a slew of problems over the summer, so the main road near my house has been a compromise in the evening between the mega-scary side streets and the super-fun open field, which is "closed" after dusk. There are less people out at night, and, I think from Marge's perspective, things tend to sneak up on her less on the main road the way they would on the side streets - people simply walking by as opposed to people quickly slamming shut their front door and getting in their car, for example. We've been doing this for a couple of weeks now, attempting to blend areas where we need to pass a few people and distractions AND also relax among trees and telephone poles and other stinky items.
One side of the road has a sidewalk and contains houses, the other side is grassy and borders on the big field. Our route has been to first walk on the sidewalk side, then, turn to the grassy side for the remainder of the walk. Generally, few people are out at the time we walk; we typically encounter two or three silent, not-an-issue passers-by and that's it. If they are out, they're almost always on the sidewalk side, which is why we get that side over with first.)
Marge did very well over the very windy days of last week. She wasn't anxious at all when walking. Because the wind was blowing stuff around, there were some things that caused her to spook, but she bounced back immediately. She reminded me of a spooky, but fresh horse - jumping around, reacting to the stimuli in the environment without much thought, but still having a wild time.
I, stupidly, did make the mistake of walking her past some really scary people who were clearing leaves out of their chainlink fence on one of those days - an absolutely awful decision on my part, because it really bothered her. We did continue walking, though, and she seemed alright. Otherwise, I can't think of anything else that stood out as particularly scary or bad.
Now that the wind's died down, the past couple of days have been interesting. We did have a couple of warm days, so the walks were even more sluggish on top of whatever fear she felt.
I can't remember much from Sunday night's walk except that it wasn't very good. She walked, but she choose to walk right next to the curb seemingly with the goal of getting to the other side of the street (the grassy, no-traffic side, the way that we walk back home). I don't know if this is fear of walking on the concrete side, a wish to get to the trees and such to smell on the grassy side, or an attempt to end the walk prematurely. I don't remember any other specifics except that I came back saying to myself, "at least tomorrow's another day."
Well, tomorrow came, and I'm STILL not happy. She was better on the concrete side tonight, though I didn't walk as far as I usually do, figuring that ending on a good note would be better than extending the walk and waiting for something scary to happen. Several people passed us, including a group of three very large men, and she really had no problem with that (clicks and treats were absolutely doled out). We walked down on the grassy side way past our house and past the REALLY scary (and, if I may say so, scuzzy) delicatessen on the other side of the street. But, then, there were just too many people -- one man walking his dogs, two women chatting loudly with their large dogs up ahead of us, nuisance teens talking loudly but unseen in the darkness. Marge freaked pretty bad, and we had to turn around for home.
The heavy hitter of the night was the fact that I had forgotten to give her the L-Theanine prior to the walk because we walked earlier than usual. I don't know whether that had any effect on things. She received the dose as soon as we got back. I headed out for another short walk after that, this time staying only to the grassy side. She seemed better, though I was using high-value cheese. She did offer a grumble through her nibbles on the cheese to the nasty Rottweiler who walked on the other side of the street, but that's nothing new, and we played a little tiny bit of Look-At-That, though I don't think it'll ever do any good since the Rottweiler snarks at anything that moves, which is probably what sets off Marge.
I'm so confused on what to do. Do I stop the walks and simply walk her more during the day in places that she likes? Or, do I keep up with the walks and just continue taking the good with the bad?
Aside from tonight's walk, she hasn't shut down or gone into full flight mode, which is a good thing, a sure step above where she was over the summer. And, other than that dampening episode with the many noisy distractions, the walk itself really wasn't that bad, probably thanks largely in part to the dipping temperatures. She LOOKS comfortable from an outward view for most of the time - tail up, head down, moving at a trot, sniffing as she walks, hopping from tree to tree.
My hope would be that continuing the routine, making it predictable, would boost her confidence so that she eventually knows exactly what to expect on the walks. I'm obviously treating her during stressful situations, like when people pass (which has proven to be almost a zero issue unless noise is involved), or there are noises around. Otherwise, I kind of just let her sniff and lead the way. My fear would be having her become so anxious as to begin to have strong fear responses to only mildly uncomfortable things, or try to get home as soon as possible.
I'd choose one direction to go and just stick with it. But, if I go one way, there are more people, cars, and noise in general. If I go the other, there are less people and cars, but that darn store ruins everything. There are always people in front of it, talking loudly and sometimes acting like morons. Everything beyond that point is pretty quiet, but I just don't feel like it's worth it - walk past an immensely scary deli and wind up on a road of nothingness? To me, it seems like not much would be accomplished in the way of getting Marge to feel better about distractions in the environment. Or, skip the deli/avoid it unless no one's there, and walk the other way, where there is a constant low- buzz of motion, but usually nothing outrageous?
Right now, I've been doing both - start out with the busier part, treat her as needed, let her sniff as much as she wants, then turn around towards my house, pass my block/house, pass the store (on the opposite side of the street) as long as I don't see any potentially scary activity, and walk on the quieter part as a peaceful way to end things (the deli seems to be less of an issue on the way back, usually because I creep into the field for just a tiny stretch if I see that there are people there. Confusing, I know, and I considered using my terrible MS Paint skills to make a map, but would probably reveal my location more than I'd like to.
Another interesting point is that Marge is exponentially better on ALL walks if she has not been exercised enough in the hours before and even moreso if it's cold out. An experiment might be to skip our daytime walks on one day and see if that makes her less fearful on the nightly walk. This, ultimately, has to occur any way on Wednesdays, being that I'm at school all day. So, aside from a 10-minute walk in the morning, Marge does not walk until I get home. We'll see what happens then, I guess.