One thing I have not been very good about lately is bringing Marge to different locations for walking and/or training, aside from dog events.
Now that I have some more time, I'm going to try to bring Marge to different parks at least once a week. Even if we start repeating (which I think we will), I'd like to re-expand our choices so that Marge is comfortable walking in a variety of different parks.
Last week, our destination was the boardwalk, where there was a fair amount of people around. Marge did quite well, if you recall from my last post.
Today, our choice was the long path along the road in one of our "National Recreation Areas," despite the fact that I am in the midst of a long post-reinforcement pause (hah) after finishing all of my work for the Fall 2010 semester and, therefore, want nothing more than to bum around on the couch.
We walked 2 1/2 miles together over the course of an hour, with some running, some sniffing, and some obedience work thrown in. It was quite cold for me, but I think Marge enjoyed herself, for the most part.
There weren't very many people around and Marge did give oogly eyes to a couple of men that she saw, but she never outright panicked and always took treats.
Strangely enough, I think the lack of people was bothersome for her, as compared with the boardwalk. At the boardwalk, there was a steady flow of people, and perhaps I'm anthropomorphizing, but I think she "expected" their presence, whereas in this park, a lone individual would slowly approach along the path only every once in a while.
Most times, her strategy to cope with the approach of a human is to direct her attention towards a tree, garbage can, or other smelly object and sniff her heart out (which may be a signal to the humans that she has no intent to bother them, may also make her feel more secure, or may be unrelated - I think it's all three, depending on the situation and her body language).
I am fine with this because it is MUCH better than her fleeing; I also feel that if she was very nervous, she wouldn't be able to do this with people walking by in such close proximity (since it happens frequently in our neighborhood, where people pass sometimes as close as 1 or 2 feet from us). Sometimes, she looks as though she is indifferent to their approach and is sniffing just to sniff, which may very well be the case.
We are also working on her glancing at the incoming person and then looking back towards me. I am rewarding her for both behaviors (sometimes for looking at them, sometimes for looking at me), so as to work to build a positive association with whatever's approaching and also to maintain her ability to focus on me.
It worked absolutely smashingly with an aggressive-looking Shar-Pei who walked (er, pulled) by about 30 feet away from us. She was able to watch the dog and get the information that she needed (because would YOU want to keep your back turned from something that looks scary?), and also able (and quite willing) to look towards me.
I hope to have more posts like this over the course of the winter, hopefully with more photos than I had today!