Since Dom the German shepherd puppy has exhibited nervousness about riding in the car, one of the Boot Camp goals is to take him for car rides as much as possible. Since I had to do other errands today, I decided to make the farm store one of my stops.
I had taken him on Sunday and he was so nervous that he barfed in the car, and then came flying out of the back of the van the moment I opened the door, like he was living his own Shawshank Redemption. I told him no and put him back in, and made him wait.
When we got inside, he dropped a whole row of poops in the farm store. He barked at a customer and couldn’t eat his cookie they gave him at checkout. He simply snapped it in half and left it on the floor. He didn’t like the wheels on the grocery cart. He shrank away from cars in the parking lot.
We definitely knew we had to go back THERE.
On Sunday Til had been his escort, to provide a calming example of how a dog behaves at the farm store. This time, we took both Til and Este. Fearful dogs are often so soft and insecure that they don’t provide much threat to the smaller breeds. But it is nice to instill good manners with dogs like Shepherds that may develop some prey drive. Besides, Este loves to go for rides.
Dom was eager to load up in the van and jumped right in with Til. When we got to the store he had drooled all over his chin and front paws, but he didn’t vomit. Woohoo. Since I had the rest of my errands done, I decided to take my time in the farm store and just reinforce calm, quiet behavior.
Dom was lunging on the leash and so I kept stopping to look at things. I had all three dogs tied to the cart. I had a pocketful of dime-sized liver treats and I was handing them out periodically. Every time he pulled on the leash, I would stop the cart and just stand there. Eventually, he would give up on the pulling and sit down. I would start moving again then.
The shopping cart is a great tool. If he started running ahead, I would get to a spot where I could make a left turn, and turn the cart right into him. If he didn’t get out of the way it would bump him. Pretty soon he learned that he should hang back just a little, because he couldn’t predict what the cart was going to do. He is not jerked around or forced into a heel position, but if he doesn’t get out of the way, he might get bumped or I might accidentally step on his foot. And if I do, I just go, “Oh, sorry.” And it’s not a pity party.
Nervous dogs often have separation anxiety, so I made sure to just leave the dogs tied to the cart and walk away from it. I would disappear around a corner, slowly browsing through items and picking them up and putting them back. The farther away I drifted, the more Dom would whine. I just ignored it and kept fading away. He had to wait there with the other dogs. Eventually I’d come back, but it was always from another direction.
We hit the jackpot when a store employee came along pushing a big rack of shirts. Dom took one look at that and dodged toward me with his tail pushed up into his rump. His one ear that has managed to stand upright, collapsed under the stress of the Clothing March.
“We’re going to follow you,” I told the girl. So we trundled on after her, through the narrow clothing aisles as she pulled that heavy clothes rack, and eventually Dom decided it wasn’t such a big deal.
It is important to note that when he experiences these things, he is with two dogs that are completely unruffled, and a handler who shows no reaction beyond pleasant interest in stuff that happens. He gets no high-pitched reassuring squeaks, no hugs, no encouragement, no, “Poor baby, it’s okay!” His reactions are not acknowledged at all. Everything is very matter of fact.
We did some sits and posed for pictures and all the dogs earned some treats. Til and Este were excited to get the treats, and it was contagious. We picked out a few toys. They were excited about those, too.
When we finally rolled up to the counter to check out, the girl gave Dom a cookie, and he ate it.