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We took Maulkin to a “naturalized” off-leash area Sunday. It was his first experience in forest off leash, and he did a pretty good job not getting lost. He was amazing with the other dogs, and he even played politely with some unaltered males that kept trying to play rough.

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We went to the bigger park today and hiked through the little forest, splashed in the disgusting river, and played disc down a big hill. Maulkin’s stamina was much better than usual, and he wasn’t upset by any of the dogs, feral cats, or people running around. (Both signs that he was relaxed for a change!)

It’s a completely different experience walking with little Viola compared to Maulkin. Even though Maulkin is well-trained and ignores people when we walk, there are always people (especially kids and teens) who jump out of our way or even scream when they see us. With Viola, people run up and try to kiss her and make a fuss even when she’s barking and lunging at them. Viola happens to be overwhelmingly friendly and was never taught self-control around strangers, so she’s not a danger. But her behaviour looks like any other type of reactivity, and it amazes me people find it endearing just because she’s small.

I’m thinking about adding ribbons to Maulkin’s ears when we walk to make him look less intimidating. While I don’t want people running up to him, I don’t want them running away screaming, either. He takes it all in stride, but I find it really frustrating.

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Maulkin’s first run at Labrapalooza today. He’s running the “baby dog” course, because the other course had too many weaves. Look at him completely ignoring those barking dogs. What a good boy!

Picked up some friendly puppy swag: Four bandannas from Ren’s Pets, and six pairs of bows from PetSmart. Decided to go mainly pink since it’s a very friendly colour and matches Maulkin’s training leash. Maulkin looks a little worried here, but he’s totally going to rock it.

Maulkin seems to be afraid of men, but only when they’re holding something large. He barks at men holding papers, rolling luggage, and fishing rods. He’s still willing to approach them and accept pets if I have him sit, tell him it’s okay, and then release him. After he’s been introduced, he’s perfectly fine with the person, and is usually more interested in the THING they’re carrying. He doesn’t respond to the objects without the men, though; I’ve exposed him to all of those objects before, and he thinks they’re all toys. He also dislikes women with rolling luggage, but he’s fine with carriages pushed by men or women even though I’ve never had the opportunity to train him around one.

Maulkin had a rough day yesterday working around dogs at the park. He tried to interact with an off-leash boxer. He took off towards her and completely ignored me until he hit the end of his long line. After that, he seemed to remember his training, and he came back to me quickly and sat for treats. He was fine mostly ignoring the few other dogs that passed us as we played until he was back on his short line and we were leaving the park. We passed a medium sized mutt, and Maulkin began to get excited. I had him sit, but he popped up quickly, and began barking and lunging to get to the other dog. I am NOT pleased with this behaviour, and I’m concerned that he mostly show it while on his hand leash. I know it’s a frustration response and not out of fear, but it looks so much like leash reactivity that I’m afraid that’s what it’ll turn into if we don’t get this under control quickly. I think using body blocks, instead of relying on Maulkin’s leash, to keep him from interacting with other dogs may help. I also think we need more practice outside, as Maulkin does well during out PetSmart training trips, but it doesn’t generalize to the park as well as I’d like. Perhaps we’ll spend the weekend walking around downtown Toronto, and we’ll hopefully encounter several dogs to practice ignoring.

Ugh, we had a hard time at the park today. First background information: I always keep Maulkin on a long line so I can easily control him if need be. If there are no dogs around, I have the leash drag; if there are dogs around, I hold it and work Maulkin within the leash range. (Usually, we do heel work and other obedience and reward with a tug or floating disc.)

We got to the park, and there were three small dogs in the playground area. They all looked to be on leash, so I attached Maulkin’s long line and released him. Then I set my stuff in the shade of the only trees in the park which happen to be 50ft or so from the edge of the playground. As I was working Maulkin with his disc, a kid ran up to us flailing his arms and telling me to hold Maulkin because his family has small dogs. This was entirely my mistake, because I should have grabbed Maulkin and fed him before answering. Instead, I called back to the kid that Maulkin’s on leash and my shouting triggered Maulkin to bark.* Naturally, the kid being a kid and having delivered his message, he ran off flailing around and shouting at his family, so Maulkin also chased him probably thinking we were playing a game. I held the leash short and called him and he came back with no problem and was right back in the game, but I’d still rather he hadn’t barked at a kid.

Probably 20 minutes after the episode with the kid, Maulkin barked at a guy walking two dogs (one large and one medium-small). Again, this was my fault. The tree line where we were sitting is right near the path and blocks our view of people coming into the park. I was sitting with my back to the entrance, and Maulkin usually alert barks at anything approaching me from behind unless I indicate I’ve seen it.** So of course, the dogs pop into view just behind me, and Maulkin alert barks, and then both dogs start barking and lunging towards us, which gets Maulkin defensively barking. I had to pull Maulkin away a few feet before he could focus enough on me to move away on his own, though he wasn’t able to actually disengage from the other dogs until we were probably 50ft away or more. In Maulkin’s defence, the other dogs kept barking and lunging at us when we were probably 300ft away on the other side of the park and Maulkin was sitting calmly playing LAT. So definitely a situation I’d rather have avoided (and will be more careful to guard against in the future, only shady area be damned), but I’m pretty pleased with how quickly Maulkin recovered.

Just as the other two dogs were leaving the park and we were about to head back to our spot, one of the little dogs in the playground area broke loose from the little girl holding them. Naturally, the little dog ran directly to our old spot under the trees, because my bag full of treats and toys was there! Maulkin was absolutely fantastic! Even with the little girl running after the dog, screaming and crying and her brother running after the dog shouting angrily, Maulkin was able to lay down calmly and LAT with them. He actually got bored of LATing before the kids caught the dog so I just rewarded him for holding position.

After the big dog catching us off guard and the little dog breaking away, I decided our resting place wasn’t a very safe one. I packed up Maulkin and took him to the baseball area where hardly anyone ever plays. After a little while, the family with the little dogs left and I was able to drop Maulkin’s leash and play some recall games.*** He was fantastic with everyone else coming through the park including a few bikers, a senior with a limp, and a few baby carriages. On our way back, we passed a baby carriage on the sidewalk. I moved into the street so the woman wouldn’t have to worry about Maulkin sniffing at the carriage. (I knew he wouldn’t but some people get very defensive about that sort of thing.) I guess she took that as an indication Maulkin is aggressive, because she pushed the carriage into the grass opposite the road to create even more space! Maulkin, for his part, stayed in tight heel position and focused on me entirely without prompting, and he couldn’t have cared less about the carriage or the nervous lady. To be honest, I’m pretty offended by that sort of behaviour. I was being polite and my dog was under perfect control. It’s mostly just annoying because I know if I’d had a tiny dog completely out of control and barking and lunging towards the carriage, the lady most likely would have stopped to make a fuss and try to get the baby to play with the “nice puppy”. I’ve seen it a dozen times, and it’s infuriating because it puts small dogs and kids at risk while punishing my dog for not being tiny.

Anyway, sorry, ranting. I’m proud of how much better Maulkin’s become at recovering on his own after being startled, but I need to more vigilant to prevent it in the first place.

*Maulkin always barks if I shout at someone without feeding him immediately. I think it freaks him out or gets him excited, because I usually only raise my voice to reward him during training.

**Which is actually a REALLY fantastic behaviour, especially because I often walk home with him alone at night.

***I’m trying to teach Maulkin to actually RUN to me instead of crouch and stalk me. Border collies.

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