We went back to Parque Ecológico Huayamilpas because yesterday didn’t go quite as perfectly as I had hoped – the cohetes spoiled the fun. Since I’m about to move, I wanted to use the opportunity – one of the last days I would be nearby! – to return to the park for a positive experience at the snake head once again. I am stubborn that way; Chai will end up loving all snake head people dogdammit!
Today, I brought Game along as well. The three of us hung out at the snake head for quite a while … but no one showed up. Finally, two people walked past, but Chai didn’t even notice them. Apparently, Pentecost isn’t the kind of weekend people spend at giant snake statues. Learn something new every day!
I finally got bored of waiting and we headed back towards the parking lot … and ran right into a marching band practicing! The first time (the first clip in this video), Chai was a little weirded out so we walked back and forth past the band several times. By the fifth time, Chai didn’t care about them anymore at all and we moved on. Brave puppy!
I mentioned in my last post that going forwards, I’d mostly share general Chaiaries in my daily reports … but this one is just too good not to share here as well! Bravery for the win! Plus I haven’t published a bravery post yet that I could link to, so there is that!
We also heard a single loud cohete (fire cracker). Chai looked slightly concerned. When she isn’t sure what to make of a situation, she looks at me as well as other dogs to learn what the appropriate reaction to a situation is. And that looks she gave me today? She already looked less concerned than yesterday! Of course it rained kibble right after the cohete which will hopefully make the next one an even smaller deal!
+ I announced and then cut some front and back paw fur.
Since Chai seemed a little concerned last night, I took her on a brief night walk (and outdoors pee!) with Game. NOTHING weirded her out today! Go puppy go!
+ Both Chai and Game got to go to UNAM and run around the campus.
+ We had a single positions-practice session.
+ Husbandry: I clipped Chai’s nails on both front paws and she got brushed, and I cut a little around her front paw fur (another thing I’d like her to get used to in case she turns out to be a furry-paw Border Collie!)
+ Both dogs stayed home alone for a few hours.
Day 501 – May 26, 2023: Huayamilpas, kids, cohetes … a full day!
Today was a BIG day!
We started the morning with some more position work. I pulled out the fold-back down and we did two rounds of down with “good” (room service: stay in position; the treat is coming to you) versus “get it” (chase the treat marker) – one round for breakfast and one for lunch. In the video below, you’ll see me work with a hand signal to get the fold-back down some of the time and with a lure some other times.
The reason I help relatively quickly rather than waiting Chai out is that she would otherwise default to a sit (and then try a down from the sit if the sit didn’t work).
I specifically want a fold-back down rather than a down from a sit, and the way to teach this is from a stand.
The video below is an uninterrupted 10-minute session with a 5-months old puppy. As I said in an earlier post, this is not what I’d recommend most clients do (unless they have really worky puppies). I happen to have a worky puppy who loves training and so do I – so I get to do this on days I need something to obsess over or something that I can focus on without thinking about anything else in the world! Dog training is that thing for me, so here we go – both having fun!
Note that often, I will have heavy-training days followed by little or no other adventures or very low-key days like yesterday. I don’t want Chai to turn into a super-athlete who needs to either train or run nonstop. So heavy training days tend to be low-physical activity days (just not today) and heavy physical activity days tend to be little-to-no-training days.
+ We did some cutting of Chai’s front paw fur and I brushed her.
+ We went to ride the elevator.
+ We toured the busy Walmart corridor (people, shopping carts) and a bank with Chai in her backpack. (Thank you so much, Scarlett, for lending me the puppy backpack! It is GREAT!)
Tarps blowing in the wind
It’s a windy day today, and on our adventure loop we saw a tarp blowing in the wind and Chai got a little spooked. After watching it for a while, she was able to cautiously walk past it. This is the second time I have seen this reaction – that’s my cue that tarp feelings aren’t a one-off thing and we need to work on things blowing in the wind! When I got home, I set up the fan and pointed it at the curtains:
It never hurts to learn about the safety of objects and situations in set-ups you can control before encountering them in the real world (again)!
In the late afternoon, we spontaneously returned to Parque Ecológico Huayamilpas briefly before 6pm: when we were there a few days ago Chai barked at suddenly appearing strangers (and they all started to appear around 6 after we had had the place to ourselves all afternoon). I wanted to make sure to counter the experience by orchestrating positive interactions with suddenly appearing people at the same spot (I haven’t seen her bark at people before and I would love for it to stay that way).
Unfortunately, things didn’t start out as well as I had hoped they would: soon after we got there, someone elsewhere in the park, but clearly not far, set off a bunch of REALLY loud firecrackers (you can hear them in the video but they are muffled by the microphone – this doesn’t compare to the real-life volume). I don’t think Chai has heard firecrackers before – and definitely not at this volume. She got worried – not panicky, but worried enough to tuck her tail and seek my consolation.
Right after, the first person suddenly appeared. Not the best antecedent arrangement to set her up for success! Luckily, the person had a dog and Chai trusts dogs. After watching the two approach suspiciously, she greeted the dog and a little later, I had the person do a version of our food protocol (they had already reached for her so I just gave them treats to feed). All was well with Chai and she even jumped up on them for more. We hung out for a bit and talked dogs, and Chai and the other dog – Kipper – socialized and she did drive-byes with both of us humans.
We then followed the next pair of passers-by for a little – an adult and a kid. As we turned around to look back, a family with several kids had come to the concrete snake in the center of the park and we turned around to see them up close. Since Chai could see the family from a distance, this wasn’t a sudden environmental change (which I specifically wanted to work on). Still, she had positive interactions with people at the snake!
Because it went so well, I waited longer and Chai got to briefly greet an adult and a kid walking with two dogs. Then, we called it a day and made our way towards the exit.
Sadly, right as we were walking away from the snake, the nearby firecrackers started up again. Chai was – again – concerned. All I had was kibble, but she was able to eat and I fed one after each boom. Still, the insecurity lingered after the firecrackers stopped. Unease is not the emotion I want her to associate with the snake, the park or firecrackers. So I will probably be going back for another round of sudden environmental change – hopefully without the firecrackers.
The saving grace today was a Lab mix we met at the parking lot: Chai and the dog played for a minute or so, and then Chai, tail proud and high, eyes shining and body language loose left the park on a good note.
By the time we got back home, it was dark out. On the walk from the car to the apartment, Chai got spooked by people unloading stuff from a truck. We watched for a bit, curved around and then I encouraged her to watch some more, but she was ready to leave. Note to self: take more night walks around weird stuff and people carrying strange objects!
Growing up and changing
Today was quite the day! Our outings were not very long, but jam-packed with things going on. Puppies and adolescents change every day – and these days, Chai is highly sensitive in all directions: picking up behaviors from older dogs and having an easier startle response than she usually does. However, the good news is that her recovery is still amazing (playing with that Lab mix a minute after hearing firecrackers? Go Chai!) and that even in a state of firecracker insecurity, she was able to eat kibble.
It is also interesting to see a dog who learns really fast overall have sensitive days: they are impactful in a different way than in the last two puppies I raised (Puzzle and Game). It is like watching Chai have an experience and then assimilate it into this 10 000-piece puzzle that is the map of the world in her head. Nothing exists in isolation. Every experience Chai has gives her a puzzle piece, and she is quick to find the exact spot it belongs in the map of the world she is creating for herself. If we think back to the elevator experience: her baseline assumption about the world is an optimistic one, but she is fast to learn what to exempt from optimism (such as this particular elevator – I don’t know about others because this is the only one I have currently access to and the first one she’s ever been on).2
A slice of Mexico City’s subway web. Maps are necessarily an imperfect representation of the world. Subway stops are one of my favorite way to conceptualize big cities. Once I have a subway map in my head, I’ll generally find my way around. Subway stops are my favorite landmark.
As far as I can tell, Chai’s initial hesitancy around people was based on a lack of exposure and my two protocols (the one for strangers and the one for expanding her circle of friends) have helped her become a socially optimistic dog. She’s a Border Collie, not a Lab, so she is never going to have problems with hyper-sociability towards strangers. But she is now significantly more confident around them and open to making new friends.
In everybody poops news …
(Feel free to skip this paragraph if you’d rather not read about my puppy’s bowel movements!)
Chai peed AND pooped at the park without another dog to imitate! Our house training project is coming along! In fact, she has only had a single accident inside what I define as the living space of our Coyoacán apartment in the last month, since we’ve been here! (She will go to pee/poop on the outdoors patio. If I leave her by herself, I do so in the bathroom, and she will pee/poop in the shower when she has to go rather than waiting – as far away from where my bed as is possible to set up in this small space. All of this is great news for a dog who had no idea about defined toilet spaces when I got her. If I had a yard, she might be doing all her business there already (apart from the occasional accident even adolescents still have).
Sidenote: fear periods
People like talking about the elusive “puppy fear period” or “adolescent fear period.” Some trainers even define at what age exactly fear periods (sometimes called sensitive periods) are supposed to happen and how many of them there are.
To my knowledge (readers: please correct me and send me peer-reviewed sources if I’m wrong!), there is no scientific evidence that fear periods exist or that every dog has them. (Most of the puppies I have raised have not had anything I would label “a fear period.”) In the absence of scientific evidence for “fear periods,” I don’t generally use the term.
Instead, I just think of any young developing brain: there are changes and shifts in hormone levels and neurotransmitters and neural connections and all kinds of other things I do not know about because I have no medical degree. Young brains are brains under construction. When constructing, say, a house, there will be days electrical wires are exposed (and you hope it won’t rain). Similarly, there will be days that a growing brain (the wires) is more sensitive to external stimuli (the rain) than others. Other than with the wiring of your house, you don’t know when this will be because you are probably not cutting open your puppy’s brain. So you just hope that if and when your puppy is having a sensitive day, they happen to not encounter the kind of stuff that would trigger an electrical fire. But if it happens? Well, it happens. Nothing you can do about it. No one’s fault – sometimes life is a shitshow.
Observe your puppy and if you see the experience have a permanent impact (it won’t necessarily have a permanent impact at all, no worries!) or you just want to be on the safe side, give it a few days (to be sure the exposed wiring of your house has been covered) and then repeat the situation under different conditions, setting your puppy up for success. This is what would have happened today with the snake head had there not been firecrackers.
Apart from the fact that young brains are under construction, dogs of all ages – just like other animals of all ages – sometimes have a less-than-ideal day. Sometimes, you wake up with a headache and it just shaves a little bit off of your patience with your coworkers or your friend or your partner. Sometimes, your dog is in pain – it may be invisible pain – and this too can cause a slight shift in their response to otherwise uninteresting stimuli.
How sensitive a dog’s behavior is to pain differs greatly from one individual to the next, just like it does in people. Personally, I’ve observed myself having a shorter fuse under (very specific) pain conditions.
On the other hand, my grandfather has been livingwith a crumbling hip bone for a decade, refuses to take pain killers or go in for surgery and is still the kindest and most patient person you can imagine, just like he has always been. People are different. Dogs are different. And your puppy is a different person every day because they are still in the process of becoming themselves! (We could argue that we all are always either in the process of becoming ourselves or we are dead – but that’s a blog post for another day.)
(1) Day 50 (the 50th day Chai has been with me) – half way to 100! – is a good day to change my diary approach. Going forwards, I will mostly share general Chaiary videos and videos that don’t fit into one of my categories (play, foundations, obedience, socializing, the art of doing nothing, recalls, leash walking, tricks, being brave) in my daily reports. The categories themselves will each get their own posts that specifically talk about THAT category and feature our progress from start to finish (if/when there is such a thing as “finish”). I will link to these more specific posts in future Chaiaries instead of directly inserting the videos every day. You’ll re-encounter some sessions you have already seen under these specific headings.
(2)Update from the future: Chai did not generalize her elevator fears to other elevators! It was just the one. Fundamental optimism for the win!
I’ve decided to split my remaining Puzzle material into a few more posts – they are just getting too long otherwise. Today’s post only has one video, but it is one I truly love, and could watch over and over again. It makes me laugh because it’s cute and goofy – but if I change my point of view, I can also see it as a metaphor.
Social skills: successful communication
An adult free-ranging dog tries to charm Puzzle, and get her to play. Puzzle isn’t afraid – she could walk away or hide behind me. She doesn’t feel the need to hide or flee, but she clearly says, “No!” by turning her head away and NOT engaging. The other dog works hard, but isn’t intruding in her space. He is being gentle, and self-handicapping by making himself small and rolling on his back. He doesn’t get frustrated or impatient – he just works very hard, and keeps respecting Puzzle’s boundaries.
The reason we know this is good communication – even though it doesn’t go anywhere – is the fact that Puzzle is able to stay put. She was sitting on this step before the other dog got here, and she stays in the place she picked for herself throughout the conversation. She doesn’t feel threatened. Yet she clearly knows that he is communicating with her, and she responds politely and clearly: “No.”
These are great communication skills on both parts. Watch this – maybe more than just once. The next time you need to either set a boundary for yourself (see Puzzle) or respect someone else’s boundaries (see the adult dog), remember this video!
Two lessons for humans
Set your own boundaries kindly. You don’t need to yell, and you don’t need to hide from or stonewall the other person.
Accept the boundaries of others gracefully. No need to get frustrated or annoyed. Just do your best. Dogs don’t generally take things personally – for example, this adult dog won’t be unable to sleep tonight because he’ll obsess over what he should have done differently. He will get up (after the video ends), wag, and move on with his life. Don’t take things personally. Be more like this dog.