preparing for the inevitable and diego's mid-term report card

As the days count down until we move from house to apartment, I'm having trouble shaking my sadness.

I'm very aware of the privileged position I'm in. We were able to find a really nice apartment, and although moving is expensive, we'll be able to absorb it. Right now we have a ridiculous amount of space for two people, so it's not like it will hurt us to downsize. But all that awareness takes place in my rational brain. In my heart, I am so sad, both for myself and for Tala.

We lived in apartment with dogs for almost our entire time in New York. I always said dogs could have a good life living in an apartment, as long as their people are committed to getting them enough exercise. It was true then and it's true now.

But when I see Tala relaxing in the grass, or even staring out the window at passers-by, I fear that I'm about to ruin her life.

Tala willing the hose to spray her
Diego will be happy wherever we are. He doesn't much like to stay outside without us anyway. He wants to be with his people, full stop. But Tala is an independent kind of dog. She's sweet and affectionate, but she has her own mind. Sometimes it seems like she has her own plans for the day. Let's see, today I'm going to make Mommy hold the food bowl while I eat, then get Daddy to spray me with the hose, then make Diego play with me, then spend some time outside in the shade.

I have a real fear - irrational, but very potent - that after we move, Tala will become depressed, and go into a decline from which she will never recover.

It's ridiculous. I know it's not going to happen.

I think I know it's not going to happen.

I might know that. Might not.

University of Diego

We are working hard to get Diego apartment-ready. It's still difficult to imagine him regularly passing other dogs in the lobby without melting down, or sitting calmly when an elevator door opens, but we've made real progress in the two or three weeks since we started, so... I am cautiously optimistic. Although still quite anxious about the whole thing.

...must stay... must stay... must sta
For motivation, along with heaps of praise and love, we are using this amazing stuff called Rollover. When doing serious concerted training, it's common for dogs to gain weight, and also to overdose on salty or fatty snacks, causing all kinds of problems. But Rollover is nutritionally complete dog food. However much we use for the day's lessons, we subtract a certain amount of regular kibble from their dinners.

It comes in a giant roll, like an enormous cooked sausage. We cut off a thick slice, then chop that up into bits. We keep a day's worth of treats in packages in the fridge, so we can monitor what he's getting. You can freeze it long-term, too. It's even made in Canada, from Canadian beef (or New Zealand lamb) and Canadian grains, processed in Alberta.

Rollover is what the trainers call a "high-value reward". A lot is being asked of Diego, so we have to reward him with something really special. From his reaction, I'd say this is about as special as it gets. Both dogs are absolutely wild for it. I've started to rub bits of the stuff on Tala's medications, then throw the pills in her dinner. She's eating with an almost Diego-like fervor.

And the big boy is getting lots and lots of Rollover! There's the leash training, walking-past-dogs-and-distractions training, and there's regular command ("trick") training, which our trainer says is an essential component of this whole project. Diego is not only learning new associations and new behaviours - he's also learning how to learn. Supposedly all the training works together.

Yesterday Diego heard a dog bark behind a fence, and looked at me! Today he heard the neighbour's gate - a huge trigger that usually sends him crashing down the space between houses, barking and jumping like a maniac. He took two steps towards the sound, then faced me and came running over for his reward. A+!!!

If you're curious about the process, our trainer sends us videos as background materials. Here's a quick one, counter-conditioning a Jack Russell Terrier away from aggressive behaviour. Here's a beautiful Tala-like dog learning not to bark, and doing the emergency U-turn. Here's some trick training: the paw-target touch. Diego learned this in about two seconds, thwacking his big paw down with great gusto. Whoo-hoo, hit this with my paw, get Rollover!

We have a weekly schedule, to be sure that one of us is working with Diego every day, and to build progressively more challenging scenarios. The trick is to move the training forward but not go so fast that he has setbacks. We're told that the adrenaline and cortisol rush that occurs from a negative encounter has lasting negative effects.

Buster feeling safe inside
The training has made me think of our beloved Buster, for whom walking outside was an ordeal, every single walk of every single day. He really only felt safe and secure inside. And because he could never play in a dog park, he never got enough exercise, so he had little opportunity to release his energy and tension.

Thankfully Diego will not have that problem. Living in an apartment will be great motivation to take them to the dog park more often. If we can just get him down the elevator and out of the building.

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