A Shift in Strategy

Buffy has been a member of our family (ahem, Pack!) for two weeks now, and bunny room exposures continue, however via a different tack than the one through which we began. While Buff is the epitome of good/calm/chill upstairs, on walks, and virtually everywhere else, we recognized that her interest in sniffing around the rabbit pen, and her whining, while not necessarily aggressive, is NOT the calm/submissive/indifferent behavior we'd like to foster. Shortly after our last blog post, we chose to shift gears.

For the past week+, we've been taking Buffy downstairs for short, relaxing visits together in which we praise her focus on us, ending the sessions as soon as she exhibits anything other than utter calm (if she starts to look over repeatedly at the bunny pen, if she starts to whimper, if she shifts her weight around, if she licks her lips...basically anything other than a down-stay flopped attitude, like what she does upstairs). We also - and most critically! - enlisted the expert services of a professional dog trainer, who conducted a home visit with us yesterday morning and opened our eyes to a host of techniques to employ with Buffy. Vicki, with the All About Dogs outfit, made the utmost of our time together, and equipped us with the following important...and humbling...information:

1) Buffy is too tubby! Poor Buff, her veterinary visit only yielded that we should be conscious of her frame but not try to whittle it. Vicki very helpfully pointed out how to identify a healthy dog physique and suggested that Buffy's hesitancy to jump up onto things isn't early onset arthritis - it's heft! And...

2) the treat sizes we were giving to Buffy for training rewards (and for being adorable regardless) were wayyyyy too large. Vicki enlightened us to the fact that a dog experiences the same reward effect from a crumb of a treat as it does from a human-sized morsel - especially so for "high value" treats like pure meat. So, the chunks of hamburger at our family's 4th of July BBQ weren't the best ideas? Neither so entire cookies administered for a good sit/down/down-stay? Whoopsies, our bad. Resolving to reform for the dual purposes of getting Buffy to a healthier weight AND extending our training possibilities, we learned from Vicki to break up each morsel into tiny mini-morsels. Voilà, 1 treat becomes 30, and Buffy has 29 more opportunities to learn.

3) The stronger the bond we forge between us and Buffy, the more obedient she can be, and the better she can behave the way we want her to downstairs. So enhanced training begins, including much practice with calling her and keeping her attention on us, despite myriad distractions (Vicki calls it the "Name Game"). We've now prepared little baggies of micro-treats stashed around in different locations (bedroom, living room, kitchen, outdoor walking satchel), reserving the primo mmmm, delicious gotta-have-it high-value treats for downstairs. And what dog wouldn't want to behave like a pro downstairs in order to be rewarded 30 times with chicken breast shreds? I'm reminded of a story that my mom told me of an old friend trying to break her chocolate addiction and lose weight - slicing a Hershey's kiss into slivers with a razor blade. Hey, whatever works.

Vicki taught us all of this and more, and we're very grateful and believe the lesson fee to be money well spent. I haven't felt this good about a cash investment since buying my first salad spinner or the Otterbox for my phone or a simple coffee grinder. Everyday essentials worth every penny.

We are now working with Buffy downstairs at her own pace, with frequent (as frequent as possible) short visits that include lots of eye-contact work and praise/reward treats for total relaxation and focus on us. We're trying different configurations in the downstairs room, trying to see if Buff can stay super relaxed and eyes-on-us even when she can see the bunnies hopping around in the background. LaFeet and Athena, it should be noted, are still cool as cucumbers. I have used the opportunity to pet the bunnies briefly while Elliott remained focused with Buffy, and then returning immediately to pet Buffy for a job well-done.

Meanwhile, we need to prioritize helping Buffy shed a little weight. I have begun to ever so slightly decrease the dry portions of her meals, and of course we have changed the sizes of her treats. In addition, we've been exercising Buffy as much as possible - a challenge in the Northern Virginia summertime heat and humidity for a long-ish haired black and chunky pooch. Short and frequent walks are the ideal (toting cold water!), supplemented by training sessions and playing with toys inside the house. We keep our domicile comfortably cool, but the downstairs is especially chilled, and a very enticing place for Buffy to be in repose as a reward.

Lastly, we bought a FURminator brush. If you have a dog with an undercoat you should buy one. Log onto Amazon immediately, I'm serious. In fact, add the FURminator brush to the list above of worth while purchases - slide it right above the coffee grinder, but still below the salad spinner (a rabbit person to the core, after all).

Until next time,

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