Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Pixel Chronicles

I thought I would do a separate post with the newest installment of The Pixel Chronicles!

Pixel is still very much being rehabilitated, and is coming along slowly but surely.  Recently she had a traumatic experience where a fan in our computer room fell off a shelf and landed on her while she was in her bed, and she's been very jumpy since.  Eventually she'll be back where she was, but for now we're taking things slow.

We are beginning to hone in on some of the more specific things Pixel is afraid of, what her triggers are, and what types of situations she is truly afraid of and what she's just uncomfortable with.  We have discovered that she is afraid of men.  Now we've been speculating that she must have been abused before by a man and that is why she jumps away when a man approaches her, or when a man enters the room and she stands up, alert and afraid.  But I read an article in a periodical today about rescue dogs and how adoptive parents of rescue dogs often make the mistake of assuming that an unsocialized dog is actually an abused dog.  Often dogs have just never been exposed to and socialized to be around whatever that trigger happens to be (in this case: men).  So now our task is to slowly show Pixel that men are not a threat to her, and that they can mean a lot of fun.

The way I have begun this mental exercise for Pixel is by introducing calm male figures in a safe environment.  The men approach Pixel with their backs to her, and sit down next to her, facing away from her.  Initially Pixel leans away and avoids looking in their direction at all (her mechanism for dealing with a frightening or stressful situation is avoidance).  Eventually, though, her curiosity will win and she will face the male and after sometimes several minutes she will even lean towards him and sniff him cautiously to investigate him.  This is the first step in her socialization with men.  The next step, when she is comfortable with him, is accepting treats from the man.  This is another long process that can take weeks to perfect, and we still aren't quite there yet.  We only just began this in the last couple days.  I am confident, though, that she will overcome this fear and we'll be able to move on and address the next one with equal success.

And eventually these fears will all be dealt with, and sometimes we'll have setbacks and she'll appear to 'relapse' occasionally, but we will deal with those too.

I also started Clicker Training with Pixel today.  For those of you who don't know, clicker training is a method of training that uses positive reinforcement.  It was invented by some psychology students, and has been used to train pigeons, whales, dogs, cats, even people!  It's very simple, and in just one day Pixel has already learned how to lie down!  To understand the significance of this, we've had Pixel since April 30th of this year and the only thing we've been able to teach her is sit, up (getting up on the couch, a chair, or the bed) and in (getting in the car).

I will keep you posted on the progress we make with the clicker training and the rehabilitation as it happens!  I'll also share our success stories and our failures in the hopes that you won't make the same mistakes we do!