So, a date was set to do something more formal with Oscar. My plan was to use the power of the pack to overwhelm him - Dog park it is! Oscar's mom had some reservations. All of which seemed perfectly justified in her mind. They were objections that I did not really want to challenge, so I just asked questions to probe deeper. (Back to that later if there's time.)
So after a bit of coercion, mom surrendered to my suggestion and we hopped in my car to go to the dog park. When we got there it was, "oh my God - there's a lot of big dogs and they're running around fast and playing hard". She almost had me convinced that it was a bad idea. But my plan wasn't to bring him into that environment unless I thought he was ready, I was ready, and the other dogs were ready. I also wouldn't bring him in there if any one of us had that fear. So, I went ahead as planned.
First I brought Ginger in to the park - methodically - and let her go about her business with the other dogs. Mom wanted to take Oscar to the small dog park, but instead I encouraged her to give me a minute to come back out and walk him along the fence where the big dogs were at. Oscar and I did this for a bit. When the opportunity presented itself, I forced - yes forced - Oscar to turn his back and allow dogs on the other side of the fence to sniff his backside. Mom has some objections to this. I don't know that I have a full understanding of the objections, but my hunch so far is twofold:
- she appears to not want to make him do anything that he doesn't want to do
- she appears to apply human/child psychology to dogs
With that, I was confident that my logic was sound and that any anxiety that Oscar felt would be VERY short lived. I wasn't going to subject him to another dog's nose forever -they were on the other side of the fence - so there was no danger. I also needed him to trust me - to trust that I wasn't going to allow anything bad to happen to him.
So, up and down the fence we went. Then came the point where I asked mom to, "go for a walk". Oscar was WAY focused on where mom was and I needed him to be out of his element, out of his comfort zone, and 100% focused on me. She reluctantly parted and Oscar was soon 100% reliant on my energy and on my whereabouts and where I was going to lead him next.
We opened the gate, went into the corral area, and hung out in there for a few seconds. Oscar seemed ok. There weren't any dogs crowding around the gate either. I asked some people nearby if their dogs were friendly and if anyone had a problem if I left the gate open so that I could scoot back in. No issues. We marched in, on leash, and walked about 15 or 20 feet into the park, then did a 180 and went back into the corral. Success! Next was a full perimeter walk inside the park. Ginger came to greet us and walked around next to us. It was perfect. Oscar was great. A few dogs came up, but none spent too much time or took too many liberties, so things went great. I could see mom across the street so I yelled and waved to her to come back. En route, one of the small dogs in there - who appeared to be the dominant one, came by and harassed Oscar a bit - Oscar handled it well, I gestured for the dog to give us space. But Ginger actually INSISTED that the dog give us space. She threw herself in between Oscar and the other dog and when the little guy advanced, she hugged him! It was awesome. Neither one of them did anything aggressive. They just waited it out. I gently grabbed Ginger's collar, then all parties involved were walking alongside one another like nothing had happened and went back to playing.
We spent quite a bit more time just breezing past other dogs and moving around in the park. The presence of Oscar's owner sometimes seemed to provide comfort and at other times seemed to cause anxiety. My net take away is that he is eager to be led and willing to follow. I also feel like many of the barriers that surround him are of human creation based on past experiences rather than the environment that is here/there right now - in this moment. His long term success is going to be dependent on his owners adopting a "live-in'the-now" mindset and a leadership mindset. If they're reading this - I'll remind them about how much Oscar loves swimming in the lake! Would he have found that out if he wasn't lead (forced) into the lake by a human that he could trust? :-)