Although I knew it was a pipe dream, in a tiny recess of my mind, I will admit that I had visions of Luke and Gizmo becoming instant buddies. I wanted Gizmo to love Luke immediately and unconditionally. This has become a strain on the humans in Luke’s life, so why not see if a not-human can accomplish it. Turns out, however, that dogs don’t like getting dog food shoved in their eyeballs any more than people do. Weird.
In fact, I am learning that Gizmo is almost as human as humans are. He gets scared and cowers in the bedroom when Luke starts screeching; he jumps and tries to run away when Luke unexpectedly lays on the horn while loading in the parking lot; and, he will run away if Luke runs at him. In short, Gizmo is not stupid; he knows when abuse is coming and gets out of the way, but he has never, even once, retaliated when Luke does get him He is a genuinely good dog with a kind soul.
Although we are still working things out on the home front, bonding arena, Gizmo is helping in the community access battle. I try to take the two of them somewhere out in the community every day. Usually this is just to therapy or a quick trip to the convenience store. Gizmo wears his service vest and Luke has a 6 inch leash tethered to the vest. Luke’s job is just to hold onto that leash while I hold a second leash attached to a training collar. Luke has done surprisingly well with it. Where he used to break away, run to the nearest bag of candy, rip it open with his teeth, and shake it out all over the floor, he now focuses on holding onto Gizmo for me. It is not perfect yet, but it is much better than it was.
In training Luke to stay by Gizmo, and Gizmo to listen and respond to me rather than the wild kid attached to the other leash, I walk around the house and community with pockets of treats – right pocket full of dog treats and left pocket full of Luke treats. Any time the two of them have a positive interaction, I give them both treats. When Luke does break from the leash, I eat one of his treats. It is pretty impressive what that kid will do to keep Mom out of his treats!
SIDE NOTE – I quickly learned that this concept of handing out treats for good behavior is actually quite effective training for humans too. On more than one occasion, I have found myself wandering the house, distributing little bite-size candies for random good behavior. “Oh, you washed your own dish; good job, have a treat! You cleaned up that mess? Yay; here’s a treat! Nice job on your spelling homework; here, have a treat.” My little human subjects all respond well, although it feels a little odd treating them all like miniature Pavlovian experiments, and the dental hygienist in me cringes every time I throw that mini cavity-creator their way. END OF SIDE NOTE.
Another hitch in this beautifully concocted training plan we are seeing is that Luke is experiencing a significant uptick in violent tantrums, which we suspect may be the result of too much training with sugary rewards. His sensory sensitivities have been on a rapid rise since before my classic conditioning experiments began, so I don’t think that is the only factor at work here, but it is one that I need to eliminate. Now we are on the hunt for reasonable, motivating treats with less potential to wreak havoc with Luke’s behavior problems. Beef jerky, anyone?
All in all, I would say that I am cautiously optimistic that this whole experiment will be worth the incredible investment in time, money, and emotion. If my goal for Gizmo were only to have a fantastic pet, that mission would have been accomplished many times over. We love him to death; he is well-mannered, sweet, potty-trained, and just as much fun as any pet owner would ever want. He has a ways to go in getting him to really be helpful in the home, but hopefully with enough perseverance, we will get to that point.