Romeo and Jahzara both love bunnies. There is a direct correlation between the pleasantness of our walks and the number of bunnies we see. For the dogs, the more bunnies we see, the more pleasant and exciting the walk is. For me, the fewer bunnies we see, the more pleasant and fun the walk is. I don't have anything against the bunnies themselves, just the reaction they create with the dogs.
If I spot the bunny first, I can prepare myself and control Romeo. If I don't spot the bunny first, and the bunny is in close proximity, well, it can be bad news for me. While Romeo is getting better at his self control with the bunnies around, we have a long ways to go.
Jahzara, on the other hand, used to be spot-on perfect at leaving the bunnies when I told her. That was before Romeo came along. As I tell my clients over and over again, when you change the context and add additional distractions, you sometimes need to start from scratch and build up the behavior you want in the new context. In this case, the change in context is the presence of Romeo. Romeo gets really riled up at the rabbits. (Say that 5 times fast!) Jahzara then gets excited because Romeo is so wound up. She is much less reliable at leaving the rabbits when Romeo gets her going.
The other morning (November 2010), Romeo was not cooperating at getting his harness on, so he was left behind when Jahzara and I went for our morning walk. I'm sure he was not happy about being left behind, but Jahzara and I had a very pleasant walk. It was so much more peaceful without him there.
We saw a bunny. He saw us. He hopped around a bit but did not take off at full speed. Jahzara was watching him, and he was watching her. But we walked right past the bunny even though he was less than 20 feet away. I realized that Jahzara still has her same reliability that she used to have – when Romeo is not there. But when Romeo is there to mutiply the excitement level, Jahzara has a much harder time paying attention to me.
So for Jahzara, Romeo by himself doesn't get her going. The bunnies by themselves don't get her overly excited. But when you put Romeo AND the bunnies in the equation, they more than double her excitement level. It would be easy to get upset with her for not responding to me the way I think she should. Instead, I need to remember that the context has changed and we need more work within that new context. It's not her fault, rather it's my challenge to work with her more in that context.