By Terri Florentino
The next time we met, Debbie and Chase came to the training center. I scheduled our meeting before the start of classes so I could evaluate Chase with my own dogs.
“Are you sure you want Chase with your dogs?” Debbie asked.
“I trust my dogs,” I said. “They’ll follow my lead. They trust me too and know I’ll keep them safe.” I took the leash from Debbie. “I’m going to keep the leash on Chase, and, since you’re so nervous, I want you to stay inside and watch from the window.” Chase would sense her anxiety and that alone could promote an inappropriate response.
I do the meet-and-greets in a large fenced area. I had let my dogs out to the area first to run around. I had six of them at the time: Tulley, Echo, Scout, Meg, Deja, and Wyn. With Chase on lead, I walked around with him, allowing him to move as freely as the six-foot lead would offer so he could relax. I said little. There was enough conversation in body language among the dogs. As soon as I was confident that Chase was not going to dart after and attack my dogs, I dropped the leash. I stayed by, just in case he lunged or behaved aggressively.
As I suspected, at first my dogs ignored Chase, and he did the same. After a short while Tulley, the social butterfly of the pack, approached Chase. (Ironically enough, when I rescued Tulley it was said that he would never be good with other dogs.) Tulley’s tail was up and wagging, his interaction welcoming. Chase lowered his head, flattened his ears, tucked his tail under, and diverted his gaze, signaling he was not a threat. Tulley read his body language and adjusted his approach accordingly. After the initial greeting went well, one by one my other dogs went up to Chase to say hello. The females were less impressed as he was a bit of a flirt. In fact, when the females corrected his obnoxious behavior he politely deferred to them. Overall, I felt the interaction with Chase and my pack went well.
Once the dogs settled down, I invited Debbie into the yard. As soon as she stepped outside, all of my dogs ran to greet her. Chase immediately ran between my dogs and Debbie and didn’t want any of them near her. As soon as Chase started to growl at my dogs Debbie retreated. I stepped in, took a hold of Chase’s leash and removed him bodily from the group.
Once Debbie, Chase, and I were safely indoors away from my pack, I explained the problem. “Chase was resource-guarding you, Deb. You retreated. You empowered him to continue. Chase needs to know that you’re in control of the situation, not the other way around.”
She nodded soberly. Chase was panting from the excitement. Every time he heard a noise from outside, he pulled for the door, eager to throw himself back into action.
“First you’ll need to earn his trust and respect,” I said. “This of course will come with training. Not to worry. If you’re up to the task, I’ll get the two of you on the same page.”
“I’m up for it. In fact I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
When I asked how the appointment went with the veterinarian, she said, “He put him on Prozac.” She’d already noticed that Chase seemed more relaxed when left alone in the house. “And he’s not nearly as reactive when he sees my neighbors or a squirrel.”
“Great! Now we have a window to redirect his overreactions.”
The other students and their dogs were arriving. We had a few minutes before class would start. To prevent Chase from lunging at the incoming students, I had Debbie practice focus and body-blocking exercises. Fortunately, with a really yummy treat, Chase’s food drive was nearly equal to his defense drive. “Nearly,” however, wasn’t good enough. A couple of times he lunged and snarled at other dogs. It was scary not only for Debbie but the other people and their dogs as well.
“Chase isn’t being fair,” I said. “Let’s try a Gentle Leader head halter so you have more control of his head and mouth.” We fitted him for the Gentle Leader, and class began. The halter worked wonders–Chase’s behavior was more manageable for the rest of the class.
When class was over and the others had left, Deb and I had one more follow-up. “I’m relieved that the combination of the Prozac and the Gentle Leader gives you more control, but Chase still needs to listen to you and stop acting on his own.” I urged her to continue with the obedience techniques we’d been working on. “Be consistent. Follow through. As the two of you master each technique, I’ll add more to your repertoire,” I said. “Experienced handlers can never have enough tricks in their bags.”
Chase was panting softly by Debbie’s side. I knelt before him, and he wriggled and wagged for me. I stroked his shoulders. “I like Chase very much,” I said, and stood back up.
Relief and gratitude swept over Deb’s face.
“He’s a very smart dog,” I said, smiling at Chase. When he caught me looking, his tail swished. “He just needs guidance. Be kind. Earn his trust and respect. Make learning fun, and eventually you’ll have a devoted companion.”
Debbie hugged me, and when she let go, I saw that tears rolled down her cheeks. “I will! I promise. I know there’s a good dog in there.”
“Don’t forget—call me immediately if you have any problems or questions.” We hugged again, and I watched as they made their way to Deb’s truck. She spoke to him, her speech calm and happy. I wondered what the week would hold for them. “Don’t forget—same time next week!” I called.
“Can’t wait!” Deb said.