Tag Archives: Aggression Issues

The Evidence for Positive Reinforcement Training In Dogs

by Pippa Mattinson, author of Happy Puppy Handbook, Total Recall and The Labrador Handbook.

3255835495_1c6b6a5c7b_oOver the last few decades there has been a huge swing towards less punitive methods of dog training. Watching a modern trainer in action is a very different experience from watching old school traditionalists. Gone are the barked commands, the emphasis on ‘respect’ or ‘dominance’ and even intimidation. In many cases the use of punishment has been entirely replaced by the use of food and games.

Is the move to positive dog training a good thing?

But hang on a moment. Aren’t we being swept along in the latest ‘fad’ or ‘craze’. Isn’t this just a passing fashion?  How are we going to control our dogs when we run out of treats? And what if we don’t want to wave food around or to ‘beg’ or ‘plead’ with our dogs to come when we call them?

In fact, let’s lay it on the line. Do these new fangled methods of dog training even work?

Read on at The Happy Puppy Site …

This Dog’s Aggression Was Thought To Be Incurable, Until They Did This

When people say aggressive dogs should be put to sleep, just show them this. Social behavior in canines is very similar to humans. A dog that’s raised in a caring environment with a family that loves him will show good behavior and will be approachable and friendly. Those dogs that have abusive owners who keep them locked up in cages or very small spaces will usually be aggressive and dangerous. Unfortunately those are the dogs that are usually euthanized when they get in trouble.

Now this case is very special, watch how the people at the The Behavioral Rehabilitation Center of the ASPCA helped a very troubled and anti-social dog transform into one of the most friendly dogs ever:

Click image to play

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The Pack, Part 6

Home At Last

I received an email—Rich and Wendy were interested in adopting Scout. This would be the third Border collie they acquired from Ed and me over the course of 12 years. If anyone could handle her it was Rich and Wendy. They wanted her to come and spend some time with them, their two cats and Border collie, Willow.

That evening I’d have to prepare my husband. Continue reading

The Moyer Menagerie, Part 1

Prayers for Luke

It all started with a private lesson. “I need your help—my puppy won’t stop biting me,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

We scheduled a training session for later that same week.

Continue reading

“Do Whatever it Takes”

Nala, the Diagnosis

On a hot August day, I went back to Nala’s home. Nearly a month had passed since our first meeting. As  Michele, Mike, and their son Bobby and I greeted one another, I noticed Nala pacing back and forth. I tried to get her to engage with me as she did the first time we met. She stopped the pacing and let me caress her gleaming smooth black side. Then, she turned and growled. I pulled away, and she continued pacing back and forth, back and forth.

“How’s she doing?” I asked. I missed the way she’d once gazed into my eyes. She now seemed unreachable.

“Big Dog’s got me real worried,” Mike said, and I smiled to hear him use Nala’s nickname.

“Mike was recently out of town,” Michelle said.  “While he was gone Nala was so agitated and aggressive I could barely go near her. A few times I saw her wobble and collapse. I wanted so much to help her, but if I touch her, she growls and snaps.” Michele crossed her arms across her chest, hugging herself, her brow knit with worry. “I feel so helpless.” We four stood watching Nala endlessly pace, hypnotizing us with her rhythm, all of us sharing in that helplessness. “Our other dogs have been avoiding her as well,” she added. “Want to meet them?”Nala3

“Yes,” I said, eager to break the spell.

The terriers came out first. They were cute, friendly, small, and curious. They were littermates that had never been separated, and you could tell that they were everlastingly bonded. As they rushed me and then romped in the yard, they purposely avoided Nala. She ignored them as well. A moment later, the sheltie mix blasted out the door and after the terriers. Mac was medium-sized, active, affectionate to his family, and slightly wary of me. However, he seemed especially on guard with Nala, tail tucked, ears back, giving her lots of room. He knew something wasn’t right.

Mike clicked his tongue. “That’s the saddest thing right there,” he said. “Big Dog and Mac were always best buddies. See what I mean? This is definitely not normal.”

Bobby chimed in, “I can’t pet her or take her for a walk. I can barely touch her without the fear of being bitten.”

Mike talked about the most recent visit to a veterinarian in Pennsylvania. She had been previously examined by a veterinarian while living in Boston with his son Biff. “She tested positive for Lyme disease so we’re treating her for the Lyme disease and pain.  Anxiety medicine was also prescribed to help her to settle down. The doctor suspects some sort of central nervous system disorder and suggested that we take her to a local neurologist. We’re taking her next week.” He sighed, his eyes following Nala as she paced back and forth and the other dogs gave her room. “We’ll do whatever it takes. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

“I hate to say this, but what I recommend is for all of you to keep Nala as quiet and comfortable as possible. If she’ll go into her crate and rest comfortably, use it as often as you can. Keep a very thin four-foot leash attached to her collar so if you need to take a hold of her you’ll be at less risk of being bitten. Be sure to call me anytime if you have any questions or if there is anything I can do for you and please keep me posted.”

Nala6“Thanks,” Mike said, giving me a wan smile. “We’ll let you know how Big Dog’s coming along.”

The entire drive home I replayed all of the events from the last couple of months over and over again. I was trying to make sense of Nala’s bizarre behavior. I was mystified. My heart was heavy not only for Nala, but her family as well.

After seeing both a neurologist and an internist, Nala was taken to surgery in late August. The poor dog had been diagnosed with Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, and an abscess in her armpit that was no doubt causing her discomfort and pain.  A surgical specialist removed the abscess, and she was sent home with a drain coming from her armpit, a bandage, and medication. Hypothyroidism can promote behavioral problems, I thought. Could the answer have been found? She would need time to heal. All we could do is wait, hope and pray.

Over the next month, Mike sent me email updates on Nala’s progress. She had two post-op appointments, and the specialists were pleased with her healing. Her behavior, however, was still as unpredictable as an uncharted river. Most worrisome, she was now consistently turning in circles to the left, so Mike scheduled an appointment to take her back to the neurologist.

On September 11th, a staff member at the animal hospital came into my office and handed me a fax. The report was from a veterinary neurologist; Mike had taken Nala to him that same morning. My eyes scanned the report. I was like a speed reader going from the pertinent history, quickly through the physical examination notes, skimming the diagnostics and finally on page 2, the diagnosis. I took a deep breath: Intracranial advanced brain lesion (thalamus), placing pressure on the cortical plates.

So, that was it. After all was said and done, Nala had a brain tumor. For a moment, I was paralyzed with grief for Nala and her family. I sat in silence, still holding the report. I no longer looked at it, but through it, where I could see big, sweet Nala gaze again into my eyes the powerful and pleading way she did that first time.

Then, I snapped out of it and read on. “The family decided to let her go . . .”

She’s no longer in pain, I thought, the report blurring through my tears. For that I am relieved.

I would like to offer my deepest sympathies to the Patrician family. I cannot thank them enough for allowing me to share their story.

Godspeed, Nala.

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”

Martin BuberNala5

Nala, Part 1

“I Want Her Back To The Way She Was!”

by Terri Florentino

“I want her back to the way that she was,” Mike said. He gave her firm, strong shoulder an affectionate thump. “She was always so sweet, lovable and happy. I don’t know why she’s acting this way.”Nala2

Nala was beautiful, solid black and built like a Labrador retriever with a splash of Rottweiler. Most people would have found her intimidating. She was a big dog, solid, well muscled, and strong. However, whenever she’d wiggle her little nub of a tail, the lower half of her body swayed back and forth like a talented hula dancer. It was her eyes that I remember the most. They were large, round, and dark but her expression was soft. I never felt threatened. In fact as I sat in a chair, she sat in front of me, gazing into my eyes. I felt her sorrow; something was wrong. I slipped my hands underneath of her strong jowls and pulled her head up to mine, our foreheads touching. I moved my hands up behind her ears and massaged with my fingers, and her head relaxed in my hands. Eventually I gently placed her head in my lap and continued to massage her head and neck. She pressed her head into my lap, her body, for the time being, completely relaxed.

 “She’s my son’s dog. He’s busy during the summer so she comes to live with us for a few months.”

“Who’s us?” I asked.

“Myself, my wife, son, and three other dogs.”

I asked about the other dogs and Nala’s relationship with them.

Nala1“Nala was a gentle giant. She was always so kindhearted with the small dogs.” The terrier mixes are littermates who are getting older, so they didn’t bother much with Nala, “especially since she’s gotten so intolerant and grumbly with them.” He also talked about a three-year-old male sheltie mix. “Mac is outgoing. He’s a great dog, and we’re running partners. He and Nala always got along just fine. In fact they would often have a great time running around and chasing one another. Now whenever Nala gets aggressive Mac jumps in to intervene. I’m concerned those two might get into a fight if this behavior continues.” 

Mike’s son had adopted Nala from the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter in December 2012, when he was home from college on winter break. There was not much information on her, except that she was a stray, listed as a Labrador Retriever. He felt an instant connection to her. She was remarkably gentle and kind. About the time I met her, she was approximately five years old.

Nala now completely relaxed and obviously tired. She lay down on the floor at my feet. I was relieved that she was resting comfortably. “What’s she doing that worries you?”

Mike sighed and folded his hands, staring down at the sleeping dog. “In June of 2013 my son tried to lift her into the bathtub. She snapped and bit his hand. That was so out of character for her.” He shook his head in disbelief. “For a split second, she was a different dog. Of course he wasn’t angry with her.” Mike sat up straighter and ran his hand through his hair. “He figured that she must have been in some sort of pain. That was basically the beginning of the downturn in her personality.” Mike’s brow puckered in worry, but his gaze never left Nala’s sleeping face. “She started growling at us if we disturbed her in any way. She lunged to bite us when we tried to get her off of the furniture. The whole family was bewildered. We hardly knew our sweet Nala anymore.” He paused, looked away for a moment, and blinked. “She used to love to take walks, but now when we try to put the leash on her, she growls. We’re afraid she might really hurt someone. We don’t understand what’s happening with her.”Nala7

Most behavior problems follow a similar archetype. After listening to Mike’s story of Nala, I couldn’t connect the dots. There was no clear pattern. “The first thing I’ll suggest for you to do is rule out that there isn’t something medically wrong with her. I recommend that you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian before we start any formal training.”

He nodded. “We’ve done that. It’s coming up soon.”

“Good. In the meantime everybody in the family should keep a leash on Nala at all times. That way, if she should threaten anyone, they can safely get control of her. Otherwise, just let her be as much as possible. Try not to do anything that might aggravate her. Let’s see what the veterinarian has to say before we start any training.”

I left the consult perplexed. I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that something was terribly wrong. As I drove home, I kept remembering the strange and urgent way she gazed into my eyes. It was as if I felt her pain. Thinking about Nala was literally haunting me. Nala

 

 

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Sweet Dreams, Sweet Ginger Snap, Part 1

 Over My Husband’s “Dead Body”!  

By Katherine Dattoma

It was time. That little itch had grown into something bigger and more persistent. The guilty pleasure I had secretly been indulging in, of sneaking peeks at internet photos of beautiful Border Collies in need of homes, was morphing into a serious search. It was time to add another dog to our household, albeit once again over my husband’s “dead body”!

Puppy GingerOreo, my first rescued Border Collie was enjoying a full agility competition schedule, but I began to discern subtle signs of trouble before he had even reached the age of six. My eye, uneducated in correct canine conformation, but knowledgeable in evaluating the equine, could see that Oreo’s hind end structure was somewhat, well, odd. All the other wonderful Border Collie quirks and attributes possessed in abundance by Oreo had compensated up to this point, and enabled us to enjoy some small successes undreamed of since my first bumbling attempts at agility. However, I knew my dog’s normal, if somewhat funny way of traveling, and something was off. At that time, the cause of his intermittent, subtle hitch in stride remained undiagnosed, though many opinions and treatments were offered. Sadly, I had to admit that Oreo’s agility career would most likely be cut short.

To the uninitiated it may have seemed like an obsession, but to an ever growing dog sport fraternity, agility is a healthy, wonderful passion. My addiction needed to be fed. I needed another agility dog. Because Oreo had also instilled in me a passion for the Border Collie breed, and our whole family, daughter included, had been formed through adoption, there was never any question as to where I would be looking. References were solicited, home photos taken, and adoption applications sent.

Glen Highland Farm’s Sweet Border Collie Rescue in Morris, New York rehomes a huge number of abandoned and abused dogs each year, and Lillie Goodrich seems to have a knack for placement. On a sunny morning in March of 2008 that glittered with excitement and a late winter frosting of snow, I loaded up husband, the kid and dogs for a visit to the farm. Upon arrival, Lillie took special note of my daughter’s bossy terrier mix bitch, Kimmy, and her controlling antics with long suffering Oreo. She immediately dashed my hopes of meeting a particular handsome young male that had gazed soulfully out of my computer screen. Our little Kimmy was destined to be the limiting factor. Instead, the first dog brought out was a one year old classic black and white female, friendly, agile and altogether lovely in every way. Whoa…. she’d make a great family and agility dog was my first thought, my mind immediately entertaining a fantasy of fame and international events…. Then, presented to me was a red and white, four month old bundle of fur, dangling limply from the assistant’s arms, blinking fearfully at the world. This ragdoll of a pup stole my heart.
The trip home did not auger well for my new choice of a future agility prospect. How was I to successfully integrate a petrified, puking pup into my little agility travel team? What happened to one of my basic requirements, dutifully checked off on the application form, “must ride well in car”? Being lax in my criteria could explain something about those agility bloopers with Oreo. My Sweet Ginger Snap was looking less and less likely to fulfill my agility dreams as the full extent of her fears was soon revealed. Ginger was a textbook case demonstrating that missed social opportunities during the first few months could have a lifelong impact on behavior. Ginger’s reactions to ordinary things fed our imaginations in building a picture of what her first four months on the Maryland puppy mill farm may have been like. And was it genetics, or something far worse that caused her skull to appear misshapen and her face crooked? Men, men with hats obscuring their faces, men carrying objects on their shoulders, people suddenly “appearing” all triggered intense fear reactions. Ginger constantly alternated between leaping away from and attempting to appease human feet with incessant licking, a trait that earned her the first of many nicknames, “Miss Lick”. Any object that moved or looked different from when first observed by Ginger provoked a reaction. A pillow falling off the couch could send her flying out of the room, and she would peer out the upstairs window, barking hysterically every time a package was left on our neighbor’s porch across the street. One of our neighbors inadvertently frightened her as a pup, and because of her fear reaction towards him, he referred to her thereafter as “The Wolf”.

Ginger and KimmyI needed an agility training plan very different from the trial and error path taken with bold, confident Oreo. My training methods had always been positive reinforcement based, and I knew any attempt to force a behavior with Ginger would be unsuccessful. Clicker training and shaping were a natural fit, both for my ideals as a trainer and for persuading a fearful pup that my goals were really her choices. Because her startle reflex was so easily triggered, Ginger needed to become less sensitive to noise and movement if I ever hoped to get her on agility equipment. She needed to be able to come towards her source of fear to investigate instead of running away. One of the training games I played involved my other two dogs to help motivate Ginger to join the fun. In my basement training area, I set up a tower of tin cans and metal cooking pots. On a push cue, Oreo and Kimmy would happily tip over the clanking pile for a reward. Barking, laughter, treats and curiosity finally drew Ginger from upstairs to the middle stair landing where I would toss a treat. Using the principles of incremental training, I waited for Ginger to choose to dart closer and closer to the action. It was a moment of triumph when Ginger finally offered a nose touch to the offending pile of noisy objects! These early lessons were something I was able to build upon, and today Ginger will often offer an automatic nose touch to an object that initially frightens her.

Surprisingly, at home and in class, Ginger’s agility training progressed very rapidly. She flew through the foundation exercises and fought for her turn when the clicker came out, signaling a training session. On both the plus and minus side, Ginger never forgot anything. Her education on the agility equipment began to follow a pattern of fits and starts, plateauing while we worked on overcoming a fear, and leaps forward evidenced by a desire to correctly repeat any action or obstacle with which she had grown comfortable. She grew rapidly as well… and grew and grew…. Was this the embodiment of having BIG agility dreams? Meanwhile, those long legs just kept getting longer. In spite of too straight shoulders and hindquarters, Ginger outgrew her awkward stage to become an elegant and effortless jumper, who as described by my daughter, ran like a cheetah when streaking across fields in play.

My redheaded fur rag was also growing into a striking, comical teenage drama queen. To the family, “The Wolf” was more of a red headed “Lucy”. The slightest knock had her exaggerating a limp until something else caught her attention, and she would get the sillies each morning, yipping and talking up a storm as she rolled herself in the bed blankets and pillows. She became a master at slinking off with cardboard boxes to shred in private, and would repeatedly catch and bring through the dog door a firefly to play with until she had to, ah….replace it. She could look majestic while burping loudly in our faces, and took over the job of household security by making the rounds checking all the doors, windows and rooms each night before settling . Best of all, Ginger fit seamlessly into our little dog pack, becoming wicked Kimmy’s partner in crime. I brought her everywhere dogs were allowed…into the bank, pet stores and a local book store. While competing with Oreo, I spent countless hours introducing Ginger to all the sights and sounds of agility trials, and frequently introduced her to many fellow agility competitors in an effort to reduce her general fear of humans.

Ginger In the early summer of 2009, Ginger was age eligible to enter agility events. The perfect opportunity for an agility debut arrived. The trial was local, held at a site she had visited several times before as a spectator. I sent in the entry, though unsure if Ginger was ready to enter the ring and make her public appearance as an agility competitor. She enjoyed playing agility at home with me, was extremely consistent in her execution of the obstacles, even showing some typical border collie abandon, but remained shy and uncertain in public. It was with nervous anticipation, that I waited for the big day to arrive.

Dangerous Chase, Part 6

Our Lovable Little Bother

By Terri Florentino

Chase, Part 6

The Remarkable Journey

ChaseDebbieFast-forward to now.  Five years have passed since Debbie, Sam, Chase and I made this deal: give our training three months. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll rescue him. Needless to say, Chase has a permanent and loving home! I’m so proud of their accomplishments.

Debbie has also gone beyond my training and taught Chase many playful and clever tricks; she was always diligent in making sure she kept the learning process fun. I was so impressed with their tricks that I invited her to teach a Tricks Workshop at the training center. It’s a great success; the students enjoy the amusing and interactive activities with their dogs. Watch Chase’s video on YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5XmqxNqFaE&feature=youtu.be.

Chase will always be a work in progress. When Debbie and Sam leave the house, Chase must go to his room. There he finds a yummy interactive toy that keeps his mind occupied for a short while. Now Debbie and Sam can go out the door without Chase jumping and biting at them.

When it comes to interacting with other dogs, he’s still no social butterfly. In fact, Debbie knows that bringing another dog home is not an option. Chase does fine with my dogs so we get together as often as we can. Their interaction isn’t the tumble and play, but rather a coexisting in the same space, running and chasing a ball or swimming in the lake. They have a mutual understanding and know the no-fighting rule. It’s my job to enforce it, so when I suspect one of the dogs is getting a little too pushy, I remind them, “Get out of it!”ChasewithDogs

When company comes to Debbie’s home, depending on who’s coming to visit and how long they’re staying, she handles Chase differently. Chase is comfortable with older children and adults that he is familiar with. Very young children and infants make him uneasy. Their quick, unpredictable movements, loud high-pitched voices, and crying make him anxious. If the young children stay just for an afternoon, Debbie can manage Chase at the house by keeping him with her on a leash, giving him an occasional time out in his room, and making sure he gets outside often to exercise. When they have out-of-state visitors stay at their home they take Chase to a boarding kennel at the training center. Chase knows the facility very well and does fine with his stay.

The Gentle Leader is a mainstay for walking, because keeping control of Chase’s head and mouth is essential. If he happens to see a squirrel, for instance, he’ll lunge and bark. The Gentle Leader keeps him from pulling Debbie down to the ground. Also, for no obvious reason, he’s not comfortable with certain people. He might grab and bite them. Again the Gentle Leader affords Debbie the head control to keep him from endangering others, and therefore himself.

When it’s time to exercise outside Debbie puts a collar on Chase and secures it to a 30” long line. Chase can never be trusted off-lead unless in a fenced area. While outside on the long line Chase gets to explore, play fetch, practice recall and run. If while on the long lead he encounters a wild animal or a neighbor that makes him uneasy, Debbie can use the, “Leave It” and “Come here” commands. Fortunately Chase is food-motivated and knows that if he immediately returns to Debbie he’ll be rewarded with a mouth-watering treat.

Debbie keeps a crate in her car for travel. Chase jumps right in and lies down quietly. If not for the crate, Debbie would never be able to safely exit her vehicle. Chase gets far too anxious when she or anyone else tries to get out of the car and walk away. He barks, bites, and grabs the clothing of whoever tries to leave the vehicle without him. So as you see, for the obvious reasons, it’s safer for all parties involved that Chase rides in a crate.

His separation anxiety, for the most part, is under control. He no longer redecorates the walls, baseboards, and floors with frantic claw marks. A person leaving the home is still a little bit of an issue, so Sam and Debbie are diligent with the down/stay exercise. Chase is not released from the position until the person has exited the house and driven away.

All in all Chase is a nurturing, sensitive, affectionate, and lovable dog. Even Debbie’s Mom isn’t afraid of him anymore. She brings him a toy every time she comes to visit. He’s so intelligent that you need to spell certain words in front of him, such as “walk,” “ride,” “lake,” “out,” and “training.” He also knows certain ChaseSamDebbietoys by name, like “monster,” “football, “Santa, and “tumbler.”

Chase, has become my buddy. Sometime I look at him and say, “There’s my adorable little bother,” and he wiggles so hard he keels over and shows me his tummy. Debbie and I have also become great friends, a relationship I value very much.

I’m thankful to be a part of this remarkable journey.

In closing Debbie wanted to share her thoughts:

For how frightened I was of Chase, something told me I had to help him. I’m not sure if it was the fear of losing a dog all over again that tugged at my heart, but that was part of it. I think I just knew that if given time and with the right direction we would make it.  Chase has taught me so much. I have become a more patient person, I’m more relaxed and learn to be proactive rather than reactive when Chase acts out. Terri has been a godsend for Chase and me. She is so compassionate about animals as well as the people that care for them. If I hadn’t made that call to her, I really don’t know where Chase or even I would be today.  Would his next adopter have done the same for him, or would he have just been put down? Would I have adopted another dog, or just given up?
Terri has inspired me to become a trainer and to help people the way she helped us. Chase has come a long way in the last five years, and even though he still has his moments, I can say that I am equipped to handle them. Occasionally I still get a little frightened so I stop take a deep breath and move forward. Chase has turned into a loving companion and we are forever grateful to Terri, her family, and her pack for helping us get where we are today!  And as a bonus, we have forged a long lasting friendship!
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
Debbie, Sam, and Chase.

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

Roger Caras

Dangerous Chase, Part 5

GOING TO COURT

by Terri Florentino

courthouseCourthouse Square is always a great place to train and socialize dogs. It’s a bonus that there’s a lot of green area to spread out for basic obedience exercises and a fairly level sidewalk to practice heel positions. There’s never a lack of people, adults and children alike, sitting on park benches, strolling along pushing babies in coaches, skateboarding, jogging, and even walking their own dogs. The water fountains spout and splash water onto anyone that dares stand near enough, and there are various statues of heads of state strategically placed throughout the square. There is the usual hustle and bustle of traffic and the sounds of beeping horns, emergency vehicle sirens screaming as they speed past, screeching breaks, and the occasional rusted-out muffler growling as an old car passes by. There’s also the occasional beep-beep sound from the traffic light that signals when it’s safe to cross the street.

As always, I arrive a few minutes early. The class and I meet underneath the statue of George Washington. It was a beautiful day, warm enough that the thought of spending most of the class by the fountain crossed my mind. As the students arrived, we all engaged in small talk as we waited for the remainder of the students. As we were chatting about our week, I observed a young man on a skateboard pass by. At the same time I heard a shriek to my right and noticed Debbie bent over with her hand on her calf as she was reaching out to give Chase’s leash to her husband Sam.

“Are you OK?” I called out as I hurried towards her.

img_5168“He bit me! As the skateboarder passed us, Chase got so excited he turned and bit me on the leg!”

“How badly did he hurt you?” Deb pulled up her pant leg to assess the bite wound. “It’s a pretty good bite, but barely bleeding, I’ll be OK,” she said, obviously frustrated.

“You’ll need to be more aware of your surroundings and what might stimulate an overreaction from Chase. Next time the skateboarder comes by put Chase in a down/stay position and don’t let him up until the skateboarder’s out of sight. No doubt he’ll come around again, so be prepared. In the meantime let me take Chase for a few minutes while you calm down.” I took the leash from Sam so he and Debbie could take a few minutes to settle down.

img_5144Once all of the class arrived I announced that we were going to start with our walking exercise. “Let’s stay in a straight line, keep a reasonable distance behind the dog/handler team in front of you and rehearse a heel position while we walk. Are your dogs sitting politely on our left side? Remember to use your lead leg. Let’s go. Heel.” In a single file line we walked around the square, everyone promoting a good heel position even amongst all of the distractions. I purposely had Chase and Debbie walk at the end of the line to allow enough distance between Chase and the next dog. After a short while walking Chase, lunged at the Schnauzer in front of him.

“Leave it,” Debbie insisted with a firm voice, at the same time walking off with Chase in the opposite direction in order to relieve the pressure. Once Chase settled she fell back into line.

“Nice work, Deb,” I encouraged her to keep up the good work.

Once we arrived at a large green area, I had the class stop and take a break. “Great job with the heel positions! Get yourselves and your dogs some water and relax for a few minutes.” I sat down with my own bottle of water and admired all of the students enjoying their dogs.

img_5142“What we’ll do next, right here in the green area, is practice the sit/stay and down/stay exercises. I’ll just have everyone spread out into a long line facing me. Put your dogs in a sit and stay on your left side, instruct your dogs to “stay,” and pivot in front of them. When we release them from the stay, remember to use the release word, ‘OK’.” We continued with these exercises for a few times, having the dogs sit or down while learning to stay. Debbie and Chase did very well; she was starting to recognize his comfort zone.

“The final exercise for the day will be at the water fountain, it’s always a lot of fun for the dogs that like water.” In a single file line with adequate spacing between each student we made our way around the block to the fountain. The water fountain is ground level, easy for the dogs to have access to walk on. One by one in a heel position the dog/handler teams made their way back and forth by the fountain. Most of the dogs didn’t mind the spray from the water, those that did stayed further away. As Debbie and Chase waited their turn in line Chase snarled, growled, and lunged at a keeshond that was standing in front of him. The keeshond immediately turned around and snarled back defensively. Debbie immediately removed Chase from the line while the owner of the keeshond settled him down just in time to go ‘play’ in the water.

img_5155Deb walked far away from the group; I could tell she was upset. I finished up with the rest of the class. We discussed where we were going to meet the following week. “Congratulations, you’re all doing a fantastic job with this class; I’m looking forward to seeing all of you next week.” Once the students started to walk away I made my way to Debbie and Chase. By now Debbie was in tears.

“This was a terrible day,” she sobbed.

“You did a very good job today. Each time Chase overreacted, you handled him perfectly. There were even a few times that he didn’t react at all. You’re not going to magically make his reactiveness go away overnight. He’s learning from you that his responses are inappropriate, and you’re working very hard at promoting appropriate interaction. Go home, give Chase his favorite learning game and relax, you’re doing fine.”

“Some days I think we’re really coming along, and then days like today I feel like we’ve made no progress at all,” Debbie sighed.

“Keep at it, Deb. I assure you he’ll come around. Sometimes it gets harder before it gets easier.”

img_5156I bent down to Chase, who immediately rolled over onto his back. “You’re alright, Chase. Be a good boy for Debbie this week.” I gave have him pat on his belly, he wagged his tail, and we stood up and walked together back to our vehicles. “Keep your chin up, Deb. I’ll see you next week.”

As I watched them go, my biggest fear was that Chase might bite Debbie or Sam –or someone else–so severely that they’d give up on him. And then what would become of Chase?

Part 4: The Comfort Zone

by Terri Florentino

 

Chase needed help learning to be a team player.

Chase needed help learning to be a team player.

This week the class would assemble at a local dog-friendly park. I was really looking forward to it; the “Beyond the Back Yard” class offers my students an opportunity to become experienced in handling their dogs in all types of environments, and is always so much fun.

One by one the students arrived and gathered around. I greeted them, and when it was time to begin, I said, “Not sure if we’re going to have any late arrivals, so let’s start with the question-and-answer portion of the class. Remember to practice the sit-stay and down-stay exercises while we talk. It’s important that your dog learn to exercise self control.”

We formed a large circle in order to hear one another while we spoke. I placed Debbie and Chase next to my mom and my dog, Bonny. My mom is an experienced dog handler, and my dog Bonny is well trained and able to deal with disruptive dogs with little to no reaction. Everything was going well. The class members took turns discussing their successes and failures, and I offered praise and advice, when suddenly, Chase lunged and barked at Bonny, and Debbie panicked.

“Stay calm. Just back away from the group,” I said.

Chase snarled and leapt at the end of his leash. With fear and tears in her eyes, Debbie strained to pull him away.

“It’s okay,” I said. “We’re going to work Chase in his, ‘comfort zone.’ Take him just far enough away from the group so he can relax enough to behave. I want Chase to sit and face you, okay? Promote eye contact and praise him when his behavior is correct.”

Debbie dragged Chase about ten feet away, and then another five or so before Chase calmed down and sniffed the grass. “Do you think he’ll ever stop acting like this?” Debbie asked, wiping tears off her cheeks.

I had the class practice down-stays while I approached her and said softly, “Yes. He’ll come around, and so will you. Here. Let me take Chase for a while. You take a deep breath and smile, okay?” I took Chase’s leash, and we walked back toward the group. I stopped about five feet away, just as Chase began to slow down and watch the other dogs with prick ears and stiff legs.

“All right, let’s get going. Follow me,” I said to the class. “We’re going to take a walk. There are a few zoo animals down this path, and the dogs are always rather intrigued with them.”

Everybody lit up with anticipation and fell in line behind Chase and me. Debbie followed at my side.

As we approached the zoo animal’s cages, I instructed the group to stay in a line and keep their dogs a few feet back from the cages. “It’s not fair to the zoo animals to let dogs harass them and bark at them while they’re trapped in their enclosures. Our goal is to teach our dogs to be well behaved and mannerly.” One by one we worked the ‘heel’ position back and forth past the monkeys, lions, exotic birds, and other zoo animals. Chase, wearing the Gentle Leader, walked very well with me.

I watched Debbie’s face. She was watching Chase with pride, affection, and hope. “Are you ready to take a turn walking with Chase?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“Wrong answer, Deb. You are ready, and you can do this! I want you to work within his comfort zone. I’ll stay right next to you.” I instructed Chase to sit and handed Debbie the leash. She took a deep breath, stood up straight, and off we went, back and forth several times past the animals. They did an awesome job, absolutely no overreaction from Chase. The class applauded and praised both Chase and Debbie for doing such a great job.

Shanghai_Zoo_monkey

The monkeys seemed to tease us.

While in the vicinity of the zoo animals, I had the class practice their sit- and down-stay exercises, and everyone did well. “Let’s head down the path to an open field, gather in a circle, sit down to relax.” Once we arrived to the open field everyone took out their bottles of water to refresh themselves and their dogs. We talked about how their dogs reacted to the many zoo animals. We all laughed and shared stories about the monkeys, convinced that the monkeys were teasing the dogs each time they passed by their enclosure. Debbie smiled. “Chase is much more relaxed and behaving himself,” she said.

“He is, isn’t he?” I said. I reminded the class of the importance of exercising your dogs. “I’ve always said that a tired dog is a good dog.”

Next we were going to walk the dogs by a playground. “I want everyone to make sure their dogs sit and stay before you allow anyone to pet them. No doubt some of the children will approach and want to pet them. I’ll manage the kids, you all manage your dogs. Any questions?”

“Chase might lot like the kids approaching him,” Debbie said, her anxiety level rising. “What should I do?”

“Instruct the kids to stay back. Be firm about that. And I won’t allow the kids to approach any of the dogs that aren’t completely accepting of them.”

The Playground

The Playground

We packed up the bowls and bottles of water and got on our way. As we reached the top of a hill you could see the playground off to the left at the bottom of the hill. There were a few children playing on the equipment while their parents sat close by on the park benches. As we got close enough to the playground for the dogs and kids to notice one another, I instructed the class to stop and get in a straight line. “OK, class let’s have our dogs sit and stay politely by our sides. Here come the kids!”

“Doggies!” one of the children cried, and they came running. The parents rose and followed more slowly, talking amongst themselves.

I met the children halfway between the playground and the class. They all seemed very excited. “I’ll bet you want to say hello to the dogs. These dogs are in class learning how to be good dogs, can you help us?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” They jumped up and down.

“I go to school too!” a child said.

“Do you?” I said, feigning great surprise. “Now dogs need children to stay calm. Can you show me how you do that?”

They all stood still and listened to me, eager to participate. “Good. Here are some treats. If the dog you approach is sitting nicely and the owner of the dog gives you permission, go ahead and give the treat to the dog.”

Paige and Linny

Paige and Linny

The kids and their parents made their way down the line of politely sitting dogs, greeting each owner and dog and doling out treats to those dogs who sat nicely. I noticed that Chase was obviously uncomfortable with the kids approaching, so Debbie walked him away to practice the sit- and down-stays at a distance, careful to keep inside Chase’s comfort zone.

All went well. “Thanks so much for your help,” I said to the kids. And off they ran back to play on the slides, seesaws, and jungle gym.

The class and I made our way back to the parking lot where we originally met. We discussed where we were going to meet the next week and addressed any other questions.

“Great class,” I said. “Everyone did a fantastic!” When I knelt down next to Chase, he rolled over onto his back, wagging his tail.  “You had a great day, didn’t you, Chase? Keep up the good work, buddy!”