Tag Archives: Behavior/Training

Sweet Dreams, Sweet Ginger Snap, Part 2

Sweet Dreams, Sweet Ginger Snap, Part 2

MACH!

By Katherine Dattoma

We were ready ! Early that agility trial morning, with the car packed full of family and dogs, we headed into sunrise and a day full of promise. After years of strategizing master level gambler and snooker courses with Oreo, I should have no problem navigating a Novice level course. Why then, did my nerves tingle and my stomach clench as I set Ginger up before the first obstacle? Much to my surprise and elation, Ginger qualified in her first few classes – and then disaster struck. A fast moving non rubberized teeter had her sliding to the bottom of the contact, where she froze before getting struck in the bum with the rebound. Ginger never fogot a fear or an injury! Agility trials were immediately transformed into terrifying events, and teeters could no longer be negotiated past the tipping point. In subsequent trials, Ginger exhibited a host of reactions. She barked at the judges and bar setters, leaped off the table when a bar setter got up to fluff the chute, fled from the sun glinting through a panel jump slats, fell off the contact equipment if the judge crowded her, lost concentration in the weaves when a bird flew overhead, refused any obstacle that looked scarily “different”, stopped to eat dirt, lost a face off with a horse and her fright levels rose off the meter when a well shaded canopy chair “turned” into a human. Flapping flags, a truck in the ring being loaded with agility equipment, glimpses of movement in the distance through open doors were all potential Ginger eating monsters. My big red girl was still afraid of the world.Ginger Dogwalk cropped

There is an agility subset of stressed dog/handler teams, struggling to complete each course they run, trial after trial, with little improvement. Either I would become a permanent member of this group, or have to quit, unless I found a way to change Ginger’s attitude about agility trials. Clearly, I needed to come up with a new tactic that went beyond dogged persistence, or else I would have to give up all thoughts of making Ginger into that partner I needed to continue competing in agility. Much as he loved agility, Oreo’s career was winding down and I knew his time in the ring was going to come to an end. Making the decision to continue agility with Ginger, I shifted my goals from earning titles and ribbons to simply getting Ginger to enjoy competition.

My strategy to eliminate all stress for myself, and limit it for Ginger was simple. Avoid qualifying! While others were carefully planning their courses during walk thrus’s, I was planning just as carefully with a different purpose. My routes became simple U shapes, avoiding the judge, bar setters and the dreaded teeter . My goal was to complete a small number of favorite, easy obstacles successfully, without giving Ginger time or the opportunity to lose focus. I was relaxed, and for Ginger, the short time in the ring was amply compensated for by the huge jackpot of treats that awaited her. When possible, I introduced Ginger to the judge, walked her around the ring so she would know where to expect the bar setters to be sitting, asked the photographer to step back for her runs, and developed pre run routines that allowed Ginger to filter out distractions by getting up close “in my face”.

She occasionally began to show eagerness to enter the ring, even barking a bit with excitement. It was time to add a few more obstacles, until we were completing entire jumper courses- and qualifying! However, a full standard course continued to elude us due to the inclusion of the teeter. Ginger’s initial teeter training had been a slow and methodical process, beginning with rewarding her for being in the vicinity of the banging sound while other dogs performed on the equipment. A very gradual increase in height and movement had kept Ginger comfortable and confident on the teeter until that first fateful trial. How could I get Ginger back on the teeter when it had proven, after all that early work, to be an object of fear? It moved, it made noise, was unpredictable and every teeter felt just a little different. I knew that a retraining effort would only succeed if I could change how she felt about the obstacle. Somehow, I would have to make it an object of desire- something Ginger wanted far more than she feared.Ginger tire- kayla

My thoughts turned back to the tumbling tower of tin cans, that clanking representation of psychological persuasion, and Ginger’s strong desire to join in the fun. Oreo would again be my ally. He loved running over the teeter numerous times, and all the extra treats and frisbee play included. Ginger was initially only allowed to watch. Eventually she was offered one try, and if she chose to bail, training stopped for her while Oreo had another turn. Like a kid, she didn’t want to be left out. At some point, Ginger began to bark and beg to get on the teeter- denial increased the desire! We traveled, learning to enjoy teeters of various surfaces, materials, weights and in different settings.

I was afraid. I still feared a refusal in the trial setting. How would it be possible to retrain after retraining? Ginger finally took the matter into her own paws. The now desirable teeter lured her into an “off course” as I tried once again to run her past it. I had been half a year since our first misfortunate trial, and Ginger earned her first qualifying score in a standard class. Ginger repaid my patience by becoming a very reliable agility partner, qualifying at a prodigious rate. She was still cautious in public, but her consistency was amazing. She never missed a contact or took down a bar, and all off courses were a result of my addled middle aged brain misfiring. Refusals resulting from her trademark startled reaction that we called “skitzing” were becoming rare. Finally, I could shift my own focus towards training myself to become a better handler.Ginger

The seasons changed, Ginger’s agility career blossomed, and I faced the painful necessity of retiring Oreo at the youthful age of almost 9. Setting a goal for Ginger no longer seemed impossible and I dared to reach for a big one. Oreo had earned his full share of agility honors, but for many reasons, the AKC Master Agility Championship had eluded us. I had enviously fingered the huge, beautiful MACH ribbons supplied by the Nutmeg Border Collie club at their inaugural trial, and dreamed a dream of possibilities for Ginger. In December, two weeks past Ginger’s fourth birthday, we headed to the last trial we had scheduled trial for the year, prior to an agility time off necessitated by my upcoming knee surgery. In her last run, of the last day of the trial, Ginger soared over the final jump as a champion. We brought home that beautiful big ribbon!

Reflecting back on my travels and travails with Ginger, from a terrified pup to becoming MACH Sweet Ginger Snap, I realize that a relatively small portion of training time was actually devoted to agility. The majority of my focus was on convincing Ginger that the world is a safe, fun place. The bonus was that in some mystical way, I believe that Ginger came to me so that not only could I save a discarded pup’s life, but that she could teach my family and myself lessons about how to find misplaced joy. The many heartaches and tough times my family has experienced these few years past, cannot retain the same power if we avail ourselves of our dog’s special gifts of reveling in the moment. When I picture my Ginger flying like a bird off my brother’s Virginia lake house dock, caught in a snapshot moment of pure pleasure, I know that she has opened a window giving me a little peek into heaven here on earth. Ginger has so much more to teach me, certainly a great deal about patience, but primarily that goals have little value if we can’t make the process of achieving them joyful. Humbled by the love and trust that enabled Ginger to overcome whatever trauma that had trapped her in a debilitating emotional condition, I have been made just a little more human by a mere dog. Striding into the new year on the strength of Ginger’s long legs, I allowed the delight of our agility journey to make my newest dreams sweet.Ginger & Katherine, Mach!

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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!”

I Like Chase Very Much

By Terri Florentino

Debbie and Chase

Debbie and Chase

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.”

Chase and his classmates.

Chase and his classmates.

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.

Chase wears his Gentle Leader.

Chase wears his Gentle Leader.

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.

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