Tag Archives: dog training
by linda husson
Mad About Bcs
By Linda Husson
My name is Linda Husson and I live in northeast Pennsylvania. My
passion is my dogs…training them, competing with them, playing with
them, loving them, and enjoying their companionship. Continue reading
“I Want Her Back To The Way She Was!”
by Terri Florentino
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.
“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.”
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.
“God’s Finger Touched him, and he slept.”
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
At 4 am, I heard Scout barking. Now at a frail sixteen years of age his bark was soft and raspy, but I always had an ear open should he need me. He must need to go out, I thought. But wait, he’s gone. Just yesterday he crossed over the rainbow bridge. I lay there in bed in the dark in the awful silence with my eyes welling up. I felt that gut-wrenching feeling, my anguish still as raw as an exposed nerve. How could my mind play such a cruel trick? I took a deep breath, dried my tears, and closed my eyes. Never mind my sorrow–I wanted to hear his bark, just one more time, so I laid very still, hoping my mind would play that trick again.
He was a rescue from a puppy mill, the best family pet. We dabbled a little bit in various dog sports. Scout’s favorite part of agility was leaving. In obedience class he preferred to hide underneath of a table, and rather than herding sheep he gave it his all to befriend them. His job, as he saw it, was to remind me that it was time for the kids to come home from school. I would let him out the front door, he would wander to the end of our property, position himself at the top of our private road so when the bus pulled up he would meet the kids and escort them home.
He felt the need to be helpful with all children, not just my own.
He and I were down at the lake one day enjoying a hot and sunny day when he heard two very young girls screaming. He ran immediately to them. They were standing in the water up to their waist pointing towards a sandal that had floated out to the deep water. Scout spotted the sandal, swam out, and retrieved it. Once on land he dropped it out of his mouth, giving it back to the girls. They were so amused; they giggled and laughed, picked up the sandal and threw it back in the water for Scout to fetch again.
He never liked to be doted on; however, much to his chagrin, brushing and bathing was not always an option. He was low maintenance, no fuss, no muss, always content.
Scout was the mayor of the pack. He would be the first of my dogs to greet any rescue that I would bring home. He was an extremely good judge of character and helped me a great deal with guiding and training the foster dogs. I had just brought home a German shepherd mix from the shelter at the same time I let Scout go. Foxy, relinquished as a stray, would cower in the corner of her kennel, snarling everyone away. He would have adored her gentle nature but would have taught her that growling at visitors coming into my home was not appropriate.
I recently filled the dogs’ box with new toys. Tulley was convinced they were all for him. He would gather as many in he could into a nice neat pile and growl away any of the dogs that he thought might attempt to steal his treasures. Mirk got so frustrated with the constant tension he started to growl back at Tulley. The conflict escalated to a full-blown out-and-out knock-down, drag- out. Fortunately my husband and I were able to end the clash as quickly as it started with nothing more than bruised egos.
This episode would never have happened on Scout’s watch. He was the pack guardian; his motto, “Say No To Violence.” As soon as there was any discussion between the dogs that might possibility escalate, he would jump in between the two antagonists stand tall, growl, and order them to go lie down. Since I no longer had Scout to do the policing, I had to slip on my “trainer” hat and manage the problem.
I’m not sure I even realized what an essential role Scout played in both of our lives until I nearly lost him to a bout of pancreatitis nearly a year earlier, then a few months later to old-dog vestibular syndrome. The thought of Scout not being a part of my day to day was unfathomable. He took care of my family and I for so many years, life without him was not an option. With the pancreatitis he was so weak. I cooked chicken and rice, begged him to eat and willed him to live. He pulled through, I suspect in attempt to please me. The vestibular syndrome robbed him of his balance. His eyes bobbled back and forth like a pendulum in a clock. Again he could not walk, eat or drink on his own. Once again I was determined to save him. I carried him everywhere; hand fed him, and administered subcutaneous fluids. Friends and family gently planted the seed that it might be time to let him go. No, I wouldn’t hear of it! As before, I willed him back and so as not to disappoint me he came around.
He had become increasingly weak and tired. He had little strength left in his back end and most of the muscle on his body had wasted away. When round three came, this time I knew I couldn’t make better. The veterinarian prescribed a low dose of steroids, the beginning of the end, I knew, but it was nearly Christmas. Surely we could have one more holiday together, and so we did. January came and went and Scout was getting increasingly weaker. By February, I was carrying him up and down the steps, in and out, and he was only eating whatever I would cook special for him. Much to his displeasure I gave him more baths in a month than I think he had in nearly his entire lifetime.
I came home from work one day to find him off his bed, lying on the concrete floor in his own waste. He barely picked his head up to look at me as I scooped his feeble body off of the floor and gently placed him into the tub. As I washed and rinsed his old frail body, I knew he was tired. He had enough. Ironically I had just had a conversation with a friend the day before. She had to let her dog go and wondered if she had done the right thing.
“I’m not sure that letting Wallace go was the right thing to do,” Ellen sobbed. “He had no quality of life, his dignity was gone. Is that how you would have wanted to live?” I reassured Ellen that she had made the best decision she could for her beloved Wallace.
As I washed Scout off in the tub my own words spoken just the day before played through my mind over and over. “I would not want to live this way.”
The next morning I took Scout to our veterinarian, assured him I would be okay, and that it was all right to rest easy. I held him as he slipped away into his deep and peaceful sleep, all the while whispering in his ear what a good boy he was, how much I loved him, and that I would be fine. Once I knew he was gone I lay with him on the floor for a long time and sobbed completely inconsolable.
Our Lovable Little Bother
By Terri Florentino
Chase, Part 6
The Remarkable Journey
Fast-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!”
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 toys 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.
by Terri Florentino
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.
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.”
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.”
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!”
a poem by Ann Eichler Kolakowski
They sealed your steel sarcophagus;
they made no plans to bring you home.
(Perhaps they thought you Anubis.)
They sealed your steel sarcophagus
and let you burn—like Sirius,
the other dogstar in the dome.
They sealed your steel sarcophagus.
They made no plans to bring you home.
—from Rattle #40, Summer 2013
Ann Eichler Kolakowski: “I didn’t start writing or reading poetry until the age of 33 (I’m now 50), when my father died and I found myself channeling bad poems as a way of processing his loss. This set me on a journey to learn and practice poetic craft that recently resulted in my earning an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. One of the strengths of that program is a focus on form, which I accepted somewhat begrudgingly but have grown to love. ‘Triolet for Laika, First Dog in Space’ started as a villanelle, which I chose for its circular, repetitive nature—a form that seemed befitting of a spacecraft. A wise person challenged me to revise it as a triolet, which is even more confining (but very rewarding to solve). Laika was a stray who was chosen for the mission because she had been especially eager to please during her training sessions. The Soviets had planned to poison her several days into the flight with tainted food, but she died of overheating and stress hours after the launch. Poor pup.”
Read more about Laika.
Read more about the triolet.
“Who Saved Whom?”
by Terri Florentino
We moved into the living room, which was decorated for the holidays with lots of cheerful color. I asked Debbie to describe how she was handling Chase’s separation anxiety. I wanted to understand what might be behind the clawed-up walls and doors. Why was he going berserk, panicking as if his life were at stake when she left him alone?
“I started by sending Chase to ‘his room’ for short periods of time while I was home.” As she spoke, Debbie gazed at Chase, who was lying on the other side of the living room, head on paws, listening. “Then I’d leave the house just briefly. I never made a big deal about coming and going. I made sure that he had a lot of yummy learning game toys placed around the room.”
Those were fantastic strategies, but for some reason, Chase couldn’t get calm enough to let them work. “Chase is obviously a very smart dog,” I said. Chase’s gaze shifted to me, and he raised one eyebrow. I smiled at him. He looked away. “In time, he’ll be able to exercise self-control. Maybe he needs a consistent and stable routine.” I suspect that his anxiety was brought on by the prior instability in his life. I suggested that Debbie talk to her veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication—just while Chase was adjusting to his new lifestyle. In conjunction with the medication positive, motivational training would be very important. Teamwork, exercise, and clear direction would help him feel more secure. “Tell me about the incident that prompted Chase to bite you and your husband. “
Debbie’s shoulders slumped, and she turned to me sadly. “Which one?”
“Wow. Okay, tell me about the times that he has bitten both of you.”
Chase sighed and closed his eyes as if he were tired of hearing these stories.
“All the time. He bites all the time. It’s nearly impossible to get out the door without him biting the backs of our legs. Just to get out of the house we have to send him to his room.”
“Ah, okay.” I was beginning to see that poor Chase carried a lot of fear in his heart. He lived in panic mode. I was even more certain he could use the help of the veterinarian and a lot of structure and positive reinforcement. “I’ll tell you what, I want you to keep Chase on a leash while in the house. This way you’ll have more control over him when he acts out.”
“Great idea, I never thought of that.” Debbie said that Chase would bark and act out whenever sees the neighbors or any other wild vermin, especially squirrels. “As if the barking and lunging wasn’t bad enough, whenever we try to put a stop to his madness, he just redirect his frustration onto us. He grabs our clothes, shakes his head, and growls. I’ve lost count of how many shirts, jackets, and pants he’s torn.” She added, “No matter how I yell and scream, he doesn’t listen!”
Just hearing the frustration and anxiety in her voice, Chase sat up, his brow puckered in worry.
“I can appreciate your frustration,” I said calmly. “However, no more yelling, okay? I believe the yelling and screaming is making him more nervous.”
Debbie and Chase each sat watching each other across the room with worried eyes. Debbie had already gotten so frightened and fed up that she’d left him at the shelter. But love had brought her here and brought Chase home. I had to find a way to help them.
“I’ve got something for you that really might help,” I said. “One command. With a firm tone of voice, I want you to instruct Chase to ‘Leave it!” We put Chase on a leash, and I taught Debbie and Chase the ‘Leave it’ command and watched them practice. I didn’t want Chase to think that he’d have the option to ‘Take’ the item that she had instructed him to ‘Leave’, not ever. Down the road, on occasion, with other training techniques, there might come an opportunity for Chase to ‘Take it.’ For now, no, and it should never follow the ‘Leave it’ command. “‘Leave it’ means ‘Leave it,’” I said. “Chase needs to understand that you mean what you say. He needs these limits.” His life depended on it.
“The worst is how Chase resource-guards me,” Debbie said. We stood in the middle of the living room. Chase had walked to the end of his leash, ears pricked toward the window, ready to go into red alert should a squirrel appear. “If Sam tries to sit next to me on the couch Chase jumps between us and grabs and bites Sam’s arm. If I try to push him away, he snarls and growls at me. This has got to stop!”
Chase must never even get the opportunity to behave that way. Next, I taught Debbie and Chase the command ‘Off.” Chase would be on a leash indoors, and when Debbie sat on the couch, she would make Chase lie on the floor by her feet in a ‘Down’ and ‘Stay’ command. “Feel free to give him one of his learning game toys filled with goodies to keep him occupied while he’s lying on the floor by your feet,” I said. “This should be pleasant and peaceful. It’s not punishment, it’s redirection and prevention.”
“Also, a tired dog is a good dog.” We discussed the importance of exercise. “Basic obedience is also extremely important. I’ll show you how to make learning fun.”
“I can’t wait,” Debbie said, raising the pitch of her voice and leaning forward. “What do you think, Chase? Can we enjoy each other?”
Chase’s tail swished.
“The holidays are coming.” Debbie stood straight with a look of fright. “What should I do with Chase when we have company?”
“How is he with new people?” I asked.
“He picks and chooses whom he wants to be friendly with, but he loves my niece Gianna.”
“Your guests can help Chase learn appropriate social skills.” I explained she should keep him on a leash and make use of treats and toys to promote suitable interaction. “When you want to relax, put Chase away in his room and reward him with a delectable learning game toy. Don’t set him up to fail, be pro-active rather than re-active.”
“Chase is nothing like my other dog, Toby,” Debbie sighed.
“We’re all guilty of training our last dog.” I said.
“I’ll never get over how Toby died.” Debbie led me back to the couch. She put Chase in a down-stay by her feet.
“What happened to Toby?”
“We had just come home from vacation, and I was getting ready to leave the house when the phone rang. It was the owner of the kennel. Toby had died that morning. He was found in the kennel. No one knew what happened. I remember hanging up the phone, burying my face in my hands, falling to my knees, and weeping uncontrollably. Even though Toby loved going to the kennel I will never forgive myself for not being there for him.” She stroked Chase’s head. He closed his eyes. “I’ll tell you by the time I adopted Chase from the shelter, I needed him as much as he needed me.”
“I’m so sorry for your pain Deb. It wasn’t your fault.” I told her her comment about needing Chase made me think of a commonly used slogan for rescued dogs, ‘Who Saved Whom.’”
“I like it,” she said.
We smiled at each other.
“Isn’t it charming?” I said. “But especially for a dog like Chase—he needs you more than you need him. He needs you to help him with his fears and his shortcomings.”
“I understand. I’ll work very hard to become the person that Chase needs me to be.”
“I know you will. We’ll reconvene after the holiday. In the meantime I’m here for you and Chase. Call me anytime.” We embraced, wished one another a Happy Holiday. Before I turned to go, I bent down to Chase. When his eyes met mine, he sat up and gave me his paw. I grinned and gave him a pat. “Be the good pup I know you can be. Santa’s watching.”