Yesterday, Lacey and Glimmer were taken on a 90-minute working walk. By the time we got home, both dogs were happily exhausted and spent the rest of the day napping. Last night, Lacey was introduced to an entirely new environment for her training session. We took her to our local PetSmart. As it happened, there was a puppy class in progress in the training room, and the students were getting ready to walk their puppies through the store. Our timing could not have been more perfect.
Lacey’s behavior astonished even me. She maintained a beautiful heel position when her forever-mom walked her through the isles. She greeted other dogs calmly and very politely. She went into a sit and stayed in that position when people asked to pet her. She did not bark or whine. At one point, while her forever-mom and I were having a conversation with a group of people, Lacey went into a down/stay position and stayed that way. She was calm, quiet, completely relaxed…. Her true self came out last night, and I could not have been more proud of her. Her forever-mom was calm, relaxed, and confident with the leash, and Lacey followed her beautifully.
We met a couple of young women with small terrier-like dogs. One of the dogs was exhibiting some anxiety, and when we asked if it was okay for the dogs to meet each other, she let us know that he was “a bit reactive with puppies.” Lacey’s forever-mom was feeling anxious about the exercise, so she handed the leash over to me. Lacey surprised me by not only recognizing the anxiety in the apparently-reactive dog, but also, by standing still and letting him come to her. She did everything right: She averted her eyes, she remained calm and quiet, and she turned herself so she was standing more sideways to him rather than facing him directly. These are calming signals to anxious dogs. And they worked on the reactive dog. He came forward, he sniffed, and then, when he started feeling tense again, he backed away. Lacey remained still and calm, allowing him to sniff at her and gently extending her head towards him to sniff him in return. The instant he showed discomfort with that situation, Lacey immediately stopped sniffing and gave him calming signals instead.
Lacey did get a small taste of her own medicine when a couple of young women came into the store, carrying their small dogs. Both dogs were exhibiting high anxiety, nervousness, and fear. The girls asked if they could greet Lacey. Lacey’s forever-mom was a bit uncertain about it but she allowed it and then she gave me the leash. When the dogs were put down on the floor, one of them lunged at Lacey and started barking and snarling at her. Instead of doing what she normally does – which is to lunge and bark right back – Lacey immediately backed up, turned her head and body sideways, and tried to ignore him. Had she behaved the way she does when she’s with Glimmer, there could have been a fight. The dog’s owner apologized for his behavior, picked him up, and the two women headed for the back of the store. Lacey’s forever-mom seemed a bit shell-shocked, so we just stayed where we were for a minute so she could release the breath she’d been holding.
Lacey’s behavior last night was beyond incredible. She revealed the diamond she truly is, and I could not have been more proud of her. Her forever-mom did a fantastic job, too, keeping the leash short but not tense, moving through the store with calm, assertive energy, and giving me the leash whenever she felt anxious about Lacey meeting other dogs. Lacey did so well, in fact, that we’ve decided to make two of her three weekly training sessions in-store exercises. The entire store is a training arena; it is perfect for distraction training, loose-leash training, and long-leash recall training. It’s also a perfect venue for Lacey to safely interact with other dogs and learn correct social behaviors, and to practice calmness when faced with nervous, anxious, reactive, and fearful dogs. And best of all, it’s a perfect location to drain out Lacey’s excess mental and physical energy. By the end of our training session last night, Lacey was so tired that she was out like a light in the carrier before I even started the car. 😀
For a little girl who had a very rough start to her life, Lacey is proving herself to be an extraordinary dog. She does have some issues that have to be addressed, but on the whole, she is slowly but steadily becoming the dog she was born to be. It’s only going to get better from here…