Role Reversal

Good morning.  My apologies for not posting sooner; the past ten days have been very busy.

Yesterday, Lacey’s human mom called me. She was feeling quite frustrated and upset because Lacey has been very destructive and disobedient, lately. She’s been chewing on the furniture, taking toys away from her boy and chewing on them, she destroyed her bed, and she destroyed a blanket that was being used to protect the sofa.  Lacey has also been getting extremely vocal during both working time and when she requires correction, and she’s been trying to nip when she is corrected.  The weather has been cool and rainy for the past couple of days, making walks and working outdoors impossible; this has exacerbated Lacey’s bad behavior, and in turn, her humans have become very frustrated and upset with her.

The plan for last night’s session was to take Lacey back to the Pet Planet store we’d visited on the previous session. However, because of the high frustration I could hear and feel from Lacey’s human mom, I suggested taking Lacey myself so that her family could have a break for a couple of hours.  I would also bring my dog, Glimmer; Lacey learns much more quickly and easily when she has Glimmer there to show her what I’m asking of her.  Lacey’s mom accepted the offer.

Glimmer does not travel well in the car. She is extremely anxious and very nervous, and tends to shake quite violently during the entire ride.  When Lacey’s dad brought her out to the car, her response to Glimmer’s anxiety stunned me:  Instead of becoming anxious herself, Lacey immediately went to Glimmer and started licking at her chin and ears in an effort to help Glimmer relax. It was difficult, because we were trying to buckle her in, and Lacey kept trying to position her body so she was close enough to Glimmer to give physical reassurance.  All this from a puppy who has only ever bullied Glimmer.  To say the very least, this role reversal [the pup trying to calm the adult] blew my mind.

During the ride to the Pet Planet store, Lacey continued trying to give Glimmer calm, reassuring energy.  When we arrived, Glimmer was still extremely anxious – and still, Lacey continued to try to reassure her and give her calm energy.  Several times, she tried mounting Glimmer – and that behavior had to be corrected. But, finally, after about half an hour of determined, persistent effort on Lacey’s part, Glimmer finally calmed down enough that we could get to work.

Because I was alone and working the dogs together and Glimmer was so anxious, we spent a lot of time practicing the heel command while walking through the isles. The toys, open food-treat pails, and other things served to distract Glimmer quite nicely, which in turn, helped reinforce the lesson. We also worked on focusing (“look at me”), sit, sit/stay, down, and down/stay, as well as recall both on and off the leash.

Despite Glimmer’s high anxiety, Lacey did a phenomenal job on all counts.  During the sit/stay, down/stay, and recall lessons, Lacey stayed focused on me and waited for instruction. Not once did she break position without permission – including when people were coming into and leaving the store. When we were walking through the store and I was constantly changing direction, Lacey continually checked in with me [looked up at me] for guidance. In fact, she became so adept at the check-in that she was responding with lightning speed almost every time I made an unexpected change in direction.

Lacey worked very hard last night. Not only did she have to practice her basic lessons, she had to do that work while dealing with a dog presenting extreme anxiety and nervousness. For a puppy who is only four months old, Lacey did an extraordinary job. She loves to learn, she loves to practice what she learns, and her understanding and compassion towards both humans and dogs who are suffering in some way is so incredible that I have no doubt that she’s going to be an amazing Support dog. Good job, Lacey!


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