Chucho’s lesson this past Tuesday was, in a word, beautiful. He was a very different dog from the one I’d worked with only four days earlier. His family took him camping, and over the weekend, he began to learn the hierarchy, and that he is at the bottom of it. It was very clear that his humans have been working very hard to help bring him into balance.
The lesson was conducted outdoors, at a small playground. There were no children or dogs, so we made use of all of the equipment as best we could. The lesson was to encourage Chucho to follow by keeping him off-guard. This may sound contradictory, but in dogs that persistently tend to lead and make the decisions, keeping them off-guard forces them to look to their human for direction and guidance. It also helps create a foundation of trust, because the dog can’t anticipate what’s going to happen. They have no choice but to look to their human to avoid getting tripped or having their toes stepped on. This is even more important in Chucho’s case, because he has never had a trust bond with a human.
Chucho has leash issues – somewhere along the line, he has made a negative association with it. He bites at it and tries to chew it off during exercises, and when he is corrected, he becomes very physical and tries to bite at the handler in an attempt to force the handler to drop the leash. His anxiety about the leash was made quite evident during the exercises: He was taking it in his mouth and trying to bite it while running, jumping on and off, and weaving around the equipment. But, to our great joy, about fifteen minutes into the exercises, Chucho began dropping the leash and going into a sit position each time his human came to a sudden stop. When she moved, he still took the leash in his mouth, but the tension and resistance present at the start of the exercises had eased dramatically. There was even a bit of slack in the leash while they were moving.
Children and other humans began to arrive at the playground, so I stopped the exercise to let them know the dog is in training. Everyone was very respectful; we moved to an area where the kids were not playing, and stayed there until the school bus arrived and the children and adults left. At one point, a man walked by with his dog; Chucho did show some reactivity, but then he ignored the other dog to follow his human. This was a huge achievement, because Chucho is extremely dog-reactive. It was the first time he made a decision to follow his human instead of attack.
All in all, Chucho and his human made excellent progress. Because of his high energy and his need to be challenged, I’ve encouraged his people to increase his outings to three hours a day, twice a day, and to take him to areas where he can be challenged by different types of terrain and obstacles. Playgrounds are excellent because the equipment serves as both an obstacle course, as well as a kind of agility run, which helps drain out excess physical and mental energy, and facilitates trust-building.
Great job, Chucho and mom! Keep up the excellent work!