Remembering the Ropes

Last night, I received a call from Tanya asking if I could come and do some training with Lacey.  When I arrived, Lacey greeted me with a tremendous amount of excitement that included a great deal of very loud barking. But, unlike the previous visit, last night, Lacey remembered very quickly that she does not receive any kind of affection from me unless she calms down and sits nicely – and that’s exactly what she did.

The session was truly remarkable. Tanya and Matt have been working with their autistic son, teaching him how to be a strong leader with Lacey.  To prove this out, they allowed Lacey to become excited and start barking. Then, they asked their son to take control of the situation.  Jake calmly and assertively said, “Lacey, SHH! No barking!” and Lacey immediately stopped, went into a sit position, and waited calmly and quietly for him to tell her what to do next. I was floored – I was ecstatic, too, but her immediate obedience really surprised me. It surprised me, because only a few weeks ago, Jake was unable to deal with her and she was not obeying him at all.

The training session focused on teaching Tanya and Matt what triggers Lacey’s barking and how to resolve it. Lacey is very sensitive to changes in vocal volume and tone. Verbal corrections are given with a louder, “hard” tone; during the session, I observed that this same tone and volume is also used when giving vocal praise.  Lacey reacts vocally because she interprets it as a correction and she doesn’t understand what she did wrong.  So, we spent quite a bit of time working on learning to be aware of volume and tone, and offering vocal praise in a softer, gentler voice to signal Lacey that she was being rewarded.  Lacey’s response was immediate: She became calm and submissive, and she did not make any sound at all. She just held her position and maintained eye contact, waiting for guidance.

We also worked on follow-through. Lacey receives corrections when necessary, but she reverts to the bad behavior almost immediately because there is no follow-through. Following through and getting the dog to surrender to the correction is critical, especially with dominant dogs. They have to understand that we mean business and if they don’t, their bad behavior will continue. Lacey provided several opportunities for me to teach Tanya and Matt how to follow through on a correction. The first few times, Lacey was very vocal about it, but she submitted to the exercise anyway because she knows I will not tolerate disrespect.  But she quickly figured out that once I’d made my point, the matter was closed and we could continue with what we were doing.  Dogs live in the moment; unlike humans, when one dog corrects another dog, the offense that earned the correction is forgotten and life goes on. In a human-to-dog scenario, the offense is forgotten by simply walking away when the dog submits to the correction.  Lacey learned this very quickly, and as the session continued, her vocalization began to decrease.

Lacey does need work, but so do Tanya and Matt.  Jake already knows what to do – and his success is proven; if they closely watch how he addresses Lacey’s bad behavior, and if they mimic his actions exactly, Matt and Tanya can learn from Jake how to gain Lacey’s respect.

Lacey has made tremendous progress in her training because Tanya and Matt have continued to work with her and teach her.  She still needs work, but all in all, she is doing phenomenally well. She is doing a great job as a Support dog for Jake – which is the main reason Matt and Tanya adopted her; with time, patience, and consistency, she’s going to graduate from “great” to “awesome”.

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