As of last Wednesday – April 19 – Ben has been with us for 22 weeks. In the time he’s been with us, he has changed dramatically from a red-zone, highly reactive dog to a happier, more relaxed, even somewhat obedient dog. He has faced and overcome a massive amount of mental and emotional trauma, and he has been making tremendous leaps forward in his ability to trust. He has come a long, long way from the scared, anxious boy he was just over five months ago.
Last night, I took Ben to the dog daycare to work him on his reactivity towards dogs. Jacqueline, owner of Focused Fido, and her husband, Gerrod – aggression specialist and professional photographer – joined me with their friend Cody and her big Cane Korso, Tuna.
The session was a phenomenal success for Ben – and an eye-opener for me. It turned out that I was the biggest part of the problem, not Ben. Without realizing it, I was pulling back on the leash when approaching the other dog on the pass-by. Every time I did that, Ben got tense and started to react. Gerrod and Jacqueline saw the problem and called my attention to it; I had a my hands-free leash with me, and Gerrod told me to use it. I did… and the difference in Ben was astounding. He relaxed, he focused on me… He couldn’t have cared less about the much larger male dog we kept walking closer to on the pass-by.
I have always said that energy and body language are what dogs read, and that if you want to know what you’re truly feeling, just watch your dog. Ben proved that out over and over again last night. He showed me that despite telling myself I was calm and relaxed, I really wasn’t. Jacqueline and Gerrod saw the same thing and pointed it out. By the end of the session, everything was so much better with and for Ben that he actually felt comfortable enough to lay on his side fairly close to the other dog and accept affection from both Gerrod and me.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we end up doing the very things we teach our clients not to do. It doesn’t make us bad trainers; it just means that we’re human, we’re attached to our animals, and we need to be extra aware of our own state of being and much more vigilant about the kind of energy we give them. This is how it is with me and Ben. I’ve become attached to him, and that attachment has affected my objectivity. It doesn’t mean I can’t help him, or that I’m a bad trainer; it just means that I need to pay more attention to my own energy, especially in situations involving other dogs. I need to relax, and let go of the leash… Which is why I now use a hands-free leash.
Ben is an awesome teacher. And thanks to Jacqueline and Gerrod, I see that even more clearly than I did before.
Have a great day, and remember to stay calm and lead on…