The weather was warm and sunny yesterday – perfect for working Gizmo outdoors. We began with a few on-property warm-up exercises with him, and then, we took him off-property for a walk so that I can learn his reactivity triggers and start helping him recover and go forward. The walk turned out to be a non-event, as he was weaving all over the place and unable to focus on his handler. But it was a great session just the same, because he was triggered into highly reactive behavior by dogs barking behind a fence a few houses down the street.
The dogs were barking like crazy. A human was standing outside the closed gate, watching us. Gizmo’s owner was becoming a bit panicked, so I took the leash from her and asked her to stand back and let me work with the dog. Gizmo was already in a reactive state. He was growling and starting to foam at the mouth, and he pulled hard on the leash to get to them. To help break his fixation on the house and get his attention onto me, I brought food treats into the situation. Gizmo is highly motivated by food; when other redirection methods aren’t working, food does. Once I had his attention, I was able to help him take control of himself so he could pass by the trigger house in a calmer state.
As we neared the end of the hour-long session, Gizmo was finally starting to show some self control. He was even able to go into a sit position and focus on me even though we were very close to what I am calling the “trigger house”. He was shaking and panting hard with the effort, but he did it. We practiced this a few times, and then I brought him back towards his owner to see how she was doing. She was still feeling a bit anxious, but she was ready to try taking over the leash. I stayed with her while she took Gizmo past the house and worked to redirect his attention. We did this a couple of times to help build her confidence, and then I stood back and let her go on her own with him. She did a fantastic job of keeping Gizmo focused on her, correcting at the right moments, redirecting when she needed to, and rewarding at the right time.
By the end of the session, Gizmo was exhausted but very happy, and his owner was feeling much more confident with him. She did an awesome job of monitoring her own energy and stopping to take a few deep breaths when she started to feel anxious.
Gizmo has a long way to go on his road to recovery. But he’s already making progress – and this is only our second session. What I’ve observed through watching him and his owner is that one of the reasons he’s so reactive is because his owner is insecure and anxious. When she relaxes, Gizmo relaxes and doesn’t pull on the leash so much. The second she gets tense, Gizmo starts to pull on the leash, weave back and forth, and become reactive if even a bird lands on the ground – which, by the way, did happen.
Gizmo and his owner have a long, hard road ahead of them. They have to learn how to trust each other. Gizmo needs to learn how to relax, and his owner needs to learn how to become calm, confident, and assertive. But they’re both making progress, and that is fantastic. I’m very proud of both of them.
Have a great day, everyone, and remember to stay calm and lead on.