In our last session, it was observed that having Becky out of his sight made Chanty’s anxiety worse. He could smell her but he couldn’t find her. It was very upsetting for him and he was unable to focus on me. So, for this session, Becky was asked to go back in the house. Before sending her in, however, we practiced the leash hand-off exercise again. To our great joy, Chanty did not become reactive when distance was closed between us, or when the leash was handed back and forth.
After practicing the exercise for about 15 minutes, Becky was sent back in the house. Chanty whined a bit and pulled on the lead to follow her, but he quickly recovered and followed me when I began moving down the block and away from the house. He looked back several times and he attempted to herd me back to the house, but I shortened up the lead and continued to move forward. I am very happy to report that at no time during this exercise did Chanty even lift a lip at me. He did not growl, bark, or lunge at me, despite the leash being shortened so that he was right beside me. This was a huge test of trust for both of us; I was trusting him to be close to me but not attack me, and he was trusting me to keep him safe.
Throughout the exercise, there were countless opportunities for Chanty to become reactive. Several people walked past us, some on skateboards and bicycles, but instead of reacting, Chanty simply watched them go by. This was a huge turn-around for him, and he was heavily rewarded with vocal praise. We continued to walk back and forth; it was slow, because I wanted Chanty to start connecting with the energy I was giving him through the leash. He did look to me several times, and when I held eye contact with him, he surprised me by not only allowing it, but also by remaining calm instead of trying to attack me. It was a massive show of trust on his part, and to show him I understood that, I broke the contact by looking away from him before he could start to feel afraid.
Chanty made huge progress in several areas during this session. One of the most significant was when he allowed me to make physical contact with him. The muzzle strap was sitting sideways and over one eye. I had to move it; it was obstructing his vision. Not only did he allow me to do this without freaking out and trying to attack me, he completely shocked me by allowing me to give him physical affection with a slow, gentle scratching behind his ears afterwards.
When Becky was called back out to meet us half-way down the block, Chanty immediately began pulling and trying to herd me towards her. However, I kept the leash very short and stopped moving each time he pulled, waiting for him to relax the tension on the leash before moving forward again. He was very anxious to get to her, but instead of barking and snarling at me and trying to bite me because I wouldn’t allow him to pull me, he worked really hard to control himself. When I released him to Becky, Chanty did not revert to his previous habit of barking at me to get me away from her. The entire session was a huge success for young Chanty, and I could not have been more proud of him for working so hard.
It is very clear that Chanty’s anxiety increases when he can see his front yard or when he catches Becky’s scent but he can’t see her. Therefore, further sessions are required in which Becky will need to remain in the house so that Chanty can continue learning how to tune into whomever is handling him and look to them for guidance and direction. He still has a very long way to go, but now that we’ve had some phenomenal, major breakthroughs with him, my expectation is that Chanty’s recovery and healing will finally kick into gear, and he’ll start moving forward to become a calmer, more trusting, happy, well-adjusted dog.
Chanty’s next session will be next week. Stay tuned… and in the meantime, stay calm and lead on.