This is Lola. Lola is a 4-months-old, fearful, reactive Shi-poodle [shih-tzu/poodle] with little to no confidence and no respect for or trust in her owner. Lola is starting the Beginners Obedience course; her owner is hoping to improve the relationship between them and start building a foundation of mutual trust and respect.
Lola has had two lessons so far. The first lesson was focused on teaching her to connect and engage with Tracey through eye contact. This was extremely difficult for Lola; she was so nervous that even slight movement from me sent her into a tizzy of barking, growling, and mock-charging. Lola is a Covid puppy; because of all the restrictions that were in place, she didn’t receive the socialization to people and other animals that she needed. I was the very first person to enter her home since she came to Tracey; she had no idea what to do. Unfortunately, Tracey didn’t know how to help Lola with that, so she did nothing.
To begin the process of connecting and engaging Lola and Tracey, we started with a basic focusing game. The goal is simple: create and hold eye contact with each other. Lola is highly food-motivated, so we used treats to first encourage, and then reinforce verbal praise. Aside from giving verbal praise, the entire exercise was conducted in silence. This was important to helping Lola learn to be responsive to Tracey’s voice instead of automatically tuning her out, which she was doing. The photo above shows Tracey and Lola connecting with each other through eye contact despite the treat being moved to the side.
The second lesson with Lola was held outdoors. Lola gets distracted quickly and easily outside and completely disengages from Tracey. And, when Tracey tries to engage her, Lola gets frustrated. She presents that frustration by jumping at and even nipping Tracey, as well as biting at the leash. To help stop the leash biting, we traded out Lola’s regular leash for a 4-foot chain training leash. Most dogs typically spit the leash out when they bite at it; they don’t like the taste or the texture of it. Lola, however, didn’t care about any of that. She wanted what she wanted, when she wanted it, and nothing was going to stop her from getting it.
Lola had to learn and accept leash boundaries, and Tracey had to learn how to become a tree when Lola pulled. Lola gave what she could, for as long as she could. She indicated she was at threshold by going after the leash with a vengeance, despite every effort to redirect her. At that point, I had Tracey do the focus exercise – which Lola complied with for a split second – and then we ended the lesson. We never want to end any exercise on a negative note, or we risk losing the dog’s willingness to repeat it or learn anything new afterwards.
Lola and Tracey have a very long way to go towards building mutual trust and respect. But as long as Tracey remains consistent, calm, and assertive in all things, Lola will progress. She’s only a puppy, after all; it’s normal for her to want to explore the entire world all at once – especially since she didn’t have very many opportunities to really do that before now. So, we take each lesson one step at a time, working within her thresholds and teaching her to follow her person.
Have a great day, and remember to stay calm and lead on…