Meet Violet the Labradoodle. She is two years old – not 9 months, as I initially thought. She came to her family during the covid lockdowns and restrictions. Her family has never owned a dog before; they didn’t know how much time and effort would need to be invested in teaching her how to be a good family member. Because they didn’t know, they didn’t properly socialize her to people, animals, the world outside their home. As a result, Violet is now a fearful, reactive, highly aggressive dog who perceives everything different as a threat that must be eliminated – not merely driven away.
One month ago, Violet attacked and bit me. It wasn’t personal, and I knew that. But it did show me that she doesn’t need training – she needs a total life overhaul. Last weekend, the work began.
I had the family meet me in an empty parking lot. This was done to ensure sufficient space between me and the dog while we worked. In situations like this, space is critical; it not only protects the trainer, it also helps the dog start learning that the trigger is not a threat, and that nothing bad is going to happen to them – and it helps the dog start learning to trust their handler to have the situation under control.
During the session, I saw several leash-handling issues that are contributing to Violet’s stress and causing tremendous confusion for her. Upcoming classes will be focused on teaching the family how to use the leash correctly.
Despite my concerns about how the family is using the leash, I did not, at any point, attempt to take it from them. Violet does not trust me, and she had worked very hard giving her handler just enough trust to at least tolerate my presence. Taking the leash would have undone that progress.
Violet does not use her nose to gather and assess information. She uses her eyes. When she saw me, she remembered our last encounter and how she got away with using her teeth, and she immediately tried to attack me. She made a negative association with me, and I am now – for the time being – a major trigger for her. I am not okay with that, but I understand how she feels and where she’s coming from. However, she has to learn that I don’t trust her, either.
The coming weeks and months are going to be very challenging for all of us. Violet may never be able to be out in the world without a muzzle, and that’s okay. What matters most is that she learns to be part of the world from a calmer, more trusting, more secure and stable state of mind.
Stay tuned for more updates, and subscribe to my YouTube channel to see videos of Violet’s ongoing rehabilitation.