We are right in the middle of a 4-week training for our rescue pup – Dexter. He will be 2 next month and has some fear/anxiety which makes him act out in aggressive ways toward people – especially those he does not know. Most of the time this is good. He’s a watch dog – protective and always guarding the perimeter. It is nice to know when strangers are lurking near-by. But when this behavior is any time and with any and all people it must stop.
One of the most powerful things we have learned in the class is the phrase “Leave it”. This applies to any and all things. From food dropped on the floor to people dropping over to say “Hi” – he is learning to “Leave it” – stop what he wants to do (rip their throat out or at very least bite their ankles) and stand by. Our trainer, Wendy says it’s a “win” if you can get them to stop fixating on something, either an object such as food or a toy – or a person and actually look away.
A training exercise was ensued in class last night using toys and treats thrown in the center of the room. The objective was to take our dog on a little stroll over near the toys and treats and get them to “leave it” and look away. This actually was not hard for Dexter. Both our Bichon and Shih-poo are picky little eaters and they simply don’t like most dog treats. To ask him to leave the treats was not the problem with him pulling on the leash. The problem for him? THE OTHER DOGS IN THE ROOM. He was fearful and VERY distracted by 20 LARGE dogs looking at him.
Dexter is about 12 pounds fully grown. Besides a 5 pound chihuahua and a 15 pound mixed breed – he is one of only 3 small dogs in the class. There are 20 other large dogs in the class. You do the math. Yesterday we were privileged to have a seat by the Alaskan Siberian Husky (Wow those are BEAUTIFUL DOGS!!) who is still a puppy. At about 70 pounds – he will be HUGE! There is another northern dog in our class and was sitting close to the Husky. Wendy finally had to separate the two of them. It is interesting to see those dogs eyeballing each other and every other dog in the room. Wendy told us this is how dog fights start. They eyeball each other and fight for the dominant position. So poor Dexter was given the place of honor (or stupidity) by the Husky – affectionately named “Snoopy”. Snoopy took one look at Dexter – knew he was no problem and would not challenge him and began to calm down. (WHEW! – He even had me on edge!)
It is a 2 hour class once a week. Yesterday it was in the mid 90’s here in Yakima. The room where the training is – although well ventilated and open to the outdoors at the back – has no air conditioning. Because the dogs were hot – it was easier to calm them and have them sit through the long training session. But when one dog got riled up – an interesting dynamic happened in the room. All the large dogs reacted. They barked and pulled – straining to get to another dog and rip their faces off! Our trainer has established herself as the “lead dog” in our pack – and they respect her. She keeps a squirt bottle of water on her person and has to spray the dogs often to get them to calm down. I watch Dexter as this drama unfolds around him. He instinctively seems to know his place in the pack. He remains seated and calm – being as small as possible by my chair.
The phrase “Leave it” is used OFTEN in our class. So many comical things happen when training dogs – and I just have to laugh at some of them!
If only “Leave it” were as easy with us humans! We fixate, we stew, we scheme, we plot – we’re not so much different from dogs in this way. Unfortunately we don’t leave it. Even when we know we need to. Leave it and look away. We would all be better off doing this for all those unhealthy distractions we encounter on a daily basis.
Learning some great things in that class…