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ing this time he became a rock star in public settings and so we continued on our journey. As Chopper continued to grow and mature, his poor breeding became a consideration in the form of numerous health issues. His natural characteristics and Rottweiler traits also began to evolve. For example, he tends to be very “watchful” and seems to prefer one person. He uses his natural attributes (you might say he literally throws his weight around) to get to what he wants, and he reacts quickly and physically to fast, unexpected movements or loud voices (he has a particular issue with someone running toward me or when my almost-grown daughters get into a “tussle”). He has countless food allergies, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and joint issues. All of this began to slow down his socialization routines, as well as our progression with training and our ultimate goals. Numerous visits to specialty veterinarians started making Chopper leery of going out in public. Watching the children next door running along the fence while he was under strict “low activity” orders would frustrate him, leading to barking. He seemed to feel unwell in general, which Chopper has overcome kept us home more often. I many challenges to qualify as a therapy dog; due to his began to fear our dreams for heart murmur, he has him to become a therapy dog learned to remain still for a veterinary exam and even and change people’s percepprocedures such as X-rays tions of so-called “bully breeds” and ultrasounds so sedation can be avoided were slipping away. Had I, through my love of Rotties and pit bulls, created too high of an expectation for my own dog? As a therapy team evaluator, I see so many wellmeaning people who try to force their dogs into situations they are just not comfortable with in the name of “therapy.” This really challenged me to reevaluate my dreams as well as my own dog’s capabilities. It also encouraged me to not give up. Instead, I jumped back in with eyes wide open and a new approach to achieve our goals. I started by focusing on the days Chopper was feeling well and energetic enough to make more trips to the vet again - not for treatment, but just for treats. We began playing impulse control games in the yard and having the children next door play a game similar to “Red Light! Green Light!” In this game they run to the fence (only if he stays still - if he moves, they freeze) and throw a ball away from the fence to have him retrieve back to me. This way Chopper learned he can move away from the cause of his over-excitement and still be rewarded. We are still working on a few other things, such as the sound of the mailbox or someone approaching the front door as signals that he should come and find me, rather than alert bark. We have also been working on some tricks to get his attention so he can focus on fun, rather than on someone walking directly toward us. He has a fantastic touch cue that turns into an impressive spiral jump if he becomes over-excited. This is useful to help him burn off some of his energy. We have also worked hard to make him believe that his Gentle Leader is the giver of all things incredible

TRAINING

and now he cannot wait for us to put it on. At his healthiest “fighting weight” (the veterinarian’s phrase, not mine), Chopper is close to 110 pounds of exuberance, so we use the head collar as a precaution whenever we go visiting. In addition, we went back to group classes. Somewhere along the way, Chopper decided he is not a fan of brachycephalic dogs. As far as I am aware, this is not due to a bad experience, but I speculate it may be because they look “different.” We have started watching DogTV and other dog videos, and reward heavily for calm behavior when Chopper sees dogs that may have caused a reaction before. From there, we expanded the process to our outings in stores and dog-centric public settings. After a year of increasing Chopper’s ability to focus in these types of settings, I saw marked improvements and decided in April 2015 to attempt our first evaluation. I went into it knowing that if he did not pass, we would at least walk away knowing where our strengths and weaknesses were. We could go back to the training room, or decide if he just did not have it in him – or want - to be a therapy dog. I felt I had to put us out there to get the answers. We entered the facility (which is also a doggy day care) to the sound of numerous playful dogs. We were able to stop and get him focused enough to happily meet the desk receptionist, who guided us to the waiting area. Chopper sat there calmly while my emotions started to take over and my confidence began to waiver. After about 15 minutes, they were ready for us to begin. We entered the room only to see a few of the volunteer teams I had evaluated in the past. This made me feel even more pressured. My heart raced as Chopper sat calmly for the initial approach and looked to me with near-perfect attention for the friendly greeting. He gave gentle kisses as the evaluator examined his ears, teeth, paws and brushed his coat. I would honestly say he seemed to sense my concerns. He stayed right by my side in a perfect heel as we “went for a walk” to display his ability to walk on a loose leash, and gave unmitigated attention during his sit, down, stay and recall. We were not only passing, we were soaring through! My heart beat began to slow down until they brought in the “neutral dog,” and it dropped to my stomach as I watched a bulldog enter the room. Chopper immediately looked to me for a treat - but there are no treats allowed during the evaluation. I put on my best “dog trainer voice” to reassure him it was best to keep his attention on me. We began walking toward Lilly the bulldog in our arc, with me excitedly talking to Chopper the entire time. It felt like the longest 25 feet we have ever traversed, but aside from a quick peek behind us after we passed, Chopper was all-eyes-on-me, totally engrossed in the praise and highpitched voice coming his way. At the end of the walk, he sat and wiggled that stump we call a tail so fast that he had a hard time BARKS from the Guild/March 2017

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BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...

BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...