Saturday, June 13, 2009

The dog who need Cesar Millan - but does Cesar need him?

We have a dog named Shado...
Shado is a 2 year old flat coated retriever. He has a LOT of energy and is very faithful family dog. He knows every basic command and he performs them perfectly. He gladly sits absolutely still when I leash up for a walk; he leaps and catches tennis balls when we play fetch, and he sleeps at my husband's feet during breakfast. When we take him to the dog park, he is the fastest dog there, a blur when he runs by.

He also goes BALLISTIC when he is on leash and another dog is near.

We took him to a dog behaviorist last October. Her evaluation of him was dead-on. We put his gentle leader on him, and Dr. Vet lead Shado to meet her office assistance's dog. The 'strange' dog was put in a sit-stay while Shado and Dr. Vet walked nearby. We could see Shado's excitement and annoyance build. Dr. Vet slowly worked Shado up to the 'stranger' dog but she did not allow them to sniff one another or have any physical contact. It was just a quick stroll by with Dr. Vet in control.

We were impressed and depressed. Why can't we create this scenario on our own? Dr. Vet submitted to us a written evaluation with training techniques for us to follow. It is a very slow process...

Of course, the goal is for Shado to realize that WE (whichever one of us is walking him) is in charge. And our goal is to walk him in a calm but assertive way. As Cesar says, "calm assertive energy".

Today I am still on the baby steps of working with Shado. Before a walk, I cut up several hot dogs into fingernail size pieces. I carry them in baggy - and even though Shado loves the hotdogs, he mostly ignores them. Then I 'dress' Shado for our walk. First, the gentle leader. He sits pefectly still and very contently while the GL is put on. Then I put a dog back pack on him. This, he loves - again he stands perfectly still while I buckle it up, but he seems to know that this is 'gonna be fun'. Then the leash goes on the Gentle Leader... we are almost ready.

We exit the house through the garage. Shado gets into a 'sit/stay' while the garage door goes up. One never knows what might be on the other side of a closed garage door, so a sit/stay is the best defense (or is that offense?). I walk Shado on my right side, even tho convention says to walk dogs on the left side (he seems more controllable on my right side). Immediately outside the garage, he goes into a sit/stay again while the garage door closes. This is all very meticulous but very routine. We do it the same every time. In this sit/stay, Shado is to look at me - make eye contact - and I reward him with a piece of hotdog.

At the command "With me", we walk to the end of the driveway. Another sit/stay for Shado. Another eye contact, followed by the reward. After the reward, we (and I swear, we both do this!) look left and right to judge which direction to go. Most of the time we go left - past the neighbor's house to the 'T' intersection that our street has. At the corner, we redo the sit/stay/eye contact/reward.

Our first phase of our walk is to the church parking lot behind our house. There, we 'warm up' - Shado heels (his version of heel is to be more aligned with my toes, not my heel!), on cue we stop and he sits/stays/eye contact/ rewards. When we proceed, he never knows if we will change direction or turn around or just stop. Stop means sit/stay/eye contact/reward. Often we will just walk from shade tree to shade tree to shade tree (the church parking lot is surrounded by shade trees and there a few in the middle!). My whole goal is to remind him that when we walk, we have a routine.

Eventually we work our way back to the sidewalk, back to houses where barking dogs can be heard and seen behind gates, back to reality.

I am building up Shado's 'thought pattern' so that a stop = sit/stay = eye contact = reward. If he is thinking, he cannot be barking or lunging. If he is chewing a hotdog, he can't be barking.

It is a very slow process. I hope the summer heat doesn't beat us.

And yes, occassionally we take Shado to the dog park. Off leash, his aggression is much less but unpredictable. He is very hyper and very competitive. He can become annoyed at small dogs who are aggressive to the point that he chases them and knocks 'em over. But his dogpark love is to chase balls flung FAR FAR and run back to you for another one. Like I said, he is the fastest dog there!

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