Molly is a good dog. I don’t want this post to make you think any differently. But when we adopted her, she was already full grown. She already had some habits and quirks set in that we probably wouldn’t have trained her to do, if she’s been ours as a puppy. She loves to dig in my planters and behind the garage. Her favorite to spot to nap is on the couch. And, maybe the biggest issue, she has some major anxiety around other dogs, especially on a leash. Puppy school is our solution.
Molly was already in training with Jennifer at Fetch, who relies on a positive approach that rewards the good behavior rather than punishing the bad, which I appreciate. And in the GROWL class, Molly is working on her leash anxiety.
Here is what happens, and Jennifer calls this going over her “threshold.” When Molly sees another dog she stops. Her ears go back and she might jump straight up. And then the barking starts, and Molly will bark and jump, bark and jump until she’s removed from the situation. It’s not aggression. I swear. She’s not trying to fight. It’s a fear-based reaction, according to Jennifer. So we’re working from that perspective.
Molly wears her Thunder Shirt to class. We meet three other dogs with the same issues in a different location every week. And the dogs never touch, but they are near enough to each other to trigger their reactions. And Molly reacts. But here are some basic commands we’re working on.
- “Watch me.” When I give this command, Molly must maintain eye contact with me. I usually hold a treat near my face, for a little extra incentive, and Molly can stand or sit, but she has to keep her eyes on me. The thought is that she’ll be distracted by the food and loose her desire to react to whatever is nearby. We’re working on this.
- “Find It.” This really speaks to Molly’s food drive. When I say “Find it,” Molly knows I’ve dropped something super delicious on the ground for her to eat. I typically leave a trail of yummys that lead her away from the dog or cat or whatever else is pushing her over her threshold.
- “Sit. Stay.” While this isn’t a command unique to the GROWL class, we’re working on it with a twist. It’s used another dog is approaching, especially off leash. I’m supposed to quickly put Molly in a “Sit. Stay” and step in front of her so my back is to her. Then I can bribe her with treats while thwarting off the other dog. And yes, this totally feels like self sacrifice, and would go against my gut instinct. But as long as I have a good treat, Molly seems perfectly content to sit behind me.
- Emergency U-Turns. This one isn’t a command; it’s an action that we can take when we’re walking and facing a situation that we need to get out of faster than fast. It is just what it sounds like: we quickly turn around and start moving in the other direction. Of course, it works better with a short leash and plenty of good treats in hand. But Molly doesn’t mind following me, which is a good start.
We have a ways to go. But I knew we were making progress when Molly decided to lay down on the floor while a group of strange dogs took turns walking toward her in class two weeks ago. We graduate one week from today, so that’s something to be proud of. Now if I could just figure out how to keep her out of my vegetables.