Both of the dogs I work with, Risa and Callie, are the types of dogs that can cause great frustration for me. Risa is a less frustrating dog these days now that her fears and reactive behaviors are generally kept in check. But, when I first brought her home, life with her was fraught with the potential for conflict. I knew what she was likely to do. Run from people. Bark and lunge at other dogs. Put on the breaks if we got near something frightening. The sight of other dogs started to fill me with dread. Seeing people coming towards us in the hallway made me roll my eyes in anticipation of her frantic behavior. I knew it was coming and it generally did. I started to see her as this problem on a leash. Walks together were not fun. They were a walk through the gauntlet. It was only a matter of time before I lost my cool with her on a walk and spent the remainder of it seething over my dog’s issues. It’s hard to have a good partnership when you feel this great sense of disappointment every time you have to take your dog out.
Almost 5 years later, Callie enters my life. While she’s not my dog, I’m the one currently doing the majority of her training so she feels a little bit like mine. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get the training consistency Risa did and Callie has a very low frustration tolerance. She’s quite social and thinks every time she sees another person or dog that she’s going to get to say “Hi” to them. However, her training is preparing her to be a service dog so she cannot start parties every time she sees a potential friend. I have to the be person who says “No” and that causes her to act out a bit.
It’s almost like having Risa all over again. Walks have to be carefully planned. Every moment together is a training session whether I want it to be or not. I know how she reacts to those stimuli. I usually know what’s coming. And I still don’t always handle it well. It drains on you when you constantly have to be on your toes and training. There is no break. And so I start to dread having to work with her on her issues every time we’re together.
That’s not to say she hasn’t made improvements. Her self control has improved and she doesn’t throw herself at oncoming people and dogs as frequently as she did before. It was the same with Risa. Ris made progress that I could see at the time. But it’s hard to shake that knowledge of what they were. That anticipation of dread when putting the two of you in those situations again and again.
Sometimes, however, your feelings become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You expect poor behavior and you get it in spades. Then you feel even more frustrated which flows down the leash to your dog and increases the problems. You really have to change your mind and look for what you would like to see rather than focusing on what you’re expecting to see.
Last week, I had an outstanding session with Callie. I’ve been working with her a bit more frequently and consistently which helps. But this time, I was my attitude that helped her be so successful. For whatever reason, I didn’t see her as that crazy party dog who didn’t give a rat’s behind what I thought. I was connected with her and knew she could behave. While she did get overly aroused around the other dogs, she was not out of control. It didn’t take much for me to get her refocused. Several times, I could see the gears turning in her head as she looked at the other dog coming close and then she would whip her head around to look at me. CLICK/TREAT! Her sits and downs were better. Her attention on me was much improved. We were even able to replicate a restaurant setting where all 3 of us and the dogs sat around a table and conversed while our dogs lay by our sides. Not once did Callie attempt to start a play session with other dogs while we pretended we were dining. She did get up a couple times which is to be expected; we’d never done this before! But she never lost control.
I was so proud of her. For once, I didn’t approach working with her as a potentially frustrating event. I saw it in a positive light and her performance reflected it. Sometimes, you really need to look in the mirror to discover whose fault it really is. Sometimes, a simple change of your attitude is all that is needed for your dog to start reaching her true potential. The potential you know is there.