Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a difficult dog training workshop hosted by K9 Lifeline. Heather Beck and her staff taught us how to handle aggression, stubbornness, and over-adrenalized behavior.
Of all the things we talked about (which was a lot, it was a 4 day workshop), there was one particular thing I wanted to highlight that has changed the way I train. It was completely life changing.
See, when I started out, I was positive techniques only. Now, I realize that if I want to work with truly difficult dogs, I need to adjust the way I train. Happy go lucky dogs benefit from positive techniques, but they also learn to be over-adrenalized and can’t learn to calm themselves down. So, you also introduce another problem with using only positive techniques.
Now, one of the major things I learned that I need to work on is adjusting how I feel when working with a difficult dog. I preach patience, patience, patience, but I wasn’t practicing unconditional patience with the dog I brought to the workshop. After the instructor pointed out I was tense, I realized … I was! And I found myself frustrated as well because I felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. So, I adjusted my attitude and instead of thinking, “I’m going to stand here and wait until you realize we aren’t going anywhere until you give up.” to “Let me show you what I want, and we’ll go from there. Whenever you get amped up, we stop and I apply pressure. Once you calm down, the pressure goes away. I’ll wait so we can set you up to succeed. We’ll take as long as you need.” I learned to have unconditional patience, and I also realized that when we are training, I can’t stop until we make it a good note.
Last night, I was training a 6 month old Newfoundland puppy. We have been training for a few weeks, but I saw aggression yesterday while we were training. We haven’t seen this before from him. This is the ‘fight’ stage, and we need to work him through it (carefully so no one gets hurt). We were practicing working with the Halti with the family, and I was having the younger kids work with him to learn how to use the pressure appropriately. Well, one of the kids didn’t want to be there (we’ll call him Kid B), he didn’t want to train, and it seemed he didn’t like the dog either. So, as soon as he took the leash, he was a bit heavier with the corrections, and the dog turned on him and started nipping, jumping, growling, and barking at him. So, I corrected the child, and we worked the puppy through it. He eventually calmed down, and then we did another round with me, then mom, then then Kid A, and then back to Kid B. The dog again, got aggressive, so I took the leash because I was worried the kid would actually get hurt (this is now a 70 lb puppy who is biting, not nipping anymore). I corrected him softly with just pressure from the Halti, and he took a good 15 minutes to calm down. I got bit a few times on the hand, but then he jumped to bite towards my stomach. No blood, just bruises, but that surprised me. I’m applying what I learned at the difficult dog workshop, and we didn’t give up until the dog was calmed down and on a positive note. We can’t stop when he’s being aggressive because he will learn that’s what he needs to do to get people to do what he wants.
So, I assigned the family to have just the older kids (2 more kids who weren’t here for today’s training) and mom work with him for now since he does bite hard and is fighting so much. This is the first step of learning a few technique. FIGHT – and that’s exactly what he’s doing. So, we need to work him through it. I checked how I felt while working with him. I was concentrating on not getting mauled, and I was working on my feelings. I’m not scared of getting bit, it’s going to happen at some point. I want to avoid it, but I’m not scared. I felt… calm, relaxed, but focused. I was concentrating on focusing that energy towards him. He did eventually calm down and we could end the training on a good note and kennel him to process everything he learned.
So, just a few days after I learned how to calm my own mind, I’m learning how to do this with my clients’ dogs, and I saw success. Even though I was late to my next appointment, I wasn’t ending until I saw him relax and calm down and accept what I was trying to teach him. I didn’t give up, and I was focused on being calm and working him through it.