The first thing I noticed when Alexis and her adorable Border Collie, Toby, came into my Loose Leash workshop was Toby’s fear of his surroundings and his shiny prong collar. Alexis was a new client and had been two other trainers with her rescue trying to correct his reactivity towards other dogs on leash.
During the course of our class I spoke to them about getting Toby off the prong collar and onto a Gentle Leader or Halti. I explained that the prong collar, which was recommended by her previous trainers, was actually making Toby’s behavior problems worse. When Toby would see another dog while on his walk he would have high-pitched screaming fits and then receive corrections for his responses. Of course, Mom wasn’t aware that she could actually be making it worse for Toby; she was simply doing what her previous dog trainer told her to. After seeing how well Toby responded to the clicks and treats in class they approached me on training to reduce Toby’s reactivity on walks. Fortunately, Alexis was a dedicated mom who already positively taught Toby to do multiple tricks and basic obedience behaviors, she was just at a crossroads when it came to Toby’s reaction towards other dogs on leash. She told me she had seen a change once Toby was on a prong collar, but she wasn’t 100% happy with the results. We discussed how Toby’s already negative association with other dogs on leash was exacerbated every time he felt the corrections via the prong collar and that we would need to take a step in the opposite direction. Thankfully, Alexis understood and was on-board to train Toby in a completely different way, the 100% positive way.
It’s not often that an owner will want to spend time switching over to a different training method so I was excited when Alexis contacted me for their first session. I knew we could pave the way for Toby and Mom to have nice relaxed walks without the stress of Toby having a meltdown at the sight of another dog.
We began by adding a lot of clicking and treating into our walks with jackpots coming when we were nearing another dog and while passing them. During our first walk Toby only had one little meltdown that lasted about 3-5 seconds and we were able to refocus him and continue the counter-conditioning and positively reinforcing calm behavior. Mom was prepared for the homework after seeing the results of the day and was confident she could recreate the walk and continue the counter-conditioning until our next session.
Our next session was even better with zero meltdowns on the usual route. We raised the criteria by walking Toby near the dog park and we came across another dog on leash who was only 5-10 feet away as we turned the corner. I could feel the tension set in, as this normally was a recipe for a meltdown for Toby. I coached Alexis through it while she increased her distance and offered Toby his jackpot while the dog passed. The dog and owner passed by us and Toby was content accepting his jackpot in one big gulp and we were able to move on, with Toby walking nicely by Alexis’s side, not even glancing back once. We had done it! We were able to have a calm walk with Toby while passing other dogs on leash. He was clicked and treated and praised for good, calm behavior and offered a lovely paycheck for allowing other dogs on leash to pass within good range. Of course, this leap in training wouldn’t have been possible without Alexis’s daily training and dedication to getting her rescued Border collie on the right track to living a happy, full life through positive training. There was no need for any corrections; we just needed to set up a positive association between Toby and other dogs on leash. Toby isn’t 100% comfortable yet and there is still a lot of work to be done, but we are definitely on the right track. Later that week, Alexis sent me an update on Toby’s adventure to the beach and his behavior.
Good News: Toby and I went down to the Huntington dog beach and had a very good experience. There was a little whining when we first got out of the car but nothing that got out of hand. We were able to heel and walk down to the off leash area very calmly. He even saw lots of dogs with his leash on and got lots of treats. He usually is a little calmer in an area he is unfamiliar with so I took advantage of that. We walked up and down the beach for almost 2 hrs, playing and running and heeling off leash. So when we left on leash again he was able to pass by 4 dogs with out any problems! He was very proud of himself and slept the whole way home! Stay tuned for further updates!
Alexis and Toby – Los Angeles, CA