The gift of Leo

This month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop theme is
The Gift of Positive Training.

Proving what a perfect boy he's grown up to be, Leo lay down and waited for us to set up for our Christmas photo shoot.

Proving what a perfect boy he’s grown up to be, Leo lay down and waited while we set up for our Christmas photo shoot.

Oh, what a gift it has been. Leo’s leash reactivity has gotten so much better. I’ve started saying he’s cured, which is not entirely true, because he still exhibits barrier frustration, but man, I’m going to have to scroll down a bit to even find the last time he had what I’d classify as a “reaction” on a walk:

Okay here:

Sept. 8, He barked at two bikes coming from opposite directions and an off-leash dog. Barely registers on the reactivity scale. A dog barks at an off-leash dog? Who wouldn’t?

June 7, We had a particularly challenging walk and he barked and lunged at a bicycle after successfully NOT barking at a bunch of other stuff.

That’s two leash-reactive incidents worth reporting in the past six months. What it’s shown me is that success begets more success.

It can be hard to wrap your head around when you’re in the thick of reactivity. While trying to get Isis to accept Leo, we had what I considered a debacle where the dogs played for a few seconds for the first time ever … and then got into a fight.

Me and Isis in front of our chosen tree in Dec. 2010.

Me and Isis in front of our chosen tree in Dec. 2010.

A trusted trainer, who wasn’t there at the time, said, “It does sound like you had some minor success. It might be better next time. Remember that repetition of behavior creates habit. It they have a couple of good sessions, it would increase the chance for success.”

At the time, I thought, Yeah right. How are they ever going to forget hating each other?

Sadly, they never had the chance, but six years later, I’ve seen the concept realized: repetition leads to habit.

Example: Leo barks at bicycles from the car. Unchecked, he’d develop a habit of doing this, so he’d get in the car, expecting to find things to bark at. We got him out of this habit by using a Calming Cap. Now, if we forget to put it on him, or if he takes it off himself (sneaky bugger), he’s not searching out the window for things to bark at.

We have to be careful they don’t backslide. On a recent solo afterdark walk with Leo, I noticed a flashing light behind me. Good thing too, because it gave me time to ready the cheese. Leo didn’t react to that bicycle as it passed, but the next time we encountered an unrelated flashing light, he flinched, expecting it to be something scary.

The gift I want to give fellow people with reactive dogs is: Have hope. Work to have more successes than failures. You will see improvement.

Leo’s gotten so good, that a few times recently, he has seen a trigger across the street before I do (because it’s dark). I’ll feel him tense up on the leash and then he whip his head back to me.

Hey, did you see that? I’m supposed to get cheese now, right?

Yes, my darling boy. You get all the cheese.

All the cheese

Proud of my Leo

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14 thoughts on “The gift of Leo

  1. Great post! Sometimes it’s hard to believe just how much progress my formerly unwanted, abandoned dogs have made with their various issues. Yes, I have had to work at setting up the environment to help them succeed,making training plans, and finding the best reinforcers for each dog…but celebrating each incremental success is great fun! We are also Squeeze Cheese junkies here. 🙂

  2. All the training issues really start with the humans having a lot of love and patience. Stick with small steps, don’t get over anxious and try a big step as it will set you back. Very nice post.

  3. Hooray! I am all about celebrating small successes. I recently adopted an 8-month-old puppy (who, wouldn’t you know, is also reactive–how do I find them?!) and we just started working on homework from Barley’s trainer to help get them used to each other. It’s not always smooth and sometimes I want to pull out my hair, but we’ve had so many little successes and that makes me so happy. This was such a great post! Thanks for sharing your success!

  4. Leo is doing great! Mr. N’s reactions have decreased a lot too but it’s definitely more than twice in six months. We’re surrounded by dogs which doesn’t help. Thanks for joining the hop.

  5. Congratulations to you and Leo! Reading success stories like this is exactly what keeps hope alive for those of us with reactive dogs! Thank you!

  6. Oh, my gosh. YES! “Have hope.” That is the key to getting through those frustrated tears when you experience a backslide. Have hope. Once the good days begin to outnumber the bad, I think that can be harder to hold onto, though, because the mistakes feel so. much. worse. At least, they always did to me. We’d go months without incident, then Lucas would go bonkers on a walk (seemingly out of the blue to me but so meaningful to him), and that edges of that hope would fray. But those cheese moments? Those are the moments where hope lives!!

    • Funny thing is, we’ve had a few bike “reactions” since I wrote this … but I don’t cry anymore. It happens.

      And I’ll be posting a blog shortly about another big success with a loose dog. 🙂

  7. We LOVE the look-at-that game. I used it a lot with our (late) Lilly, who was NOT a fan of other dogs or various moving things. My current girls don’t need that particular game quite as much, but it’s still a nice skill for all dogs to have — being able to look at things without getting to wild about it. Congrats.

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