When your difficult dog becomes your easy dog*

*Alternate headline: When your geriatric dog has fewer health problems than your younger dog.**

**Then again, Leo is 9, so technically he is a senior dog too.

Last week, I marveled to myself that because of Mia’s mobility limitations, my “difficult dog” Leo has become the easier dog to take out into the world.

This happened with Isis, too, after years of struggling to fix her leash reactivity. Leo was not an easy puppy. He jumped up and bit our arms during walks. Tore several jacket sleeves.

I remember walking Isis one Saturday morning back in 2010, thinking how much easier she was to manage at that point than Leo.***

***Our life with Isis is the subject of this book.

Then Leo became super leash-reactive. While Mia was basically bombproof, constant vigilance was required to keep Leo from barking and lunging at everything that moved.

After coming to the conclusion that I could not cure him, I committed myself to a lifetime of management. And string cheese.

But it was the darnedest thing. All that careful management led to behavioral change!

We’re still Midnight Dog Walkers, metaphorically, anyway. I will never walk Leo peacefully midday through a crowded park full of children, scooters, bikes and joggers. (Who would want to go to such a place?) I can’t even imagine walking him down our own street midday on a Saturday like I did that time with Isis.

Most evenings will find us on a 20-30 passeggiata at dusk. We loop around a ball field where we have lots of opportunities to not bark at his triggers. It’s often the highlight of my day. Sometimes we sing whatever tune is running through my head. Sometimes Leo helps me work through the arguments in my head.

All of this is splendid progress and is what I was thinking when I composed the heading of this post: Leo has become easier to manage physically than Mia.

Then I was reminded that even though Mia is a million years old, and needs to be carried outside to do her business, she has fewer medical issues than spry Leo.

In addition to his two knee surgeries, Leo has an eye condition called pannus that requires daily eye drops for the rest of his life.

As I started dictating this post into my phone on our walk last week, I was under the impression that our biggest dog challenges always have been behavioral, rather than medical. Even when Leo had two knee surgeries, he was a model patient. The hardest part was during his first recovery when he started lashing out at Mia (I blame Trazodone), which I consider behavioral. Also, he refuses to swallow pills no matter what I hide them in, but again, that’s behavioral.

Then Leo went and had a seizure over the weekend.

You guys, it was so scary. We were watching TV and heard this sound like paws skidding on the floor, like maybe he was chasing a fly. Rob went to help him, thinking he had a leg cramp, but it was all four legs, twitching like he was trying to scratch himself with all of them. His eyes were bloodshot and rolling back into his head, and his mouth was open but not appearing to take in any breath. There was, of course, drool.

Later I read that you’re supposed to leave the dog alone until they come out of it (maybe because they’re in an unpredictable state and might bite?), but of course I held his head in my lap and patted his back, because what if he was choking on something?

After about a minute, he started to come out of it and we carried all 100 pounds of him to the car and headed to the emergency vet. I did not even take the time to change out of my Wonder Woman pajamas. (It was 3 pm on a Sunday.)

Within another minute or two, he was back to himself.

His bloodwork looked great, so now we just have to wait and see if it happens again. The vet gave us some liquid valium I can administer into his keister if he has another that lasts longer than a minute.

And… here’s Leo discovering I mentioned his keister on the internet.

I’m not super concerned about what this means going forward. Seems like seizures are a thing that happens sometimes, and maybe it’s a signal of worse things to come and maybe he’ll never have another one. Either way, there’s nothing I can do about it except never take my eyes off him for the rest of our lives.

During our visit to the emergency vet, I asked if there was anything we should do or not do to best take care of Leo’s knees and hips as he continues to get older.

She gave the best medical advice I have ever heard: “Well, you want him to have fun.”

Year in Review Part 2: Leo

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Leo recovered from his November 2017 TPLO surgery like a champ. At his eight-week X-rays, we learned that his fibula had broken during his recovery, but had already been healing for a few weeks, so there was nothing to be done, except feel completely devastated about my failure as a nurse. But he didn’t care. He was fine. Except for the part where the drugs made him start a couple of scary fights with Mia, and redirected a bite on my upper thigh that bruised and took longer to heal than Leo’s fibula, and the fact that I could not trick him into taking his medicine, so several times a day I had to force his maw open and shove a pill down his throat and hold his mouth closed until he swallowed… Those parts were trying.

But big picture, the surgery was a success and there were few complications. He enjoyed six adorable sessions on the underwater treadmill.

Unfortunately, it’s very common for a dog who tears a cruciate ligament on one knee to wind up tearing the other. And it appears, that’s where we are.

In late November 2018, more than a year since the surgery on his right leg, Leo’s regular vet did a thorough physical exam on his left leg and found nothing at all to be concerned about. A week later, after a brisk run-around at the dog park, Leo started toe-tapping with his left leg.

It comes and goes, and when we went back to the surgeon, they couldn’t tell for sure, but he probably has a partial tear on the left knee. Some people treat this with what’s called Conservative Management where you crate rest the dog, maybe get them a brace… but with a 100-pound dog, it’s only a matter of time. I couldn’t bear to watch him limp around the house, even occasionally, if I knew there was a surgery that could fix it.

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So, he’s scheduled for surgery January 11, where they will X-ray and scope, and assuming his cruciate is torn, he will have TPLO number 2.

I went into the surgery consultation thinking this is the preferable outcome, because it’s something we can treat. But it’s also a major surgery with an eight- to twelve-week (at least) recovery period. Add to that Mia’s continuing care needs, and it’s a lot.

Which makes me all the more grateful for all the adventures we had this year.

Here’s us on Christmas Day:


And here’s us on New Year’s Eve:

Dogs can do no wrong

This month’s Positive Pet Training theme is Mantras.

Here’s mine: My dogs can do no wrong.

Last night, Leo countersurfed a steak off a grill at the GrandPawrents’ house. We all laughed about it, because who leaves an entire steak on the counter in Leo’s presence? The only reason to be upset would be if he had burned himself on the grill, but it had cooled.


Then he climbed up into Grandma’s recliner like it wasn’t no thing.

I’ve had dogs who destroyed doors, ate parking brakes, eviscerated car seats (these dogs still live in my house), pulled the stuffing out of couches, bitten people, fought with each other, embarrassed me in public, chased after a deer or another dog with enough power to pull me off my feet and drag me through the mud or gravel, forced a bedroom remodel by tearing up the carpet…

 

 


I don’t recall ever being mad at them.

They didn’t ask to live in this world with weird rules about chewing some stuffed objects but not others, requiring them to be tethered by leashes so that they don’t run into traffic, where people mounted to wheeled contraptions whiz directly toward them. We domesticated them and forced them into a lifestyle they don’t understand.

It’s never their fault. Keeping them safe from the latter and teaching them about the former is my job, and if they get confused or make a mistake, that’s on me. (or Grandma.)

Join Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier, and Travels with Barley each month for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, where we share positive training posts, starting on the first Monday of the month and lasting all week.

Not as naughty as he looks

Since Leo is 100 pounds and leash reactive, I often assume he will be perceived as scary. He proved otherwise to me during this past month.

At the end of October, he started limping. I had to leave him at the vet for a couple of hours while they X-rayed him. I worried that he’d whine or cry or bark from the kennel while he waited his turn, but I’m told he did not. Everybody seemed totally crazy about him.

The bad news was that he had torn his cruciate ligament and needed TPLO surgery. I had never heard of this surgery before, but apparently it’s very common, and there’s a 50% chance he’ll need the surgery on his other leg too!

I took him in for the surgery two days later. A brand new place, brand new doctors. They loved him. When the surgeon called me to tell me he was in recovery, she said, unprompted, “I like him,” in such a wistful way I knew she meant it. She doesn’t say that about all the German shepherds.

After his sutures came out, we had a consult for underwater treadmill therapy and the new vet asked if our other dog is as mellow as Leo. Ha! The other dog (Mia) is the mellow one! And here a little video of him on the treadmill a week later.

TPLO surgery is serious business with a long recovery period. Leo has been a total champ. He wore the cone for two weeks without complaint, and hangs out in his crate quite comfortably. He did have a few snarly incidents (fights, if I’m honest) with Mia, triggered by his barrier frustration (vision blocked by cone plus separation with a gate), disorientation from pain meds, and pain. It’s been a few weeks since the last skirmish, so I think that’s behind us.

He’s been walking on the new knee since day one, which has led me to be too cavalier about confining him. I let him get up on the couches, because he’s tall enough to climb up without jumping. But that also leaves him with access to jump on the couch when delivery people come to the door.

And at one point while Rob was decorating the backyard for Christmas, Leo raced toward the back door, sliding across the wet floor, his legs splayed out on both sides—exactly what they told us we didn’t want to happen.

So there have been a lot of times this past month where my heart rate has spiked and I felt like the worst nurse ever. If you ask the people in my TPLO support group on FB, I might be the naughty one for not following the strict directive to confine him and keep him away from furniture.

The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Tenacious Little TerrierTravels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. 

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Senior Dog Doesn’t Want to Come Inside

This month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop has the theme What To Do When Your Dog Doesn’t Listen To You.

For me, that’s like every day. They do what they want. I’m not going to lie. So I don’t have any legit training tips to offer.

I mean, mostly, they’ve been good doggies lately. Leo, now that he’s seven, technically qualifies as a senior, too.

mia-portageYesterday, Mia was up to her old tricks, refusing to come in the house when it was time for me to go to work. Back in the day, when she was a spry eight- or nine-year-old, she was too quick to catch.

The night before, Rob lamented that she seemed to be slowing down. I said, “No, no, she was bouncy and happy on our walk today.” I have had to reconfigure our leash arrangement though, when I walk them both by myself. Mia gets an eight-foot-leash tethered to my belt so she can go at her own pace. The shorter tandem bungee leash was no longer working out because Leo wanted to charge ahead and move too fast.

Anyway, I shot this video to show Rob that Mia is in fact as tricky as ever, ignoring my entreaties, and running out of reach. I couldn’t catch her, and I stepped in poop while trying, which I didn’t notice until I got to the office and wondered what was that smell.

I finally lured her inside by shaking her harness in a ruse that we were going somewhere wonderful. Technically, this was still positive training, since I gave her a bunch of treats when she came in, but it was also a bait and switch. I hate resulting to trickery, because she’s too smart to fall for it too often. And it feels mean. I should have taken her to work with me. There was no reason not to.

Positive TrainingThe Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Tenacious Little TerrierTravels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. Our theme for this month is what do you do when your dog won’t listen but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. And our next hop will begin Nov. 6 on the theme “training company manners.”

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Now who’s reactive?

You know how dogs can become fearful after a bad experience like another dog getting in their face at the park?

That happened to me a few weeks ago. With another person.

During the springtime, our go-to weeknight walk takes us past a ball field and up a little hill. I try to time it to avoid joggers, but sometimes I fail. Sometimes, Leo succeeds even when I fail, which you can read about in Leo vs. the Track Team.

I hadn’t seen the track team yet this year, and the bottom of that uphill trail was so muddy I didn’t think any joggers would be coming that way.

Of course that meant two joggers came up behind us, but one happened to be a friend of mine. I held Leo back while he barked at the first jogger, and then welcomed my friend to cross the muddy moat to say hello.

“Are your dogs going to attack me?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” said the reactive dog mom who knows better than to make promises her dogs might not keep. Ha ha ha.

My friend came closer, Leo said hello and I stood and talked to her longer than I should have given that I’d already seen a jogger cross the swamp to go up the hill.

A young girl rounded the corner, and Leo barked and I said, “Are you going this way?” and held Leo back by his harness, and yeah, she looked scared, but she passed.

A minute later, a very angry dude approached and yelled that he was going to call animal control.

Now. I know I shouldn’t have a German shepherd barking at people on a jogging path. But couldn’t he have said, “Hey, I have a bunch of joggers headed up there. Could you move?” or even “Get out of the fucking way!”

Threatening to call animal control seemed a bit extreme. And frankly, I didn’t care for his attitude.

So I argued with him that I have a right to walk my dogs, and they’re on a leash, and chill out, dude.

And he said “That’s not just barking. That’s a dangerous dog.” And I said, “Go ahead. Call animal control.” And he gestured like he was going for his phone and I knew he wouldn’t really call.

Of note: Leo was not barking at him during all this.

We turned to carry on with our walk and the dude shouted, “You’ve been warned. If anything happens with that dog. You’ve been warned.”

I deduced that this guy coaches the aforementioned track team. And I get where he was coming from. I really do. I don’t want my scary dog to interfere with other people’s right to jog. But as Midnight Dog Walkers, our options are limited. That was a walking path that worked for us. Until it didn’t.

I’ve been walking reactive dogs for 10 years. I thought I’d gotten over the feelings of humiliation and guilt when other people think my dog is dangerous. But in the following days, whenever I tried to think of someplace else to take the dogs, I got scared.

Everywhere I could think of carried the risk of a jogger leaping out at us out of nowhere. There are no dog trails where joggers are banned. I ordered a basket muzzle, something I’ve never felt was necessary, because what if a jogger gets too close? After all, I’ve been warned.

And then I realized, my anxiety was not about Leo, or about joggers. It was about that dude rudely getting in my face.

Realizing this reinforced how easy it is to regress. One bad experience can create negative associations. As positive dog owners, we work hard to make sure all our dogs’ experiences are good ones. At least in this situation, I was the one with PTSD, not Leo.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is Dog Sports, but all posts are welcome.

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Top 5 Positive Pet Training Tools for Reactive Dogs

harnesses

This month’s theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is training tools. I thought I’d give you the rundown of five things that have made a huge difference in my life with my dogs.

5. Food puzzles

In the wild, animals spend most of their time looking for and eating their food. When we feed our dogs a cup of kibble in a bowl at 7 a.m., and they’re done by 7:05, what are they supposed to do with the rest of their day? Stuffed Kongs are popular. We’ve been feeding our dogs dinner from puzzles for a few years now, and as I mentioned in last month’s post, I got them Nina Ottosson Dog Pyramids for Christmas.

Dinnertime now lasts, like, 20-30 minutes as my guys fling these guys around the house, grain-free kibble spewing every which way. Reminscent of Isis and her Squirrel Dude.

Last week we could not find the red one anywhere. And it’s not a small thing! Usually we can find them under a chair or something, but it was nowhere! Until I walked into the bedroom after dropping Rob off at work and found it wedged under a dresser drawer in the bedroom. Last time I saw Mia with it, she was in the kitchen.

4. Freedom Harness

Neither of our dogs right now are pullers, but even if you “just” have a Barker and Lunger, it’s really great to have a leash that fastens on the front and back of their harness. Freedom Harnesses fit my dogs better than that other brand of front-fastening harness that was bought by a company that sells shock collars, so I no longer endorse it.

3. Halti

civic field

Not for every dog, but I thought I’d tried everything to get Isis to stop pulling. A head halter collar, in combination with a back-fastening harness, accompanied by a reinforcing clicker, changed the game for us. Some argue that Haltis are aversive, but I think it depends on the dog, and Dr. Sophia Yin says it depends on how you use it. Certainly it’s less aversive than the other stuff recommended to us.

2. Calming Cap

Another game-changer. We use it primarily in the car to reduce the stimulation for Leo. Thanks to the Calming Cap, he’s no longer in the habit of looking for things to bark at out the window. Funny story, some “trainer” found my earlier post about the Calming Cap and posted it to her FB page, saying something like “Seriously? This is a thing? How about you try training your dog instead of blindfolding it.” I wrote a very helpful comment explaining how we use it, and that it’s handy in situations when you are not able to focus on training (like when you’re driving a car), and she deleted the comment. Troll.

1. Cheese.

You knew it was going to be cheese, right?

Positive TrainingThis is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier, Wag n’ Woof Pets and Travels with Barley. Join the fun! Our theme for this month is Training Tools, but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long.

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Running out of Cheese

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In my last post, I wrote about a de-facto off-leash area. If everyone else’s dogs are off leash, why can’t ours be?

For me, it’s an issue of manners. People who don’t have reactive dogs (or people who don’t KNOW their dogs are reactive, especially those whose dogs are small) think it’s perfectly fine for their dog to run up to a person or another dog. When other dogs are off leash and my dogs are off leash, there is no problem. In that situation, Leo doesn’t have much interest in the humans. Unless they’re moving particularly fast. Or on wheels.

Even so. Leo probably would not run up to a jogger or cyclist (or cross-country skier) and bite them if he were off leash. Probably not. But that’s not a risk I can take with a 98-pound German shepherd. Unfortunately, when he is confined to a leash, he is extremely likely to bark and lunge and act very scary as one of these fast-moving humans passes by. See my problem? Everything would go better for everyone if Leo were off leash (probably). But since I can’t assume that everyone we meet will be okay with my dog running up to them, I keep him on a leash.

Last year, we took the dogs to play in the snow on Mount Baker and didn’t see another soul on the trail. This year, the little parking area was full, so we knew we wouldn’t be alone. I was not overly concerned, because the trail is fairly wide, with good visibility, and I had cheese. When I saw people approaching, I called Leo back to me, leashed him, and cheesed him until they passed. It worked brilliantly. Our counter-conditioning has been a terrific success.

It became clear that this was a de-facto off-leash area, so I stopped calling Leo to me when the people approaching had a dog. Except this one couple who took one look at Leo from afar and shouted at their own dog. Their doodle retreated behind their legs, and Leo stayed frozen, staring. Several hundred feet away from the dog. (Mia was close enough, and we leashed her). I called Leo, and omigod, he came right back to me! As I cheesed him, the couple passed, and the man said, “We just had a bad experience with a German shepherd,” explaining their panic.

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I felt that we and our dogs were behaving very appropriately and responsibly. It’s so rewarding to take them on outings that are more exciting than a walk around the sports complex or half an hour at the dog park. Everything was going just splendidly.

Until we ran out of cheese.

Not a problem at first. When a pair of slow-moving snow-shoers (actually, one was carrying her snow shoes) passed us, I moved Leo off to the side, plopped down in the snow and scratched his chest and told him what a good dog he was. He stayed calm, saw them, unconcerned. I was as proud as I could be.

After that, there were two or three incidents that did not go so well. The kind involving my holding onto his harness while he barked real scary-like. It’s not his fault. We ran out of cheese.

You know the spoon theory? It’s kind of like that. Also known, in the parlance of dog training, as trigger stacking.

While Leo was regressing, so was I. I had a flashback to the emotional, desperate, discouraging times when I felt like I couldn’t take Isis anywhere. To running up ahead of Rob on the trail to warn people that we had a dog with us that was freaking out. That nervous, awkward “ha ha ha, sorry about that” exchange, when really what I’m feeling is mortified and guilty. Why did I think we could bring our dog with us to a public trail?

That feeling faded once the cross-country skiers were out of sight, and we were back in the car. I reassured myself that we are allowed to take our dogs for a walk in the snow. Other people had off-leash dogs. Leo didn’t hurt anyone. We were responsible. And I tucked that little seed of a question away in the back of my mind: What if we just let him off-leash the whole time? Wouldn’t everything go better for everyone? Because no. I’d be less embarrassed, but I’d still be rude.

 

The Off-Leash Gray Area

Snowy Crime Scene Field

There’s this field near our house. We call it the Crime Scene Field. I consider it a de facto off-leash area because other people play with their dogs off leash there, and there’s no sign saying not to. Basically, if there’s no one around, we play off leash. If we see someone, we leash them.

On a recent snow day, I unleashed the dogs as soon as we arrived, but then I saw a man in the distance with an off-leash golden retriever. I called the dogs back and leashed them because I didn’t know if this guy wanted his dog to play with mine. It’s called manners. We kept walking, allowing him to see us and decide for himself. He called his dog and left. Asked and answered.

We alternated between walking on leash and off, and every time the dogs ran back to me, I rewarded them with cheese. As we were heading out, a big black dog barreled toward my leashed dogs. This was what I wanted to keep my dogs from doing to the golden retriever. Made worse because my dogs were on leash, and Leo is leash-reactive. This may be controversial, but when an unleashed dog comes up to us, my feeling is that it’s only fair for my dogs to be off leash as well. If Leo is unencumbered, the situation is less likely to escalate.

I unclipped Leo, which was uneventful. Mia barked at the other dog, and after I unclipped her, they got a little snarly. Leo stood his ground and barked at the other dog. Not a big scary bark, in my opinion. He does this at the park sometimes when he gets impatient with another dog. It’s a “hey hey hey hey” nuisance, but I don’t think it could lead anywhere good, so I always remove him from those situations.

The other guy called the black dog, who started to obey, but then came back at my dogs. After a few fruitless “heys” of my own, I chirped my dogs’ names and the magic word “Cheesy.”

And holy shit, they came to me. I leashed them and walked away, but the black dog barreled toward us again.

I said, “Can you call your dog? My dogs will fight back!”

He did and again the dog was torn between obeying and charging my dogs again, but we were leaving anyway.

Honestly, it could have turned really ugly, and this is the main reason I don’t muzzle Leo on walks. If that dog had been aggressive and an actual fight escalated, I’d want Leo to be able to protect himself. Despite his leash-reactivity, he is a really nice dog, and well socialized to other dogs.

Also, really really really proud of the way my dogs handled themselves!

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

giveawayThis month, our generous blog hop hosts are giving away some positive training goodies! Click here for the Rafflecopter

 

 

 

 

Positive Training

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