Re: Wear a muzzle?
Valerie, can you find a training class around there that has an instructor who understands and is willing to work with you?
We have what we call "Levels" classes here. They're obedience classes that are set up in levels and you work in a level until you're ready to go to the next one. They're on-going classes that meet every week, and you just work at your own speed and move on when you and the instructor decide it's time. Because they're ongoing classes and everyone works at their own speed, dogs/handlers rotate in and out of the various levels constantly and the classes tend to stay really small as people move through. So everyone gets a lot of one-on-one time.
This allows instructors to work on specific problems that dogs may have. When we get a dog in that has some sort of fear/aggression problem, we can have the handler take the dog to one side of the room and specifically work on rewarding for non-fearful, non-aggressive behaviors. As the class progresses, the handler can gradually move closer and have others in the class toss treats, etc. And if a person chooses to stay in, say, Level One for awhile, new people and dogs will rotate through and give some new distraction and experiences for the dog working on fear-based behaviors.
Taking her to a big class that meets for eight weeks and expects a certain level of accomplishment could be difficult for her and may even make her worse. But if you could find an instructor who will help evaluate her and then let you work on the outskirts of the class on the skills that YOUR dog needs (not basing those skills on what everyone else in the class is doing), that would probably help considerably. And then when she's ready to start meeting people, others in the class can become part of that in a controlled atmosphere.
I'd like to say that all instructors are open-minded enough for this, but so many are either too inexperienced or too set in their ways to allow this to happen. Even back when I taught eight-week classes, I always allowed people to work on specific problems if that's what they needed (instead of trying to do what the other dogs were doing). Dogs are individuals and trying to make every dog fit into the same lesson plan as all the other dogs is just ridiculous.
I hope you can find something appropriate. A good training class is priceless and would give you a safe atmosphere to work on Sierra's problems. Dogs with fears need to learn to see past the fears and that takes time, patience and understanding. From what you describe, I would accept Sierra into a class without a muzzle. If she had some problems with lunging at others, we might use an ex-pen barrier for awhile, but I tend to avoid muzzles if possible. In some cases I've seen muzzles actually end up increasing a dog's fear level (I think because the dog realizes it has no means of defense and therefore is more frightened). A truly aggressive dog would be a different thing - but a fear-aggressive dog primarily needs to have confidence increased.
Melanie and the gang in Alaska
Positive 1ST! More reward, less correction makes a GREAT trainer.
Chows: Khana CD RE SD & Dora NA NAJ GSD: Tazer SDIT
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20 Yrs Training/Teaching Experience