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First private training class

2949 Views 36 Replies 16 Participants Last post by  DianaM
Renji and I had our first private session with an AMAZING lady, someone who has umpteen kerbillion AKC titles and trained in schutzhund (at Sch Club of Orlando). Her immediate evaluation: my dog is aggro and is "thisclose" to.... well, she didn't elaborate and she doesn't have to.
She did say he IS fixable but it will take very careful work and BOTH of us have to be on the same page. She also recommended a Gentle Leader head collar and explained why this may work better than the prong. All of you know that I am not a fan of this at all but I am keeping an open mind and her explanations make sense. The prong does nothing but fire Renji up even more. The halter allows for more control, allows me to move his head away as a forced redirect, and, if worse comes to worse, it will pull his muzzle closed. She didn't mention muzzling, but we'll see. I'm going to give this a try and see how it works and report back here either way. She did say that I need to put it on him, treat him, then take it off him, repeatedly, for a couple weeks until he no longer cares about the device before we can think about going for a walk.

Tons more advice was given, she was really awesome. We talked for a couple hours and she only charged me for a half hour. Couldn't believe it. She says we're fine with obedience, don't even worry about that, at this point it's all about controlling his world and dealing with situations in the correct manner. I'm still digesting everything. The center does have an agility field to die for, gorgeous horses, a flock of sheep, siiiigh.... to have property like that.

Bluntly and honestly, I do not feel I have the skill level nor the comfort level to handle this dog. He's a great dog and she even said his pushy nature would be great for competition (and it is), but she made no bones about how careful we must be in working on his mentality toward situations in life (other dogs, other people, etc). So he is likely fixable, and I believe it, but I wonder if I have the ability to do that. We do not live in an ideal situation for his problem. It's like forcing a panic attack-prone person with phobias of crowds to walk through a shopping mall at Christmas just to go use a bathroom. Except his is not fear-aggression. So we have to change how we live with him (and I don't let him get away with jack as it is, guess I was wrong) and how we handle people and dogs, and just go from there. Just take it day by day. She is a fantastic trainer, though. Our next session is Friday to see how he'll do with another dog, then if she is comfortable with how he reacts, we're doing a group class the next day, but we'll be waaaaay off to a side.

All you people who think $1000+ is too much to pay for a puppy from superb lines and excellent breeders who bend over backwards to breed for stellar temperament, you don't know what you're nitpicking on. To the breeders who put temperament above everything else, a thousand thank yous.
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It seems like what you are lacking is confidence. What would it take for you to get that? Why do you think you cannot handle this dog? Not to be sappy, but I think you'll do a lot better if you THINK you will do a lot better.
I'd have to agree with you on that. I wish I had a better foundation of dog ownership rather than my very first dog being this way to help me through, but it is what it is. I'll make mistakes, but my main fear is that there are some mistakes that absolutely cannot be made without severe consequences. I wouldn't care so much if we had a big yard where we could pick and choose when we work in public.
Hi Diane,

I've followed your posts about Renji for a long time. I think you can learn a lot from one another! I've never paid much up front for a dog (not a buy a dog type) but I have adopted dogs with and without major issues. The previous two (prior to Rafi) had major issues like Renji. Basu went from being the dog who everyone was scared of (I often sat on him just to be sure when we were in public) to being a great dog who was totally predictable. Sure I still had to be on high alert at all times but I knew how to read him and the last few years of his life were relatively easy. He still barked and charged like Cujo but I could call him off.

I think you can do this. I don't think that a muzzle is a bad idea if it will make you feel comfortable and confident about your ability to handle him. A gentle leader may or may not work. I have seen dogs bite through them, set their heads against them (Basu) and all kinds of other problems but I have also seen them work. I think it really depends on the dog. The training tool that worked for me was the front clip harness. I attached it to the flat collar and I had something where I could control his body and I was sure he wasn't going to get out of it. It is a neutral tool as dogs do not react negatively to it and you can get them going on it right away.

So chin up and try to get your attitude up too! You and Renji can figure this out! You've already come so far together!
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Hey Diana-

How did she evaluate him?
I took that old farty fart to a great trainer when he was young. Similar report. Fear aggression, other issues related to genetic temperament, probably made worse from some from experiences before I got him. Had I not been committed to him he would have recommended you know what. I also have a dog with "regular" aggression and do the exact same as I have for Kramer and it really helps.

That guy was great. No physical punishment but constant mental exercise and control in a positive way. When Kramer would do something it was always my idea. He hated that at first-I would say good down when he'd lay down so he'd get back up. I told him when to get on the furniture. But not in a certain tone-just conversational.

Now that Kramer is older and we have made it almost 15 years without an incident- "the incident" - despite having gone to many places and meeting many people and dogs (he modeled for Petsmart, was in a Christmas play and has been able to deal positively now with people for I'd say the last 10 years, starting at 5 being much more settled), having some close calls (don't hug him-he's SORE from agility-eek, still shaking when things really make him nervous), etc. I see VERY clearly that he is now again vulnerable due to his age. And nowwwwwwwww I get it.

All those behaviors weren't based on anything but that-vulnerability. I don't know the right word for dogs for vulnerability-fear seems to be too much a label type word. I really think that feeling we can identify with more is that being left open to injury, to harm, to the unknown that the word vulnerable paints.

I go back and realize that all the things I did to build him up-all the positive obedience, agility, very controlled and systematically desensitized interactions with people-all the capabilities and competencies that he developed helped him so much more than the discipline did (though they wouldn't have without that foundation of positive based NILIF). All the ways I showed him I would protect him from the world, took away that vulnerability and allowed him to be the best he could be.

So now, we start again. I am going to try to make sure he lives these last years out feeling as confident and as good as a dog like him can feel.

Aggressive dogs (without the fear) are also "vulnerable" to a world that they think is out to get them-and they can get them first. So it all goes back to showing them over and over that this is not the case. And the other part is-if the world does come to get you, they have to get through me first!

You can do this. I basically made a treatment plan for him based on my work as a counselor. Think of how you break things down in your profession, making small tasks happen without stressing systems-I would imagine! But you can definitely do it. Think of who he is and what he is about-he's not a logic puzzle or a pushbutton thing that goes from point A to point B. He's a thinking feeling being or animal and when you get to that level of communication with him it will flow.

You can do it! not sure if you've ever wandered around her site...
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Heyas Diana!
I totally hear ya. Know all those great "work gradually up to distractions" ecersises? NOPE! We live in a highrise in the German version of downtown Manhattan..
so I relate to what you are dealing with, with Renji. But, you have several big plusses here: You have the support of a good trainer, I did not. This trainer sounds like she can really help bring out the best in this dog, as well as helping him overcome his issues. Like everyone will be telling you, this will make you a better handler (annoying way to do it, huh!) and this will be the BEST dog you have ever had. (you will absolutely begin to believe that a year from now)

I hate Haltis and Gentle Leaders. But BOY do they help in reactivity situations when it is a temperament issue!
Someone 'splained it to me like this: Think of the prong, or any tightening collar-- it grabs fast to a vulnerable body part.. the throat! If you were a reactive dog, and weren't already tense walking with your handler in an iffy situation.. you would be with a prong or choke on! YIKES!! Double-creepy.... reactivity trigger >AND being grabbed by the throat? Yikes! And with workingline dogs and some other dogs.. it totally escalates any "gonna getcha" aggression.

Yes, this is a long road. But you have a supportive trainer, and despite issues, a QUALITY dog under there.
Think of all his good points.. now envision them being ENHANCED by training and classes and being able to live your life with him as YOU envision it.
This is do-able. You can do this! Genetics is tough to override, but in time, the dog developes different default behaviors in stressed situations. It takes time. You can do this, Diana. I believe in you.
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Thank you all for the encouragement! Jean, I totally agree on the vulnerability thing. Looking back, I can pick apart all the things I've done wrong, but can't worry about that, just have to look to the future! I've gotten good tips about how to deal with interactions that I'll put to use. Kramer's gorgeous, btw. What a looker!

Since class, I've been more conscious of being calm. When he bolts out of the crate for potty (and I don't blame him for that), I used to just nab him and collar him, but I am now doing a new approach- he must sit of his own accord and hold still. If he moves, I stop putting on the collar. Took him a bit and he was getting quite nervous, but we had success. Then came door opening time. He had to sit calmly, and as soon as he did, I praised him and out we went. He actually walked better on the leash this way than if I ordered him around. Same as at the street corner, although he stood for a looooong time before sitting. But before, where I usually had to remind him to not forge, you could tell he was making the effort to control himself. Brilliant! Last night he DID forge ahead but what I did was wordlessly turn around and walk the other direction, he self-corrected on the leash, then I turned around with him in line with me. Had to do this once more but on the second time back around, he watched me closely. A big step forward, I'd say.

The biggest hurdle for me will be keeping MYSELF calm. Everyone tells me I'm bigtime a Type A and if you see me at work, I'm like a racquetball in a court that's been shot out of a cannon- bouncing all over the place at ridiculous speeds! This dog will either be my worst nightmare (if I allow a Big Mistake to happen) or the best thing to have happened to me (breaking down both our barriers and achieving a title or even a CGC). One day at a time.
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Diana, you can do it!!! I agree with Jean, look at some of Suzanne Clothier's books. I read Bones Would Rain from the Sky and it changed my outlook on training, on me as a trainer and my relationship with Gracie. I am much more relaxed with her now. It was a life-changing book for me. Good luck
and keep us posted.
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Diana, find your Zen. Then, share it with Renji. Think of the calm, relaxed, no-nonsense leaders in your life. Didn't you always feel so safe with them? Nothing bad could happen to you by their side, you just knew it.

Chin up, deep belly-breathing.. this will all work fine. A super trainer is supporting you! You are NOT alone with this. Look also at all the tools you have in your toolbox, if you have an open mind: training, guidance from folks here on the board who have been there, different tools such as the Gentle Leader, all the super books out there on working with dogs with issues, and even therapies such as TTouch, Bach flower homeopathy, anything. You have a LOT of options awaiting your use with Renji!
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hi diana

on your renji. sorry i didnt know about him sooner.

i know you are very knowledge about dogs and especially the GSD
and i dont doubt your ability to be able to apply the things that will best fit your situation, all in good time.

just to get me caught up, how old is he and how long have you had him? also, what are his issues?

im not really sure what renjis problems are but this may help you anyway... something i learned some time ago working with forrest is that when i say very little and just slowing things down it makes a world of difference to his state of mind. its calm-assertive energy that really does make the difference [a wonderful lesson i learned from cesar milan and with my last trainer].

and you do need to give yourself alittle more credit here, you got some help and you have learned alot about dogs and their behavior beforehand. its just going to take some time to see clearly how it all applies to your situation. you have made mistakes and probably will make a few more along the way. but WHO hasnt??!!! your open mind will make all the difference to your boy and the relationship you have with him, so lighten up!

as you work with renji your skills will improve and so will your comfort level handling him. you are learning together. but you are also building/strengthening your bond during the process and there will come a time that you will be the one he trust more than anything or anyone, that will give you more control over his behavior.

as you get frustrated so will renji, as you get angry so will renji, as you get silly so will renji, as you get excited so will renji, as you build confidence so will renji, as you are calm so is renji, as you succeed so will renji. you get my point?

and just one more thing, if you would feel more comfortable and confident handling him with him being muzzled around others being you live in a busy area than why not use one? keep in mind i dont know for sure if his issues are aggression, and if so how much, so im apologizing in advance if im way out of line with this suggestion. but i feel it would make you more relaxed than without it during those would be tense situations. and if you feel better and not on edge it would help renji a great deal.

best of luck to you both!
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Sorry if I missed previous posts, but how old is Renji.

Your last paragraph mentions high end breeders, and despite being a rescue guy I still lean toward the good breeders even for a companion dog, like mine. Was Renji adopted from a high end breeder or not. And if so what type of temperent were you looking for.

As for the lady, if you are confident in her, stick with it.
Quote:The biggest hurdle for me will be keeping MYSELF calm.
By George, I think you 'got it!'

It's always about the handler having confidence. Dogs read determination and confidence (and, yes, with practice - you can fake it). Once you fake it a few times and see that it works, the confidence will be rooted in reality.

Just watch my DH - much stronger than me - try to handle Jack and Sofie... NOT! And he is not shy about calling me in to take over.

If the muzzle will give you comfort, give it a try.

It always helps me to remember that I'm taller than the dog. LOL - that has to count for something, right?
Been down and out for a bit now. Shortly after I made this post, Renji fell ill and then so did I. He's fine, I'm fine, just minor ailments. He's been to the vet and I haven't justified a visit for myself, but either way he's been resting and I just haven't been in the mood to deal with anything. Now let's see if I can answer some questions.

We think he's now close to two years of age but when he got him nearly a year ago we were told he was the age then what we believe he is now. All we know is that he was found wandering around Orlando dragging a busted tie-out. A trainer found him but looking back, she did not keep him at home with her dogs and when she took him out she did caution us to ignore him until he relaxes. Since then, his behavior has been progressively getting worse. Training is getting better insofar as he knows commands quite well, but the behavior is not. He's not pure GSD, but looks to be an even split GSD x chow.

Quote:as you work with renji your skills will improve and so will your comfort level handling him.
Right now I feel it's the opposite- I'm less comfortable handling Renji the more he shows me about how he sees the world. I try to do what my trainer advised to take him out when no one's around and find quiet places to work with him slowly, but it never fails that a dog or a person pops out of the woodwork and then he immediately tenses up, and not in a fearful way. He reacts with aggression, that is his first response. What was I looking for in temperament? A dog that could be included in activities as a member of the family. Now when my fiance and I want to take a walk, either we must be hyper vigilant with the dog and be very careful what we do and where we go (and it turns into a stressful chore rather than a relaxing time) or we leave him at home. That's not how dog ownership should be. The dog shouldn't be left at home when going somewhere dog-friendly or even dog-encouraged, nor should he be stowed away when guests come, but that's what happens. Hopefully we go back to training this week if both of us are healthy.

Don't get me wrong, he is great when it's just "his bubble" and not the world. He is awesome at tug games, outs beautifully on command, allows me to take the tug when I let him win; he can do long distance sits and downs with voice, hand signal, and whistle signal; he seems like he'd be a good tracker (I've tried scent pads with him and his nose is down the whole time); he will focus FOREVER if he thinks you have his toy; so yes there is an awesome dog in there somewhere, however he does have this very serious problem. And he has a Type AAA owner which certainly doesn't help.

And if I whine anymore, a cheese shop will spring up next to me.
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You are assembling all these wonderful tools to work with Renji and I hope that it makes sense to you to continue with him. I just wondered from your last post whether you have used an additional tool:

Originally Posted By: DianaM he will focus FOREVER if he thinks you have his toy
Can you take a toy with you on walks when you might encounter a strange dog or person, stop the walk the moment Renji tenses and then whip out the toy? You've probably tried this, but he seems to have a really strong drive you can use.

Mary Jane
Originally Posted By: MaryJane
Originally Posted By: DianaM he will focus FOREVER if he thinks you have his toy
Can you take a toy with you on walks when you might encounter a strange dog or person, stop the walk the moment Renji tenses and then whip out the toy? You've probably tried this, but he seems to have a really strong drive you can use.

Mary Jane
You posted this before I could. Have you walked him with his highest valued tug in your pocket for redirection? He sounds sharp, but focused. Maybe accentuating his positive attributes will be able to control his negatives.
He doesn't focus for his prized toys nor food if a big distraction is out there. If the distraction is far enough away and I run around with him (on leash so he has no choice but to run with), he'll distract for a bit, but not enough. Plus, I can tell he still retains a tense side while playing and this is not something I reinforce (see threat, assume the aggression, get playtime, get rewarded). This is also something my trainer advised against. She said for him, the best method would be for him to place complete trust in me and give up on making all decisions. Indoors though, he is completely focused on us. Outdoors too, provided there are no distractions. I have tried working him around distractions but as soon as he notices them, he goes on full alert.

What exactly he does is he sees a threat, he stiffens up, goes tiptoe, tail goes up, ears up and forward, head up, stares, and then he hackles at his neck and if he's real pissed, his butt hackles too but never his back. There is nothing that says fear in there, he is ready to rumble and even looking to start it.
This was one of the first things my trainer pointed out, his response even surprised her. And this was just when I walked up to her with Renji and shook her hand- she didn't even say hi to him or acknowledge his presence in any way.
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Did she say you have to divert his attention onto you immediately? Even before he acknowledges the distraction? His attention should always be on you. At least thats what I have been learning with Rosie. And she can be very stubborn and will NOT look at me! Then she will look for only seconds, and sometimes we finally get it and sometimes the distraction goes away before I finally get her full attention. In class it takes about 15 min to get her focus when we first get there. Even then if we do a set of obstacles too many times she loses interest and tries to run to one of the other dogs.
Keep working on it though and you can do it. I know you can because I am and I am not a type A, forceful person by nature.
Diana, I would highly recommend reading Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt. It's chock full of exercises to deal with dogs with issues, retraining their emotional responses to triggers, and deepening their connection with their owner. She competes in agility and teaches agility classes, but everything in the book would pertain just as well for companion dogs.

It won awards as the Best Dog Training Book of 2007, Best Dog Sport Book of 2007, and Runner up, Best Dog Behavior Book for Owners of 2007 from the International Institute for Applied Companion Animal Behavior. I can't say enough good things about this book. In it she refers to Dr. Karen Overall's (she runs University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's Behavior Clinic) Protocol for Relaxation, a 15 day series of exercises as a foundation for behavior modification.

I started it a week ago in preparation for Keefer's Control Unleashed workshop next weekend, and I have to admit, I was a skeptic. It starts out SO easy - the first few days we were doing things I had done in their puppy classes, and then gradually we work up to things that will be VERY difficult for them, such as remaining calm and relaxed on their mat while I open the front door and ring the bell. But already I'm seeing differences - they are more calm and relaxed in public places like the brewpub, the cats are acting differently towards them, and even last night when I dremeled their nails Dena was less twitchy when I handled her paws. If you're interested, PM me your email address and I'll send it to you.
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Mary, we didn't get that far yet except to seriously work on focus. We definitely need to work on it more outside, though.

Cassidys Mom, sent you a PM! I've also finally ordered the Gentle Leader. Still can't believe I plunked down $17 for a halter that belongs on a horse, but hey, if it works and helps, you betcha I'll be preaching that fact and singing praise of the thing. Fitting it on him is going to be such a trip- we'll probably BOTH need a beer after that!
Before anyone comments, I know that I am to put it on, praise/click/treat, then take it off a kerbillion times a day for a couple weeks before attempting to actually take him on a walk wearing the halter. I'll pass on the bucking bronco.
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Sent you the RP stuff. Even if it doesn't help at all (and I think it will) it certainly won't harm him. She recommends you go through the whole 15 day program in several different places in your house, and then outside, and also that everyone in the house does it. I know my hubby won't, so I just make sure that he's going to be busy for 15 or 20 minutes so he's not barging in and out of the house while I'm working with them.

My house isn't big enough to do it in several different rooms, but I'll probably do it in the backyard, and I want to eventually do it with both dogs at the same time after I finish working with them separately. Right now I crate Dena in another room while I work with Keefer, and then switch dogs.
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