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  • Writer's pictureMcKenna Caskey

Molly | Pitbull Mix | Redondo Beach, CA | In- Training

Meet Miss Molly! She is a 1.5 year old Pitbull Mix from Redondo Beach, California. She has joined OffLeash SoCal's Two-Week Board & train program to work on her obedience, but more importantly, her reactivity issues— she lunges at children (making light-contact on a couple occasions), and towards other dogs (failing a temperament test at doggie-daycare). She is a rescue from Mexico that has been in her "furever" home for only three months and has an unknown background. She has scars from being attacked when she was younger, so her reactivity may be fear-based.


She doesn't know, or isn't reliable with, any obedience cues in public, although she heels semi-well with her owner until she is triggered. She comes to OLSC knowing some leash manners, as well as car manners and food manners. During her dropoff, Molly both jumped and nipped at me— the first instance was rather uncalled for, and seemed like a redirection of frustration due to the father and son playing catch in close proximity. She has redirected at her owner in similar situations also. The contact was soft, but she went into a mouthing frenzy for a little while after it happened, which were all soft, and seemed playful, yet excitable and uncontrolled.


She is a sweet dog that is easy to handle, but definitely needs work on coping with situations without entering a reactive state of mind. Our aim at OLSC is to condition a well-balanced dog who remains neutral to stimuli, and who can be a safe, upstanding citizen within the community. Above all, we want to help her owners feel comfortable and confident with their dog, and allow their son to have friends over without being worried of Molly's reaction.

Stay tuned for her 14-day transformation!

 

Pupdate 4/2/2023

I spent some time getting to know Molly at George Washington Park in Anaheim after her owner dropped her off. Molly is a sweet girl who allowed me to touch her paws, ears, and mouth— however since she has a history of lunging and making contact (even though it is light and non-damaging), I wanted to keep her in my presence before heading to the car and my home. Despite being between two playgrounds and a number of happy, screaming, and running children, she did not bark or lunge like she did before while her owner was present. She seemed more concerned about where her mom went. This situational reaction provides hope that the behavior can be corrected. She did not perform any obedience cues while we were at the park, except for the occasional recall, which she swiftly left upon getting to me. Molly did react intensely to lizards as we were walking, and was difficult to recall or redirect.


Molly was a good girl on the drive home, however she did get carsick— which her mom warned me about.


When we arrived to my home, I introduced her to my yard and gave her an opportunity to go-potty, have some water, and adjust to the new environment. Afterwards, Molly was fitted with a prong-collar and a basket-muzzle (which allows her full range of her mouth to pant & drink) as I began introducing her to my full-pack of 5 other dogs. I started with my personal dog, Krüger, as he is a very confident yet friendly dog when greeting other dogs. Molly was very tense, and growled at him. Her owner cautioned me that she is more intimidated by larger dogs, and at 100lbs Krüger is classified as a ‘giant’. Molly did ‘snap’ at him, but this seemed more communicative rather than an attack (albeit a bit harsh since Krüger was casually sniffing her, non-excitably). She was introduced to the two doodle ‘brothers’ after Krüger, both are rather ‘unsocial’ and prefer their distance from other dogs as well— when they approached Molly, they understood her wanting space and avoided confrontation. Molly was then introduced to the cocker spaniel, which is excitable/anxious around dogs beyond her ‘circle’, and will usually respond with a nervous-growl when approached. For the most part, I allowed Molly to express her discomfort about dogs approaching her and being in her personal space, but if she went too far with corrections, I would correct her behavior with a leash-pop and “hey!” Since the majority of the dogs I currently have in my home prefer space with other dogs, and Krüger was respectful of the boundaries set by Molly, she was able to comfortably mingle on her own terms.


My parents came by my house after the intros with the 4 other dogs, and she responded well to them. Molly did get worked up while Chance & Felix (the doodles who knew my parents well) got excited to see them, and Molly was provided a correction. The behavior may stem from trying to dominate/control the situation & environment, however it is my duty to display leadership and let her know what is unacceptable. It is okay for her to express insecurity, however she cannot correct, or over-correct, a dog that is simply walking by her without engaging her or greeting her in an appropriate and non-imposing manner.


The first day at my home during Molly’s board & train program is centered on her settling in to her new environment, and me setting boundaries and leadership that will carry on throughout her two weeks with me. It may take her a few days to decompress within the new environment, however it is important to establish rules. Introducing her to so many dogs at once is considered immersive or ‘flooding’. I choose this approach to establish a baseline quickly.

 

Pupdate 4/3/2023

Molly and I went to River View Park in Santa Ana to work on her obedience. She was fitted with an ecollar so that she can get used to wearing it, however we focused mainly on leash-pressure to help guide her through new behaviors. She was also fitted with a prong-collar to help with the process and to provide additional correction for behaviors such as lunging on the leash towards children and small animals. The prong collar distributes pressure evenly around the neck, preventing it from being focused on one area (usually the trachea with a flat collar or chain collar).


We started off with the cue “heel”. Heel requires Molly to maintain position and pace with me, where she stays close to me on my left side with her ears/head in-line with my leg or slightly behind. If Molly would move ahead of me or start to veer out of position, I would turn around abruptly. If Molly didn’t focus back on me and change directions with me, she would get a natural correction as she got to the end of the leash. When she gave me her attention, got back into position, or maintained position I would give her verbal praise and/or affection. She was a very quick learner, and heel has been something she’s worked on with her owner. She did fight me on the leash occasionally during heel, but was very good for the majority of the time we were walking.


Molly was also introduced to the cue “sit”. To teach sit, leash pressure would be applied upwards— as the head goes up, the bottom goes down. As soon as her booty hit the ground and she got into the “sit” position, I would provide her with the marker-word ‘yes!’ simultaneously as leash-pressure was removed. It took her a while before she began performing the behavior, and she fought the leash pressure considerably— ‘climbing the leash’ and even nipping at me. Eventually she started getting the hang of it, and was later able to perform sit with only a visual/verbal cue as leash-pressure was weaned off.


Once she got into the groove, I began implementing “extended sit”. At OLSC, we do not teach the behavior ‘stay’, as it is implied with all of our behaviors (sit, down, place) that the pups are supposed to remain in the requested position until directed otherwise— either via asking for a new cue or offering them their release-word (‘break!’) which lets them know that they did a good job and are granted free-time to do what they’d like. I would gradually increase the duration of the behavior, each time she was successful, she would receive a marker-word and positive reinforcement. If she broke her cue early, she would be guided back to the same spot/position, and I would decrease the duration before offering her the release-word and reinforcement. It is best to set our dogs up for success when we are working together, so if something is challenging, it is up to me to alter what is expected so that the dogs can better understand what is being asked of them.


Molly was also introduced to the obedience cue “down”. There are many ways to teach this behavior, however Molly learned it best by offering the verbal cue (‘down’) as I maneuvered her front legs forward, guiding her body down. As soon as her elbows touched the ground, I would mark and reinforce the behavior. She was much more accepting of learning this behavior, and was comfortable with me touching/moving her front feet. The same process of extended-sit was applied to “extended down”.

Molly fixated on a couple children that were walking by with their dogs, however the intensity was not as drastic as yesterday.


Molly got carsick on the way to the park, but not on the way home. I held off on feeding her breakfast until after the training session so that she wouldn’t have as much contents in her stomach, and was able to retain all of her meal once it was offered.


Since Molly has been a bit unpredictable around the other dogs staying with me, she wears the basket muzzle when she is interacting with other clients’ dogs. If she is mingling with my personal dog, she is okay to have the muzzle off. At one point, I was tossing a leftover bit of my dog’s meal over the fence to a crow (they enjoy meaty-leftovers), and Molly ran up on me and attempted to nip my forearm. Since the other dogs were in the yard, she had the muzzle on and was not able to make contact. 99% of the time she is a very sweet dog, but every now and then she’s got a “Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde” vibe.

 

Pupdate 4/4/2023

Molly and I returned to RiverView Park to continue our work on obedience training. In addition to practicing heel, sit/extended sit, & down/extended down, Molly was introduced to the new cue “place”.


 Place is where we ask the pups to go to a definable object (elevated bench/cot, dog bed, post it note, etc) and remain there until cued otherwise. The dogs are allowed to go into any position until they are cued for something specific. I typically choose down, as this is a more stationary position. To teach place, I would simply walk up to an elevated object, offer the visual (open palm facing upwards and gesturing to the object) and verbal cue (“place” or “go place”) and use gentle leash pressure to guide Molly onto it. 


Molly is offering sit cue more readily with just the visual/verbal cue, however she does sometimes needs a bit more guidance. We are slowly adding distance and duration to sit & down. 


She has not lunged/nipped at me so far today, and typically meets me with a ferociously wagging tail, although a bit nervous at times. She was well-behaved while she was with Krüger in the yard, and is responding better towards the other dogs while she is muzzled. Her prey-drive is also very manageable, and she will calmly watch the birds and squirrels as they eat from the feeders/ground in my yard. 


I am continuing to apply neosporin to her back leg 1-3x per day (average of 2) to help with the hotspots she arrived with. 

 

Pupdate 4/5/2023

Molly practiced her obedience cues at home for her breakfast— each time she received the marker word ‘yes’ for completing a behavior correctly, she would get a few pieces of kibbles. Positive reinforcement conditions dogs to enjoy training and feel good about working with their handlers. We continued adding duration and distance to her extended sit/down/place. 


Later in the day, Molly and I walked to TeWinkle Park in Costa Mesa that is located right outside my neighborhood. TeWinkle is a lot larger and busier than RiverView Park, with more distractions such as dogs, squirrels, ducks, geese, children, and things like bicycles and scooters. 


Molly wore her prong collar, and she was introduced to low-level ecollar stimulation paired with leash pressure. When practicing heel, I would keep a short (yet loose) leash. As Molly got out of heel position, I would tap the ecollar remote and guide her back into heel. Once she was in heel, both pressures would be released as she got her marker-word paired with praise. 


If Molly fixated on something, she would receive the the verbal cue “off!” paired with a leash-pop. “Off” is her cue to leave whatever she’s focused alone and pay attention to me. Once I’ve regained her attention, she receives a marker word and praise.  We walked by several children, and practiced extended place & extended sit next to a large group that were running around nearby. She did not react, and seemed mildly interested at best. 


We practiced place on many different objects, including small rocks, benches, and picnic table seats. She is doing much better about holding her cues, but will sometimes lay down when asked for sit. To correct this behavior, I apply gentle leash pressure upwards until she pops back into the appropriate position. 


Molly is settling in much better to her temporary home, and began to play with Krüger today!! She was a bit overwhelmed by him, and would scream, nip, and hide however she would resume play behavior shortly afterwards. She had a blast, and Krüger took her insecure corrections well. I feel much more confident having her around the other clients’ dogs now that I have seen her play, as I know her unpredictability with the dogs is anxiety-based and without mal-intent. 


Her reactivity towards children may stem from a similar mentality, where she is anxious but wants to play. We are still working on her excitability towards me, which manifests in jumping and play-biting, however she has not nipped me ‘out of the blue’ since Monday. 

 

Pupdate 4/6/2023

Molly and I practiced her manners and obedience for her breakfast again today. We worked on her previous cues including sit, down, and place, and Molly was introduced to a new cue “come-to-sit”. For come-to-sit, Molly must not only recall, but she additionally has to loop around my right-side, around my back, and sit in a heel position in line with my left leg. This is a very complex behavior, and many dogs struggle with it in the beginning. To  teach this behavior initially, I used a food-lure to guide her through the motions. After a baseline understanding is met, lures can be continued, or leash pressure may be used to help maneuver her through the process. Molly loves working for food, however we aim to wean dogs off of this method, as food is not always available when we need our dogs to do something (so we condition them to work for praise and affection). 


In the afternoon, Molly and I went for a walk around our neighborhood. She did not wear the prong-collar today, and instead we tried to work on ecollar conditioning. Her heel was very good, but she did break position a couple times. When she would veer ahead or to the side, I would cue “ah-ah!” (a corrective sound to let her know she isn’t doing something quite right, then pair low-level ecollar stimulation with the verbal cue “heel”. If needed, I would guide her back to position using the leash. Molly was non-reactive to the other dogs and adults  we saw, however she did react towards a toddler. Typically when she sees a child and fixates (ears perked up and staring them down) I will cue “off!” with a mild ecollar stimulation. If she barks or lunges, I will provide a higher level stimulation that mirrors the intensity of her reactivity. I’m addition to avoidance, it is important to let her know that the behavior of lunging is NOT acceptable. 


After her walk, a new boarding dog joined my “pack” for Easter weekend. He is a super friendly dog, but very high energy. I let him play with Krüger in the yard for a while to get his energy somewhat tamed, then I introduced Molly to the mix on her ecollar. Molly was quick to join in on the game of chase, following Krüger’s lead. The three played well for a while, but then Molly became overstimulated by the interaction and became a little too intense for the other dog’s comfort. I gave her the verbal cue “off!” paired with ecollar stimulation, and for each time she failed to listen I would increase the ecollar stim by 3-5 levels. Eventually we found a number that she responded to, and then she was put in an extended down to settle herself. 


Since she had such a busy day, we performed our evening session in the yard. Our focus was on responding appropriately to ecollar stimulation and using leash-pressure as needed on her flat collar. We ran through all of her obedience cues, but she needed help with come-to-sit (which is to be expected for a newer behavior). She was a bit of a pill during the evening session, and would fight the leash pressure (moving the opposite way of where I was trying to guide her and/or climbing the leash to nip or jump on me). When she would be defiant, I would keep pressure on the leash until she stopped and calmed down. 

 

Pupdate 4/7/2023

Molly and I went to Huntington Beach Pier and Main Street to meet up with a couple other OLSC trainers and their dogs. It was very busy, with street vendors on both sides of PCH, some big event happening on the beach, and full parking lots. There were large crowds—including children (it is Spring Break for grade schools this week)— other dogs, bicycles, skate boards, music, and many other distractions and stimuli. Although Molly appeared to be calm on her exterior, I think she was overwhelmed by all of the commotion. When we first arrived, she performed her obedience well. She would heel on the leash with minimal corrections, perform extended sit & place for great durations of time and was non-reactive.


In the middle of the session, the other trainers and I were talking about training and the dogs. One of the trainers had a family member and her friend accompany them to help with filming for their dogs’ final videos. Seemingly out of nowhere, Molly lunged towards that trainer, his family member, and the friend (both late teen/early adult girls), barking at them. I was quick to respond, and since there were many children running around Molly was on a short (but loose) leash. Molly received a hard leash-pop correction before getting to them, and was put into an extended down. I was facing the other trainer, but he said that Molly was just casually looking up at the trainer she lunged towards before the incident happened. The trainer may have been waving or moving his arm when it occurred, and similar motions seem to be a recurring trigger to Molly’s reactivity. 


As time progressed, Molly’s obedience and demeanor deteriorated. She began to refuse cues, particularly down & come-to-sit, and began to protest by jumping up and nipping me when I would attempt to guide her. We took several breaks in the shade and moved to the less-crowded boardwalk, and towards the end of the session she regained some level of biddability. We ended on a positive note, and heeled back through Main Street to the car.  


Some dogs reach their threshold, or limit, quicker than others. With all of the bustle in this environment, Molly was overstimulated and had a harder time coping. We will continue working on her obedience in lower-distraction environments for the next few days, and slowly increase them as Molly becomes more desensitized. 


Molly decompressed hanging out with me and the other dogs in the yard after the challenging session. 

Later in the evening we practiced her obedience cues for her supper, getting a few kibbles as reinforcement for each correct behavior. 

 

Pupdate 4/8/2023


Molly and I returned to TeWinkle park to work on her obedience. Today we walked there using a long-line (15ft leash) so we could add distance to her extended cues and practice weaning off leash pressure. We practiced all of her cues, and she performed much better than yesterday. 


We stayed near areas where there were less distractions, and places where she wouldn’t run into triggers— although she heeled passed them just fine. 


Since we had tried so hard to get into “down” yesterday, Molly was a bit over-enthusiastic about the cue today, and repeatedly went into that position when asked for a sit. To correct this, I would apply leash pressure upwards to help guide her back into the correct behavior. She also had a habit of wanting to break cue and come to / follow me when practicing distance cues at times. 

 

Pupdate 4/9/2023

Molly did her routine obedience practice in the morning for her breakfast, focusing on not going into a down when asked for sit, and since it was less distracting, learning sit-from-down to help aid her in correcting her mistakes. She is much more inclined to learn new behaviors (and work on previous ones) when there is food rewards involved. To teach sit-from-down, leash pressure may be used, however with food-lures, I would simply hold a kibble at her nose while she was down, and slowly move it out of her reach. She is catching on, but still needs more work with this new behavior. We also worked on home manners, including door manners, food manners, and car manners. 


With food manners, Molly is expected to wait patiently for her meal, and wait for her release word (break!) before going to her bowl and eating. If she went to her bowl too soon or broke her cue, I would give the verbal correction “ah-ah!” and body block her away and back into her cue (typically a “place & down” on a dog bed). During car manners, Molly has a habit of jumping up into the tailgate too soon (immediately after I open the trunk), so we worked on sitting patiently and waiting for the verbal cue “load up”. If she jumped up too soon, I would offer the corrective phrase “ah-ah” and guide her back out. Door manners was practiced on a longline, just in case she decided to book it out of the front door, but for the most part she waited calmly on the cot and waited for her release word. 


Molly and I went for a walk around the neighborhood today to practice heel in the afternoon. 

 

Pupdate 4/10/2023

Molly and I went to Pearson Park in Anaheim to work on her obedience training around fellow OLSC trainers and their dogs. Molly was on a longline and her ecollar, and performed her training well, however she still needs work on come-to-sit & not going into a down when asked for a sit. Both sit & down are becoming more reliable on just the verbal cues, but I will also pair them with a low-level ecollar stim to help bridge an association between the stim and working. 


Molly hesitated to perform “place” in the beginning of the session, but would readily jump on benches once she became more familiar to the environment. Challenging Molly to try new things is a great way to help her build her confidence. Molly also struggled to maintain her extended-distance cues a bit when I would walk away. She is fantastic with duration cues, however me moving away from her still seems to trigger a bit of insecurity. 


Molly did not react towards any of the people or dogs we encountered during our session. She casually walked up towards one of the other OLSC dogs when asked for “come”. Although she was neutral in her approach, we do not want to reinforce her walking up on distractions without permission. Molly was told “off” and “come” three times— the first two times were at a lower stim, however after gradually increasing the stim, the 3rd one was a mid-level correction as she got fairly close to the dog while not responding to me. She responded to the correction by running back to me and sitting at my feet (which is perfect).


Molly has been interacting with the other dogs well, and really enjoys playing (especially chase-games). She will incessantly lick Krüger on the mouth, which is a submissive gesture. He tolerates it for a while before getting annoyed and pinning her in a corrective manner (his signature move).

 

Pupdate 4/11/2023

Molly and I returned to Pearson Park to meet with other OLSC trainers and their dogs again. We practiced all of her obedience cues, including a “pack walk” to get the dogs familiar with walking next to other canines in close proximity. Both the other dogs are new to their training program, so Molly had the upper-hand in the exercise and was a good model for them to observe. She maintained heel wonderfully on a loose leash and kept good engagement with me. She is getting better about not breaking her extended cues when I move away from her— but still needs some reminders when I am walking away from her with my back turned (like when we are heeling). 


The other trainers attempted to ‘trigger’ Molly by waving their hands around, however she didn’t react. This is both good since she didn’t react and bad since I didn’t have anything to correct in the controlled setup. In the upcoming days, I will begin bringing Molly to environments and stimuli that may create reactivity in order to correct behaviors and teach her that the reactive behaviors are not okay. It is important to get a foundation on training before performing extensive exposure training. Molly has been performing well in low-distraction environments and we can begin to ‘up-the-ante’ in regards to stimuli. 


I continue to do training sessions with Molly during mealtimes to help build a positive association with training, both on and off the ecollar. She has become a bit defiant about going onto the ‘place-cot’ in my home since it moves and teeters sometimes when she jumps on and off. To counter this, Molly is jackpotted with kibbles thrown on the cot when she jumps up on it— who doesn’t love jackpots?


She is beginning to read Krüger’s verbal and nonverbal communication better when he is fed-up with her mouth-licking him, and will back-off momentarily when he growls. This is a more appropriate behavior for her, and is great that she’s beginning to understand the language of her fellow canines better. 


My parents came by the house today, and Molly was fine greeting them, albeit a bit too excited, so we practiced greeting manners as well. 


In addition to added distractions and exposure, the last days in her training will be spent on polishing up her obedience and manners, as well as differentiating her cues more effectively. 

 

Pupdate 4/11/2023

Molly and I went to Petco in Costa Mesa for her training today. Petco provided an increase in new stimuli and distractions, while still not being overwhelming for Molly. There were new scents, people, other dogs, and new noises. Molly was a little cautious initially, so we walked around the store practicing heel while she got her bearings and adjusted. 


There weren’t many objects to practice “place” on, so we focused on extended sit & down with increasing duration and distance, as well as come-to-sit and heel. Molly did not react towards anyone or anything while at the store. If she looked at something too intensely or for too long, I would cue “off!” and bring her focus back to me. 


Overall, Molly is doing much better with her training, however it can be a battle between ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’ in terms of her engagement when out of the home environment. She is jumping & nipping less, however she can be a bit obstinate during some cues or during various portions of training. Some of the time this may be due to her reaching threshold, while other times it may be due to defiance. 


 

Pupdate 4/13/2023

Molly had an epic day! We hit up Santa Monica Pier for her training today;  it was super busy with a ton of new stimuli—something that would really challenge Molly and her obedience. When we first arrived, we hung out where it was quiet and practiced extended-sit (since she is still prone to going into a down with duration-sit) and come-to-sit (since she lolly-gagged while she was behind me to smell things). She was fantastic with the number of people who passed us. We practiced extended-place & extended-sit on some of the benches towards the front of the pier; Molly did well, but fixated on a young child with a red baseball cap. When I saw her fixating, I gave Molly the verbal-cue ‘off!’ paired with a mid-level correction (~level 25). Ecollar stimulation must match the intensity of the dog’s behavior— and since Molly has a history of nipping children, I would bump up the stimulation level when they were around. I do not want Molly to associate this stimulation with the presence of children, so she was only offered this level if she fixated. 


Molly has a tendency to ‘freeze up’ when provided mid-to-high level stimulation, varying on current stimuli and environment— if she is ‘worked up’, 25 might be considered a reasonable low-level stimulation. If she gets to the point of freezing up, I would ‘reset’ with a crouched-down break, and start whatever exercise over again. Typically with OLSC obedience, we increase ecollar stimulation level by 3-5 with each subsequent time the pup doesn’t follow-through with an obedience cue. With her ‘freezing’ it is best to attempt verbal/visual cues and resetting after a few increases in ecollar level have been provided. 


We continued down the pier. Molly became a bit flustered when we were surrounded on all sides by a crowd, but responded by veering slightly ahead and attempting to sniff people’s hands. During these instances, I would give verbal cues “ah-ah!” “ off” followed closely with “heel” to get her back into position. Ultimately, Molly did very well and did not react towards a single thing— children, joggers, dogs, and a plethora of candid humans in close proximity. 


I was very pleased with Molly’s performance on the pier and brought her with me to a client’s routine walk after we drove the long 1.5 hours back from Santa Monica to Irvine. Kona has been a regular walking & boarding pup for 5.5 years. She is tolerable of other dogs, but doesn’t particularly enjoy interacting with them beyond a quick ‘hello’. Molly maintained and extended-sit after a quick correction when she first got out of the car with Kona present, and walked politely next to her afterwards while showing a mild interest early in the walk. I decided to drop Molly’s leash, and she performed a beautiful leash-dragging heel for the 1.5 miles we ventured together. During the afternoon on a school-day, the neighborhood and park were pretty quiet, so I felt confident in attempting her “offleash” walk. 

 

Pupdate 4/14/2023

Molly spent the earlier part of the day working for her breakfast. We focused on come-to-sit positioning as well as increasing movement by me during her extended cues. She spent the afternoon playing with the other dogs and soaking up the sun.

Later in the day when children were home from school and parents were home from work, Molly and I headed back to TeWinkle Park. The playground is usually quite busy this time of day, so it was a good opportunity to work on Molly’s obedience around children, increase her exposure to remaining calm and working around them, as well as potentially correct any reactivity.


Molly walked with her longline dragging on the way to the park and when we were at a distance from the children. When we got closer, I would hold onto the end of it, or at a reasonable length in case she lunged. Molly did not react, however she was a bit perturbed when a child would scream wildly. For exposure and desensitization, we would practice extended cues at a distance and slowly move closer as she maintainer her focus and cues. Molly was a bit defiant about offering cues when we first arrived at the playground, but got into the swing of things as time progressed.


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