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Stef | Red Nose Pitbull | Los Angeles, CA | In Training

Stef is a two year old Red Nose Pit Bull from Los Angeles, California enrolled in OffLeash SoCal's Two-Week Board and Train Program for general obedience and her dog reactivity. Stef has some prior training but primarily struggles with her strong reactivity to other dogs so it will be a process of shaping a strong obedience picture and then exposing her to dogs and other potential distractions until she is able to maintain that obedience without being so explosive in her behavior and breaking her focus. Stay tuned for Stef's transformation!


Today was just about diagnosing and dialing in on Stef's particular unique traits and behavior issues that she needs to work on. The biggest challenge for Stef will be her reactivity to other dogs. I've spent some time with her in public with dogs approaching at a distance and she is immediately distracted by them and unable to pay attention. Her lack of focus on the handler is step one for me as I am already showing her the basics if the e collar and asking her for obedience we can later use to shape the reactive behavior in a group training session. Her initial obedience is in need of some polishing and I am going to spend some time building her new focus and handler attention span so that she is better equipped emotionally to handle ignoring something as desirable as engaging with another dog.


Stef and I worked on layering the e collar and long line together to help form a clear picture of what I expect from her. I walk with the dog and when they get away from me either by going too fast or too slow, I change directions and apply a low level of stimulation on the e collar in order to communicate urgency and a picture of returning to my side when they no longer see me with them. We are aiming to produce a result of the dog looking for my leg or my body being present in their peripheral vision or to occasionally check by turning their head in our direction. The idea is the dog is taking the responsibility early on to keep track of the handler and learn the pattern of heeling in public with all of the potential hazards and distractions that the world contains. This also serves a second function of giving the dog a job to do when it otherwise wants to react to other dogs, investigate an enticing scent, be aggressive or reactive toward people on the street and etc. Giving a dog a strong foundation of obedience is the single most important element of training when we address any specific behavior issues. So long as I know that the dog has a strong understanding of the baseline rules and routines of life then I can be certain that when I am reinforcing my commands with e collar stimulation that the dog has a fair concept of what it did incorrectly and also has a roadmap on how to return to a calm collected mind state. The goal of the training for Stef continues to be reducing her reactions to other dogs but the first steps are building her obedience up and building our relationship so that when I put her in a situation where she might react I can ask her for the best version of herself and she will rise to the occasion rather than reject the experience entirely as foreign and unpleasant.


Stef and I continued to work on combining leash pressure and the e collar together to make a clear picture for later on when we subtract the leash away. We want the dog to have all of the directional information of a leash understood before removing it or they will struggle with the stimulation potentially and have difficulty making the self adjustments we are asking for with the remote. The concept of stimulation is to tug at the dog's shirt tails so to speak and get their attention so that when we do ask for a behavior they understand and recognize as being rewarding they will follow through with performing their task rather than be distracted or potentially self rewarding doing something that is less productive or even dangerous. Stef is actually a very sensitive dog and isn't reactive to other dogs from a place of confidence but rather overstimulation and environmental stress. I am going to be working with her around other trainers and their dogs soon so we can get to the bottom of what triggers her outbursts as well as work on reassuring her environmental discomfort by teaching her instead to pay attention to performing her obedience. Obedience becomes a place of refuge amidst so much chaos and misunderstanding. We are seeking to create an island of calm and relaxation in the routine performance of these behaviors so that when the unexpected occurs or an emerging situation evolves we have the exact tools necessary to respond in any instance. Being able to "sit" or "down" the dog to give them a task that also keeps them from jumping on people when a door is opened...asking the dog to "come" when play with a friend has become too long as the dog has a rock solid understanding of the obedience these commands offer endless opportunities to communicate and avert unwanted outcomes. Remember to practice with Stef every day at least for 15 minutes twice daily via a walk or a dedicated obedience session. During your walk you can practice the commands as you go. Sitting for street corners, placing on appropriate objects and etc. Be creative and have fun! Obedience is a big game and the whole point is interaction with the handler and dog. You are the reward! Pay the dog appropriately and she will want to work for you.


Stef and I worked on reactivity toward other dogs. We went to a busy area for dog walking and did obedience as dogs and people walked by. She didn't react a single time! If anything she was so preoccupied with being held accountable for obedience that she paid them no attention at all. She held a down and a sit for various durations with the leash at her feet while I was a good distance away. There were multiple instances of dogs passing while I didn't have the leash in hand whatsoever and she didn't react. Stef doesn't have a huge desire for food outside of her meals with me so I have been rewarding her primarily with my voice and physical affection. Stef is still getting to know me so her desire to work for me isn't huge just yet but I am confident we will continue making friends and find the common ground necessary to build the right motivation for reliable obedience. Currently Stef has a tendency to want to quit working and give up when she feels overwhelmed so I am trying to build her confidence as well as show her that these activities actually are mandatory and giving up isn't rewarding while following through is. Her primary problem is environmental stress and a lack of exposure to new places, people and dogs in the right context. Going forward I recommend taking her for walks structured around polishing and maintaining these obedience behaviors we are working on in order to provide her with a constant source of comfort and routine amidst a changing landscape of experiences. Provided she is having a rewarding experience and being told that she is doing the right thing WHEN she is doing the right thing, Stef will choose to make those right choices going forward. Her history of reactive behavior and aggressive posturing is almost entirely because of her poor confidence but the mitigating factor is handling and leadership. Stef needs to be kept under control not just for the sake of the world around her and the potential liability that a dog acting out can pose but also for her own wellbeing and mental health. She feels as if she has to defend herself because she doesn't have guidance to help her when she becomes overwhelmed by her feelings. This is totally normal and not something to feel guilty or insecure about! Everyone makes mistakes handling dogs and it's something that we can easily address just by incorporating the practice of these obedience behaviors into everyday life and learning the techniques and skills that I will train you in at the Turnover. If we aren't a step ahead of the dog's potential actions then they will do things that seem to be from "out of nowhere" but there is almost always a trigger that we can observe and then make adjustments.


Today Stef and I worked on place, her environmental stress and had an encounter with a loose dog. Stef's main issue to modify continues to be her anxiety in general. She is a dog who has a lot of trepidation about the world at large and benefits from exposure to new environments with the added structure of control. Allowing her to explore without any guidance results in the burden of leadership without experience or confidence falling on her shoulders. Her decision making needs to be based in the pictures and behaviors we are showing her in order to have the consistency to overcome new challenges without resorting to instincts and fear. Stef works for affection and seems to get along with me well but she has a resistance to working for much more than 10 or 15 minutes. She does carry some extra weight which could be affecting her endurance and mood as well. Having low energy can contribute to a low tolerance for unexpected challenges. There was a loose dog that ran up to us as we were working and Stef actually completely ignored him even while he was barking and growling at us. His owner escorted him away shortly but Stef's main concern was in working out an obedience problem. If we occupy her mind with a goal there is less of a chance to misbehave and a routine to return to when surprises do occur.


Today Stef and I worked on obedience at a shopping mall. There were crowds of people as well as other dogs. Again Stef has done well handling herself around other dogs! The reactivity we first saw is almost certainly a product of tremendous nervousness she feels naturally. She isn't a confident dog and that fear leads her to make poor interpretations of other dog's intentions. By giving her the structure of obedience and a guideline for appropriate behavior she is capable of coexisting with strange dogs. Today a strange dog came over and was inches away smelling her. The primary lesson to take away is that we can be doing more to build this confidence by getting practice out in public after she comes home but also there is the potential I may recommend only partial offleash capability because of the potential for her reacting in fear and finding herself in harm's way. I will spend some time tomorrow testing her on what she has learned already before making my decision but I wanted to mention that despite her knowing the obedience and being well mannered the way that animals react when they are truly afraid is unpredictable and it would be wise at least for some time to practice with a long line or another leash dragging so it is easy to collect Stef if she does break and want to escape whatever percieved threat there is. This doesn't mean she won't be trained or that she has failed in some way, only that we need to be fair to her unique circumstances and challenges and not ask her for something that could prove dangerous and irresponsible.


Today Stef and I worked on adding distance and duration to her obedience behaviors as well as to her door manners specifically. Holding positions in general is a skillset separate from holding positions at doorways. Dogs are often prone to rushing through entries and exits. You may notice Stef is more likely to break behaviors at the door so remember to practice every time coming and going to hold an extended sit while you step through first without her and then return to heel out together. Practicing this way makes coming and going together more comfortable and easy when we can ask the dog to sit while we bring our groceries inside and etc. An added benefit is that the dog won't run out the open door and run into danger or trouble. Stef being nervous does mean we have to be careful in our tone and remember to cheer her on and boost her confidence. Today I spent more time working on her dragging a short leash and she did very well. Tomorrow I will determine if I think ultimately it's safe enough to be off leash in general but today was a good indication so I am hopeful and confident. I am going to take her to the Home Depot and walk around with a light-weight leash dragging and see how she does. If she can handle that I think we can proceed with total off leash freedom.


Today Stef was able to work off leash consistently and responsibly. I think it will be safe to consider her off leash skills complete when she goes home as of now but I would still recommend spending some time working through all of the obedience and at distance with a long line to get a good feel for Stef's subtle signs and body language before going fully off leash in general. This being a first dog makes the transition a slightly more steep learning curve to overcome but the critical skill to develop is in observation. The tools to reinforce and continue the training will make sense and be explained but having a good feel for the rhythm of the dog's moods and emotions will help to enhance rewards as well as tell us what a dog is thinking, when it thinks it and why. While dogs can be deceptive when they are presented with opportunities and no clear boundaries, having a strong commitment to obedience enables us to trust that when a dog is refusing for one reason or another, they aren't just quitting being lazy. For example a dog that is trustworthy staying at your side on a walk wanting to lay down and not continue may be a cause for concern. But a dog that is constantly dragging and not wanting to work, refusing to work is just lacking in boundaries and needs to keep going. When working with Stef in public keep in mind her nervous nature and be a good lookout noticing danger or distractions before she does so you can guide her through it.


Stef and I worked on off leash skills around distractions today in a park with fellow trainers and their dogs. She did very well! Remember to encourage her a great deal as she is going to want to revert back to the old way of doing things when she goes home. The positive reinforcement along with consistency in the obedience will continue to develop her calm stable attitude around distractions and in new environments. She even said hello to a few dogs today! She did at one point give a mild correction to a dog getting into her space but so long as she is also giving space and not escalating beyond what you see in the video clip, you simply have to separate the other dog from her. She knows the rules and has good manners but it isn't fair or productive to subject her to other dogs being rude and we certainly shouldn't expect her to be giving any lessons to dogs either. In the moment a reaction like in the video is acceptable and natural but to avoid it we generally want to be proactive about choosing playmates and introductions to other calm respectful dogs taking a priority over dogs without social skills.


Today Stef and I spent some time working on obedience around lawn mowers and other gardening noises as well as making her "place" command more solid and reliable. Stef generally handles environmental stress better than when she first arrived but it is important to expose her to new and different levels of stress in order to acclimate her and show her she can be comfortable regardless of her surroundings. Keep in mind that she is already doing a great deal of work when she maintains her obedience in a new setting so have an expectation that she will be more enthusiastic and fast in her commands as she gains experience. She will sometimes hesitate or feel uncomfortable following a new command while in the middle of another so make sure to praise and encourage her effort as well as the final result so she feels motivated to make the right choices when presented with opportunities. Our goal for Stef is to maintain this healthy progress and continue to let her full potential reveal itself with careful guidance and consideration. When she goes home we want to make sure the boundaries are still reinforced and with that as a guideline give her the room to make mistakes and learn and grow.


Today Stef and I worked on building her confidence around new distractions at a hardware store. She experiences some hesitation when she is presented with a lot of new information so it is important to encourage her a lot and be willing to show her the right answers if she does freeze up. Anything in dog training is meant to better the dog's understanding and confidence with the behaviors, so intervening when the dog is struggling should be an option to consider if you find she really doesn't understand. Simply reset the dog and give her an opportunity to try again. We want to reward effort every bit as much as the final picture for Stef so that she makes the connection more immediately that her behavior directly results in tangible rewards that she can reproduce with success over and over. Remember to try again if you have any set backs and end on a good note.


Today Stef and I worked on obedience around the house while I did some cleaning and picking up. While she maintains an extended place/sit/down we can bring groceries inside, answer the door, have company over--the practical side of training is the entire point of the specific behaviors being constructed the way they are. We ask for a place and designate an area the dog can relax out of the way safely but still be included. Remember to practice all of the obedience out and about but also at home. We don't want the home to be a place where all manners are shed. There is certainly a time and place for relaxation and enjoying a pet even with obedience and rules. If you want to pet your dog and have them on the couch with you, just make that part of a "break" from obedience. Ask for a sit or a down etc before releasing them with break onto the couch and then give them some attention. Making the association of free time being directly related to work time and also work time extending everywhere and not only away from the house helps the dog to find balance on their own. They won't seek to avoid stress as frequently and instead learn to process it. For Steph I would encourage as much confidence building as possible but also with respect to her natural personality we don't have to force the dog to be something she isn't happy being. We are aiming for 1 percent improvement every session and if give Steph patience and the right kind of encouragement she will continue to grow and feel more comfortable anywhere regardless of the surroundings. Today she was a little nervous initially as I was going back and forth cleaning my place but eventually she settled in and took a nice nap. She can soothe herself and settle down but only if we encourage her and don't allow her to retreat to her old habits that she used to mask her discomfort and anxiety. She's more honest in her feelings now but that means we need to respect her and develop long term trust around mutual understanding and cooperation.


Stef and I filmed her Final video at Santa Monica Pier today. She navigated new levels of distractions and was able to maintain her good obedience despite feeling stress and discomfort in the large crowd. She was able to handle her own emotions and didn't react to any dogs or anything at all. When she returns home it is important to keep exposing her to distractions and new stressors but keep in mind the everyday level of distractions won't be as intense as places like the pier. Stef has grown a lot in the last few weeks and we should be very proud of her ability to manage stress but do keep in mind if she resorts to any old habits we simply need to work the obedience and reward her with praise and affection for all of her good efforts. The skills we will go over at Turnover will be the best way to work through any hiccups and develop a better understanding of one another.


Today I spent some time doing obedience with Stef and rewarding her with big jack pots so she stays motivated. When we work the dog we want to use "good" to maintain obedience and "break" to release from obedience first into a big rewarding game of play and interaction and then allowing the dog to wander a bit and sniff and go to the bathroom. Of course the same rules/manners apply in play and should the dog react to a passing person/dog/bicycle etc while in the excited state of playing we need to first attempt to communicate and give them a command such as "off", "heel" or "come" in order to redirect the dog away from a potential entanglement. We have baked into the obedience the resources to overcome most obstacles your dog will face and it is a matter of utilizing the entire tool kit at the appropriate moments. For "break" I like to use the game of play to enforce in the dog's mind that obedience is ultimately just a prelude to a fantastic reward. This excitement can then be immediately channeled back into obedience behavior. The pattern of command-good behavior-break and play-command again will channel the energy of excitement and joy into motivation for the work itself. Remember to use your voice and be encouraging! It should be fun moreso than frustrating and when you find the dog is struggling sometimes the best option is to get one good repetition in and then break to a big reward before putting them away to rest, reconsider and then try again later. Good luck!



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