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Zola | Labrador Retriever | Los Angeles, CA | In-Training

Meet Zola, a nine-month-old Labrador Retriever from Los Angeles, California! She's here with us for our One Week Board and Train Program, where we will be working to improve her obedience and manners. This very sweet and playful pup has some general knowledge of a few basic obedience commands, but she is easily distracted by her surroundings and often struggles to maintain focus or follow through with what is asked of her. She loves people and other dogs, but often gets overexcited when around them which leads to some poor behaviors. She tends to pull on the leash while walking, and loves to jump up on people, steal food, and listen only when she feels like it. Over the next seven days, we will be working to improve her manners, patience, and obedience to set her on the right track to becoming a well-behaved pup! Stay tuned for her transformation!


Pupdate 1/21/2024

Zola and I spent the day bonding and getting to know each other after her pickup! We spent some time at the park together, and I tested her knowledge of basic commands to gain an understanding of what her starting point will be, as well as get an idea of what areas we may need to focus on in her training going forward. We worked to begin developing a trusting relationship between us, which will be important for her training going forward. She seemed happy to meet me and explore around the park with me, though I noticed she was quite easily distracted by her surroundings, which seemed to impede her ability to listen or follow through with what was asked of her. She seemed to enjoy her time at the park very much, and even had a few bouts of "zoomies", where she ran around in the grass getting some of that extra energy out.

Zola was sometimes able to perform Sit when asked, though despite having an understanding of the command, she often needed to be asked several times before she followed through with it, if at all. When she eventually listened and sat, she was typically quick to lose focus and stand back up or walk away after a couple of seconds. She was able to Come when called sometimes, though again despite her understanding of the command, she often chose to ignore her name and the recall command the first several times she was called, especially if she was distracted. She seemed to understand Down somewhat, but more often than not she completely ignored this command when asked, as she was too excited to stay still or relax. Zola appeared to have some understanding of the Place command, and was able to climb onto a few low objects around the park, however was always quick to jump right back down and did not seem interested in staying stationary. She was also pulling on the leash a lot and veering off in different directions as we walked, and didn't seem very interested in performing the Heel command. She often had her nose glued to the floor while walking, which shows her interest and focus was fully on her environment rather than her handler.

After we had spent some time testing her knowledge and bonding, we jumped into our first training session! We focused on introducing her to the e-collar, as well as working on Come to Sit and Heel. The e-collar will be an important tool in her training program, as it will allow for effective communication without needing to constantly use the leash to communicate. By pairing the e-collar stimulation with leash pressure, we can teach her that these two forms of pressure mean the same thing, allowing them to eventually be used interchangeably. The goal for Come to Sit is for Zola to come when called, approach her handler's right side, circle around the back, and finish with a Sit facing forward on the left side. She is then asked to hold this Sit until released with "Break", or given a new command. This ensures she not only comes when called, but also that she remains stationary until told otherwise, which will be a common theme among all of her commands, as they each come with an implied stay. The Come to Sit maneuver when completed in its entirety also sets her up to be in the perfect position to begin walking in a Heel! The goal for the Heel command is for Zola to walk nicely alongside her handler on their left side, without pulling ahead, veering off, or falling behind. Her job during Heel is to focus on her handler and follow their lead at all times unless told to do otherwise, so we don't want to allow her to glue her nose to the ground or otherwise become distracted by anything around us. Zola started out struggling a bit with these commands, but as time passed and her energy levels were more manageable, she seemed to have an easier time focusing and learning! She caught on fairly quickly to what is expected of her for these commands, and seemed to respond well to the e-collar as well! We will continue working on these commands every day to help her become more reliable and consistent with them!

Towards the end of the session, Zola started to noticeably tire out, as she started lagging behind for Heel, and often wanted to plop onto the ground to rest and lie down whenever she was asked to Sit. This was a good point to call it a day, and head home from the park. Zola had no trouble jumping into my car, but she wasn't too keen on entering the kennel in the car, and did need some physical guidance to get her inside but she didn't resist and walked right in once gently guided. At home, she quickly settled in and made herself at home. She happily ate her meal when offered, although she did try to jump on me and rush to her food as soon as it was visible, which is something we will work on! After eating, she had a much needed nap, then later in the evening we went for a walk with my personal pup, a senior standard poodle named Star! Zola was very nice to Star, but was a bit overexcited as she wanted to play a lot. Star was happy to play for a bit but quickly got tired and wanted to enjoy a calm walk the rest of the way. Zola struggled to leave Star alone, and needed to be kept at a distance from her so she wasn't constantly overexcited. Overall Zola seems to be settling in nicely, and is doing very well for her first day of training!


Pupdate 1/22/2024

Today Zola was introduced to the Down and Place commands. We also continued working on her other commands, Heel and Come to Sit. We started the training session at home and around my neighborhood, which not only helped us avoid the worst of the rain today, but also provided a quiet and calm environment to promote learning. There weren't many distractions out in the neighborhood today, as most people were inside staying dry. Once she had been introduced to the commands and was doing good work with them in the quiet environment, we headed over to a local Home Depot to test her commands around distractions while staying out of the rain. The Home Depot was fairly busy, with plenty of distractions present all around the store. There were groups of people walking around, a few other dogs, plus noisy carts, machinery, and other loud sounds throughout the store.

Zola did seem a bit overwhelmed by everything when we first arrived at Home Depot, and seemed to be feeling a bit nervous and hesitant about performing commands in the new environment. She even refused to take any treats during the first few minutes, which shows just how nervous she was feeling, as she usually loves food! Before jumping into the training session here, I spent some time with her in a slightly more quiet area of the store, offering her lots of reassurance, pets, and praise. This seemed to help her feel more at ease, and after just a few minutes she was back to her excitable, wiggly self and was no longer feeling as nervous. She did however begin to become distracted by various things around us once we started training, such as smells on the floor, people passing, and sounds nearby. These were all great opportunities to work with the Off command. The Off command is similar to "leave it" or "no", and will be used when communicating to Zola that we want her to stop whatever she may be doing, and focus on her handler and her training. It can be used to interrupt and discourage any unwanted or inappropriate behavior in any situation, such as jumping on people, eating or sniffing things she's not supposed to, staring or fixating, or otherwise becoming distracted by anything. It is helpful to follow up the Off command with another command afterwards, for example while walking she can be told "Off, Heel". This helps to not only interrupt the undesired behavior, but provide her with an alternative behavior to perform instead. Consistently discouraging poor behaviors with Off can help to reduce their frequency of occurring when combined with praising her for the good behaviors! She has caught on quickly to the Off command, and seems to understand what is expected of her when it is used.

The goal for Down is simple, we want Zola to lie all the way down and remain there until released or given a new command. While being asked to perform Down, we want to discourage her from rolling around or onto her back, as we want her to instead stay still in the proper Down position. Place is also a simple but useful command, where the goal is for her to jump or climb onto an object with defined borders, such as a bench, a bed, or other object, and remain there in a stationary position until released or given a new command. Her duration for both of these commands can use some work, as she was a bit impatient at times and would try to stand up after around thirty seconds even with minimal or no distractions present. Whenever she broke the command before being asked, she was immediately returned to the position and no reward was given. Doing this consistently reinforces an implied stay, and shows her that to get what she wants, she needs to focus on holding the position asked of her, and that she cannot get up whenever she feels like it. We kept the duration pretty short for today's training, to keep it fun and rewarding for her, as every time she held it until released she was given lots of praise to communicate the job well done! Zola did very well with her training at home, and was very focused and quick to catch on to the commands. When in a quieter environment, she seemed to recall her previous training and was able to perform both Down and Place with ease! She was able to Place on dog beds, on a chair, and on a dog cot all with little to no hesitation or guidance needed. She was comfortable with performing both Sit and Down while on Place objects without issue. Zola was also able to perform Down anywhere around the house or neighborhood, including on the floor, grass, sidewalks, etc. At Home Depot, Zola was a bit more distracted as expected but overall did such an amazing job with her commands! The Off command was effective in helping her to refocus when needed. She did well with the new commands of Down and Place anywhere around the store, and was able to reach around thirty seconds of duration consistently, without needing any physical guidance to help her into position. Her Come to Sit was also pretty good, however she often needed consistent guidance from the leash to get her to come all the way to me and circle around in the proper maneuver. She also did a wonderful job with Heel! She understood not to pull on the leash or try to leave my side once the Heel command was given, and generally she seemed content with following my lead as we walked past all sorts of distractions with a loose leash. She did struggle with keeping her nose off the floor at times, but with consistent reminders this behavior did lessen significantly. Zola also impressed a few people with her obedience skills, and got to say hello to some of them! She was a bit wiggly and excited, but did manage to hold her Sit without jumping on anyone while being pet, which was so great to see! We've been making sure to practice this at home as well, by discouraging jumping with Off, and not rewarding or acknowledging her unless she is calm with all four paws on the ground. Zola will need some more practice before she can be fully trusted to not jump on people uninvited, but today she did some great work!


Pupdate 1/23/2024

Today Zola and I took a walk to a local park, where we practiced all of her commands around different kinds of distractions. The walk there was along a busy street which provided plenty of distractions along the way, and the park itself had plentiful distractions as well. There were lots of small animals such as birds and squirrels, as well as other dogs, small children, bicycles, and of course many interesting smells around the grass. Overall despite the various distractions around, Zola did a pretty good job staying focused and seemed to enjoy her time here a lot!

She was tempted to sniff the grass during commands from time to time, but generally seemed to understand not to glue her nose to the floor or let it completely distract her during training, and knew to save this behavior for break times! She also was interested in the small animals and other dogs, and often wanted to stare at them if they were nearby. For the most part, the Off command was very effective in breaking fixation, encouraging neutrality around distractions, and helping her to stay focused on her training. There was one moment however when we were practicing Heel and she saw a dog zoom past playing fetch nearby, which caused her to become very excited and a bit less responsive to the Off command than usual. She play-bowed at the other dog, left the Heel position, and pulled on the leash with all her strength in an attempt to run over and play. I could tell this was friendly but overexcited behavior, judging by her happy wiggly body language, but it is still never appropriate to pull on the leash or ignore commands no matter how excited she may be. The Off command needed to be asked a few times until she snapped out of it, each time paired with increasing levels of stimulation until the communication was effective. She quickly realized this behavior was not going to be rewarding, and pulling on the leash was not going to mean she would get to go play. She was able to return to the Heel, and carry on ignoring the dog without any more outbursts, for which she was heavily rewarded to encourage the behavior we DO want from her.

Apart from this one minor pulling incident, Zola did great with her Heel. For the vast majority of our visit, she was walking beautifully alongside me with a completely loose leash, rarely needing any reminders or adjustments to her positioning, even as we passed by distractions. We practiced making lots of turns and stops, which further encouraged focus on our positioning and engagement with me. Whenever she did need to correct her positioning, she was able to do so quickly and effectively once the verbal cue was given and paired with a very light e-collar stimulation, without seeming to rely on the leash very much if at all. Zola also did well with her Come to Sit, and was able to perform the command and maneuver with very minimal physical guidance needed, sometimes without any at all. She seems to be more interested in coming right to me when called on the first ask, which is great to see! Zola also did some great work with her stationary commands today. We spent some extra time working on Zola's duration for Sit and Down, and with a bit of practice she was consistently able to hold both of these commands for at least a minute! I also practiced moving around her and creating a bit of distance, so she can become familiar with staying still even if her handler is being distracting or moving around. Zola did struggle with some of the Place objects we practiced with today however, so we needed to take some time to focus on building up her confidence with Place. Yesterday, we used very simple, low, and easy-to-reach objects, such as dog beds, cots, and wide, flat benches. Today, we attempted Place with some more complex and challenging objects, such as thin picnic table benches and other kinds of benches. She showed significantly more hesitation towards jumping on these objects, and needed a lot of reassurance and guidance to help her up. She often resisted leash pressure, and sometimes even needed to be physically placed onto the object a few times before she realized it was not so scary after all. After a few repetitions and lots of praise, she seemed to get over her fears a bit and was much more willing to perform Place on these objects. We kept the duration for Place with these tougher objects on the shorter side today, to focus on building her confidence and positive association with Place.


Pupdate 1/24/2024

Zola and I visited a local shopping strip today, where we practiced all of her commands. This environment provided a variety of distractions to test her focus around, including groups of people, other dogs, and car noises from the busy nearby street. Overall Zola did a great job of staying focused, and seemed to be quite confident and calm despite the new environment and busy surroundings. Upon first arriving, I gave her some time to familiarize herself with the area by sniffing and looking around which seemed to help her feel more at ease. Once we began training, she did sometimes become distracted by her surroundings from time to time, particularly when passing by restaurants or interesting scents along the sidewalk, though she was able to refocus when given the Off command. Apart from the occasional distracting scent, Zola seemed to have no trouble ignoring most distractions, including other dogs, people, and loud cars as they passed by. She did get spooked by a set of automatic sliding doors of a store we walked past the first time she saw them, but with a bit of reassurance and a few more passes by it, she quickly got over this little fear and no longer was freaked out by it, able to walk right past without any issue!

Zola has continued to make great progress with each of her commands, and was able to follow through with everything asked of her today. We spent some time focusing on improving her ability to hold stationary positions for extended periods of time when around distractions. With practice, she was consistently able to hold Sit, Down, and Place for about a minute and a half today, even while distractions were present around her. She seems to have gained a lot of confidence with performing Place also, and when prompted she was able to jump onto many kinds of objects today without hesitation. As always, we stayed consistent in ensuring she remained in the position asked of her until released or given a new command before getting up, and rewarded her for patient and calm behavior. We even stopped by a dog friendly restaurant along the shopping strip, where Zola sat on the patio with me for a quick lunch. Overall she did such a great job here and was very calm and focused on holding her stationary positions. There was another dog at a nearby table, but apart from a few glances in its direction she didn't pay much attention to it, and understood that it was not the time for excitement or play. She did try to beg for my food at first, but by asking her to perform and hold the Down position, this behavior quickly stopped. At no point did she try to steal any food which was good!

We also continued to work on Heel and Come to Sit, both of which she seems to have a solid understanding and reliability with at this point. Whenever the verbal cue for Heel was given, Zola was able to find the correct positioning at my side and understood to remain in that position until told otherwise. Her positioning did sometimes need to be slightly adjusted if she began drifting off a bit, though she did not try to pull on the leash or completely leave the position once the command was given. She was able to walk alongside me with a completely loose leash for nearly the entire time without seeming to rely on the leash to guide her. She did a great job with Come to Sit also, and was very responsive to the verbal cue anytime it was given. Upon hearing the command, she always came directly to me regardless of what was going on around us. She also seems to be more familiar with the maneuver to my left side for a Sit, and was oftentimes able to complete the command in its entirety with little to no physical guidance. She did sometimes sit slightly out of position, though when asked to correct herself she was usually able to adjust herself without needing the leash to guide her.


Pupdate 1/25/2024

Zola and I visited an outdoor mall today, where we practiced all of her commands around distractions. This location had a variety of common public distractions, such as groups of people, other dogs, children playing, food, loud music, and more. Despite the distracting surroundings, Zola was able to maintain excellent focus and was able to perform all of her commands without becoming too distracted by anything in particular. Whenever she did become slightly distracted, she was able to refocus once given the Off cue. Overall she seemed calm, happy, and eager to practice her commands. There were also a few nice people who wanted to say hello to her while we were here, and she was definitely excited and wiggly while being pet, but she understood not to jump on anyone, which was great to see! She seems to be understanding now that jumping is not a polite behavior, and will not be rewarding for her. I've been staying very consistent about not letting her jump on me or anyone else, and giving her lots of love when she has all four paws on the ground, which discourages the bad behavior and encourages the good!

As we walked around various areas of the mall and inside of stores, Zola was able to follow along very nicely in the Heel position, and rarely needed the leash to guide her for this command. I gave her plenty of loose slack on the leash and despite the physical freedom to veer off or walk ahead, she understood to stay right next to me. She did a great job of sticking beside me even as we walked past other dogs, through crowds of people, and past interesting smells and sounds around the mall. She also was very reliable with her Come to Sit, and was always quick to respond and come right to me anytime she was recalled. She didn't seem to have much trouble with the maneuver to my left side either, and was quite consistent with her positioning for her Sit. On occasion, she would sit slightly out of position initially, but she had no trouble correcting herself when asked without needing the leash to guide her.

Zola also did a solid job with each of her stationary commands. She did very well with Place today, and was brave and confident about jumping onto the variety of objects we practiced with, ranging from different kinds of benches to big rocks. She sometimes needed a gentle nudge with the leash when practicing with a new object for the first time, but after she did it once she was able to do it without needing any guidance. She was able to hold Sit and Down, both on Place and while on the floor, for around two minutes rather consistently. There was one time however when she broke position before being asked, which I happened to catch on video. A man pushing a noisy trashcan on wheels walked by which spooked her a bit, causing her to sit up. She fixated on it for a moment and needed to be asked to return to Down a few times, but after a couple of seconds, she snapped out of it and plopped back into a down, seeming to forget about the scary trash can. We encountered the same trash can moving around a few times after this, and she did not seem to mind or react to it the way she did the first time.


Pupdate 1/26/2024

I wasn't feeling too well today, so Zola and I stayed home for most of her training today. She did get to go visit the local park for a while with my boyfriend as her handler, and she was a very good girl from what I was told! She got to run around and play fetch, and they practiced all of her commands on the walk there and around the park, and no issues were noted in her performance or behavior. During Zola's training at home with me today, we practiced all of her commands around the house, as well as worked some more on her house manners! House manners are an aspect of training Zola and I have been working on since day one, as even seemingly mundane day-to-day tasks can provide excellent opportunities for training! Setting up structure, encouraging good habits, and teaching Zola what is expected of her in different situations is key for setting her up for success. Some of these house manners include areas such as Food Manners and Door manners.

The goal for Food Manners is for Zola to be able to wait patiently in a stationary position while her food is prepared and set in front of her. She is then asked to hold that position until given the release cue, Break, before she can get up and eat. Food Manners were definitely a challenge for Zola at first, as she loves her food and is always extremely eager to dig in as soon as it's visible. This caused some impolite behaviors such as jumping on me, trying to grab or knock the bowl from my hands, and trying to push me over or through me to get to the food once it was set down. By setting clear expectations and rules to follow during feeding times, she quickly began to understand what behaviors were desirable and which were not. Now, she understands that if she wants to eat her food, she needs to be patient and polite, waiting for the cue to eat! She has also gotten a lot better with her impulse control overall, and understands to not go rushing for a piece of food if it happens to fall within her reach or vision. She can either be told Off to tell her to leave the food alone while it is safely picked up, or told Break while gesturing to it to allow her to eat it. This is good manners for her to have in general, but especially important if something non-dog-safe were to be accidentally dropped around her, as her first thought is to check in with her handler rather than rush to eat whatever it might be.

The goal for Door Manners is for Zola to hold a stationary position beside a door, and not leave that spot unless released or given another command. Even if the door is left open, people walk in and out, or there is a knock on the door, she needs to stay right where she is and not break position. This practice helps to establish important boundaries and teach Zola the threshold a doorway represents. It helps discourage behaviors such as trying to run out through open doors, jumping on people who enter the door, or other impolite and possibly dangerous behaviors. Zola struggled with Door Manners slightly during her first few days with me, as she knew the door meant going outside and having fun, which made her very excited and wiggly. With a bit of practice each day, she quickly understood the rules surrounding the doorway, and has developed amazing patience and calm behavior even when presented with exciting situations! I've even been able to have guests come visit, and Zola has been able to hold a position on a Place Cot near the door, allowing them all to enter without her rushing to them, barking, or jumping on them. Once a minute or so had passed and she was calmed down from the initial excitement of seeing and smelling the new people, she was able to be released and she politely and happily greeted each guest with kisses and tail wags!


Pupdate 1/27/2024

Today was Zola's last full day with me, so we spent the day putting all of her learned skills to use to have a great final day together! We started the day off by visiting an outdoor mall, where we practiced all of her commands and got some great content filmed for her final video! Be sure to check out today's video for a sneak peek! After the mall, we headed over to a dog-friendly café, where Zola joined my boyfriend and me for a nice lunch. There were different kinds of distractions present everywhere we went, and overall Zola had no trouble staying focused and on task regardless of our environment. Her biggest distraction today was probably my boyfriend, as she has grown quite fond of him over the past week and always wanted to play with him! For the most part, she understood when it was time to focus on training versus when it was time for play, but every now and then she needed a little reminder to stay on task when he was around.

Zola did a fantastic job with all of her commands while at the mall and while at the café. We practiced a lot of Heel at the mall and while walking down the busy street to and from the café. We walked through crowds of people and past all kinds of distractions. She was able to walk nicely alongside me with a completely loose leash for nearly the entire time anywhere we went! There were a few moments where she would veer off slightly, but she had no trouble falling right back into position when reminded, without needing the leash to guide her. While filming at the mall today, Zola was a bit distracted by my boyfriend holding the camera, so she sometimes needed reminders to keep her focus on me rather than checking in on him behind us. Sometimes she would sulk for a few moments when reminded to stay on task and not get distracted by him, but she was always quick to perk back up and tune into her training with me again. Zola did fantastic with her Come to Sit, and was always eager to come right over anytime she was called and was able to perform the maneuver without any physical assistance, even when recalled from distances of around fifteen feet away. Zola also did a great job with her stationary positions both at the mall and at the café. At the mall we practiced having Zola hold Sit, Down, and Place each for extended periods of time, all while tons of distractions passed by around her. I was even able to distance myself from her quite a bit without her feeling the need to get up and follow me, which is a great sign of confidence! She was also fantastic with Place, and confidently jumped onto any object I asked her to without any hesitation whatsoever. At the café, Zola was a very polite pup and calmly held the Down position by our feet as we ate lunch. She did sometimes sit up to put her head on our laps looking for cuddles, but she happily listened whenever she was asked to lie back down. She was able to hold the Down position at the café for well over ten minutes at a time, and seemed very comfortable doing so despite all the tempting distractions surrounding us. She did sometimes get a bit nervous when the workers moved the noisy umbrellas or chairs across the floor, but after she heard this a few times she realized it wasn't anything to worry about and was able to ignore it after a while.

Zola has made such an amazing transformation in this single short week, and the differences in her are truly night and day! She came to me with some knowledge of obedience commands, but struggled heavily whenever she was in a public place due to her tendency to immediately become overexcited, distracted, and overstimulated by everything around her. She has since learned to stay calm, focused, and neutral to her surroundings even in the most busy of places. Her confidence, patience, discipline, and overall manners have all improved so much! Zola also replaced many bad habits with polite behaviors, and no longer is a leash-pulling, jumping, food-stealing kind of pup! While she may seem like a whole new dog, she is still the same goofy, loving, and playful pup she always has been, and with her new obedience skills she is even more of a joy to be around and take with on all sorts of adventures! Zola has been such a pleasure to train and share my home with, and I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to help this good girl become the best version of herself! With her intelligence and eagerness to please, the sky is the limit for Zola, and I know she has a very bright future ahead in her continued training journey with her family!



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