Sammi's amazing handler Diane contacted us in mid May looking to do some private sessions to work on Sammi's reactivity to people and dogs. This team has been an absolute pleasure to work with! I was blown away when I met Sammi for the first time as her obedience commands are something to be commended. Sadly, often when I meet little dogs out and about their manners are lacking due to the fact that a lot of owners allow smaller dogs to get away with things they should not such as; jumping, nipping and not listening in general. This definitely was not the case with Diane and Sammi. Having this skill set gave Diane a head start in working on Sammi's reactivity as they already had a good starting bond.
In just 4 sessions I have seen a drastic improvement in both Diane and Sammi. Each session has been an hour long and 2-3 weeks apart to provide lots of time to work on the skills learned each week. We have found that often with reactivity it is a fine balance between teaching the dog what we WANT them to do in scary or unknown situations and correcting for inappropriate behaviour. Once the dog understands both options it becomes up to them to make good life choices and us to help set them up for success in making them. The first two sessions were heavily focused on teaching Sammi how to properly act and to build Diane and Sammi's relationship more. It was about helping improve focus and engagement while establishing Diane in more of a leadership role. The next two sessions we went out and applied what we had learned around different new dogs in a stimulating environment. Key points here were picking a location that would allow us to find Sammi's threshold and work just inside the distance that caused her stress. Our last session we changed up our tools from a harness to flat buckle collar, adjusted our verbal correction marker as Sammi has become desensitized to the previous one, and added some space claiming activities. We also did a drill with Diane intercepting an oncoming handler/dog to help begin to show Sammi that her reacting was unnecessary and that Diane had things under control.
Sammi has gone from being a dog that instantly began barking, doing what I call the "pug scream", and lunging at the sight of new people and dogs across the park to being able to walk past them side by side on a sidewalk with very limited verbal and leash correction. We still have work to do but I have to give a huge congratulations to Diane for all the work she has been putting in on her own time to help get Sammi over this. One of the big things, aside from her work with Sammi, was her own personal homework. One thing that tends to be common in any handler with a reactive dog is a sense of anxiety and helplessness. The handler knows what is coming and it can be nerve wracking and even embarrassing. Diane’s personal homework was to take a nice deep breath when she saw a trigger coming or when Sammi begins to react. By starting to remain calm herself she is able to become a leader Sammi respects and trusts and if Diane is not on edge it helps Sammi to settle back down or not react in the first place.
Congrats again Diane! You have done amazing work with Sammi and I can’t wait to see where we go from here. It truly has been a pleasure working with you guys and it makes my heart happy to hear that your walks have become more enjoyable and that Sammi is interacting appropriately with new dogs and not reacting.