Three weeks ago, I took Carlin up to the Academy. January 9th, it was. A Saturday. I left him there, and I came home.
When I left him, I hoped they could succeed where I had been failing — helping Carlin feel comfortable while he’s on leash. I wanted (and want) him to not have to worry about being attacked out of the blue. And if he does start to see and then react to something that worries him, I hoped that he would have a quiver of other behaviors that I could ask him to do instead of worrying.
You see, about four months prior, Carlin was viciously attacked by a Malamute, a big dog, twice his weight and at least half again his height. Physically, Carlin was wounded, but not badly. But mentally, he began to worry every time I took him out on a leash. When I took him to Obedience lessons, he worried about the other dog in the room. And if another dog got too close on a walk or in the obedience building, Carlin would lunge and bark.
Carlin was obviously scared on our walks, and I was scared too. Left untreated, behavior like this can be (or at least become) very dangerous. To Carlin, because lunging and barking could incite another dog to attack. To me, because I could get pulled over.
So I sent Carlin to the Academy, where they have a controlled environment, experienced trainers, and a wide variety of dogs to practice around.
Friday was my first visit with Carlin since I left him at the Academy. It reminded me very much of our second visit to Cooper during his stay at the Academy almost 7 years ago.
I sat quietly on a couch in one of their training spaces, while Amanda took Carlin through his paces. I got to watch, but she asked me to sit still and not speak. I’m a good student, so I did my part, while I observed Carlin ace a variety of commands: sit, down, wait, stay, let’s go, and right here. Carlin did a great job following all those commands, even though he was in a confined space with a string of other dogs working around him.
Then the tough test: Off. He made the wrong choice on this at first. He was led over to me, told to sit, and then I was asked to say, “Good sit.” At the sound of my voice, Carlin lost his self control. All he wanted to do was throw himself into my arms. This was so like Cooper in that long-ago visit. Cooper shook so hard with his attempt to follow the sit command. He really tried, but finally, just like Carlin, he couldn’t help himself.
Finally, after several corrections and reminders to “Off” and “Sit”, Carlin regained control of himself and sat. After just a few seconds, Amanda released him, and I stood up and gave the command he really wanted to hear: “Hugs!” Carlin threw his whole body into my arms, back legs scrabbling on my thighs, front leg wrapped around my neck, tongue licking my face (and glasses), ears, neck, and hair, and back to my face.
We were both so happy to see each other.
Then we went outside, where a bunch of other dogs “just happened” to be, and I put him through all the exercises that Amanda had demonstrated. I made my share of mistakes — the biggest one was using the leash correction on him while repeating the command rather than using the correction together with the “No” that should precede the repeated command. I have homework this week to help me train my reactions to time that stuff correctly. But the thing that made me happiest, was that Carlin did not seem to resent the corrections when I gave them correctly. He seemed to react as if my corrections were reminders rather than any sort of punishment.
After we were done with my practice session, we went inside again, and I was told to put Carlin in a down-stay for about 10 minutes while the trainers took a break and did some paper work. In the picture below, you can see him nested up against my legs, staying in his down-stay. A few minutes after this photo, he turned over onto his side in the shelter of my legs, and went to sleep.
So this week, I have my homework and I know Carlin will have his. I’ll get to see and work with him again next weekend.