Well, the award for worst blog starter in the world goes to me! In all the craziness of adopting Rocky the reactive rescue pup, I had trouble finding the time and motivation to write about everything that we were experiencing. I'll just give you the cliff notes to bring you up to speed, but I'll address many of our more specific adventures and misadventures in later posts.
Our most pressing behavioral challenge from the start was escalating barrier reactivity problems. In the beginning, it didn't seem all too severe, but as time went on things began to worsen, rather than improve. Fortunately there was never any true aggression involved in these behaviors, but the episodes were alarming and difficult to manage. Throughout the first few months of working with Rocky, I harbored a somewhat narrow minded, and therefore inhibited, view of behavior modification training. I focused solely on positive reinforcement methods, researching techniques and studying video intently in order to find something that would get my me and my dog on the same page. During that time, we evolved from occasional episodes of reactivity during leashed walks and across barriers, to intense reactions to EVERYTHING. We reached a point where we were unable to walk more than a house or two down from our front door without severely aggressive displays towards anything from people walking by to slowly passing cars. If we even smelled another dog, forget it.
It was at this point that I came to terms with the fact that we were in serious need of reevaluation and help from a professional trainer. Before adopting Rocky, I had been working to become a member of a local search and rescue team with a canine unit and had received a glowing recommendation from their lead handler for a trainer named Jody Potter, who works out of Proformance K9 in Marion, NY. I still had my doubts about so called aversive methods, but went into our first session with an open mind, and was so glad that I did. Within the first few minutes of observation, she fitted him with a prong collar and began showing me the ropes on how to properly reinforce our training with it. The experience never felt negative or angry and was followed by heaps of reward. Within minutes, Rocky was exuding only enthusiastic focus on the tasks at hand. I will never forget her voicing her opinion that the trending "purely positive" dog training movement was "positive bullshit." Though I strongly believe that there is much to be learned from almost every trainer, the difference in the relationship between me and my dog after introducing adequate correction into the equation certainly speaks for itself in that regard.
Since our sessions with Jody, our relationship truly has blossomed. Even with the introduction of these new techniques, the training took a ton of time and effort. We still have our moments of frustration, but walks now look more like bonding than a battle. Over the past few months, we were able to climb our first four Adirondack high peaks, go camping with friends and other dogs, pay a visit to a local bar's outdoor section, go for runs in the park, and cheer on AJ at a busy 5k race full of new people and dogs. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for the training magic Jody performed on us, it truly was lifesaving.
There is still so much room for improvement, but our training is progressing exponentially as we are able to gain greater exposure to different situations. It definitely hasn't been an easy journey so far, but we are learning so much from each other as we go, and I can't wait to see where our next misadventures take us!
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