Let's Try This Again

I know I've said it before: I'm nothing if not persistent. Ner (the family's affectionate nickname for Nelle Rhea Stewart, my step great-grandmother) drilled it into my head:
If at first you don't succeed
 try, try again.

So, I knew we had to give Abbie's puppy training another try. I realized this as I was standing at the kitchen sink, washing the blood off my arms in preparation for spraying my newest wounds with Bactine. I also knew I'd rather be beaten with a stick. Sigh.

What? That sweet little (almost 50-pound) puppy? 




Vicious?? Say it ain't so!

Back in late July, we signed Abbie up for Puppy Training at our local PetSmart. I met with the trainer and explained how skittish she was around other people...how we couldn't even take her for a walk around the neighborhood because she tried to (a) lunge at people who just wanted to "meet & greet" or (b) run away if another dog was anywhere in the picture. And although Abbie is as smart as a whip, she is so possessive of everything (toys, food, us, the Bassets...it's all HERS...and she will use her teeth to protect what is HERS!)...and doesn't seem to be bothered by any form of correction...other than a spritz of water from a spray bottle. He was understanding and assured me that was "no problem." All dogs can be trained. Right.

Our first class night was like a bad dream. Abbie and I got there early and got a spot in the back of the class "ring," far away from the entrance. Abbie barked at every new classmate's entry and every movement toward her "spot," and then growled almost constantly for a solid hour. One of the other pet-parents (and I use the term lightly) thought he knew best, and continually encouraged his chocolate lab puppy, Jack (a really cute, high-energy 4-month old) to "touch noses with Abbie. Just let them get to know each other!" The trainer was fantastic and did his best to keep control of the situation, but I've never been so glad to escape a building in my life.

Here is the picture I sent to Mr. T when he texted me "So, how did class go tonight?"



To be fair, we did accomplish two things in that first class. The trainer helped me identify our goal for Puppy Training: "help Abbie develop socialization skills." Works for me! And, since part of the training depends on "marking good behaviors," we got Abbie started on responding to a clicker...which she took to like a duck to water. 

Now, the way you provide positive reinforcement is to give a command (like "Sit!"), and then click the clicker {click, click}, followed by a verbal reward ("Good girl!") and a treat. Sounds pretty straight forward, right?

Only...I discovered I'm not nearly as coordinated as needed to (1) hold Abbie's leash (so she didn't try to make a mad dash outta the class into the store), (2) give the command, (3) click the clicker, and (4) fish a treat out of the little Baggie hidden in my pants pocket...all at nearly the same time! Dropped the leash, dropped the clicker, and dropped the treats. Sheesh! 

Then, when practicing at home (a must, according to our trainer), I discovered that "they" are wrong: you can, in fact, "teach an old dog new tricks!" Both Duche$$ and Elmo realized early on that every time that little clicker sounded {click, click}, the new puppy got a liver treat. They wanted in on this action! Don't get me wrong...they didn't want to do the actual commands...they wanted to cut to the chase! So, whenever we attempted to practice commands with Abbie {click, click}, we had a lineup for the rewards. 

Somehow or other, I made myself go back the next week for the second class. Fortunately, it went much better. Abbie, if not exactly sociable, seemed to realize where she was and accepted the situation. She even showed off her new skills of "Down!"  and "Shake!" (she already knew "Sit!" before we started class, as our vet had told us to teach her that when she was a baby puppy). Although she would not allow the trainer to come close enough to give her a treat [growl, growl], she toned down the Cujo act considerably. Plus...and this was the kicker...Jack the Lab and his family were absent. Hooray!!!

And then came Week Three...and Loose Leash Walking. If Week One was a bad dream, this class session was a nightmare. Night. Mare. We arrived to find out that we were not to be in the classroom (where Abbie felt comfortable...and where I had a chair to help take some of the strain off my aching back); no, we were to practice leash-walking in the aisles of the store. While there were shoppers present, attempting to be nice by trying to pet the ever-anxious Abbie. OMG. Throw in the return of Jack and his family (did I mention that in addition to his attention-challenged and attention-seeking Papa, there was an oblivious Mama, a chatty Granny, and a hyperactive10-year old daughter?)...and you can see why this is the picture I sent Mr. T when we got home:



We were getting nowhere fast with improvement in leash-walking in the crowded and confusing atmosphere of the store. When I tried to practice with Abbie walking on the leash (forget "loose leash" for the moment!) at home, I struggled to maintain control of a pulling, twisting, yanking ball of energy. Things seemed to go from bad to worse.

And, as I'm the only pet parent in this household with two good shoulders and two good knees (albeit less than one good back), all the leash-walking practice fell to me. So, I made an executive decision: quitting time!

Unfortunately, it has become apparent that our holy terrier needs more focused exercise than just daily romps in the quarter-acre Way Back Garden. She almost always gets so worked up, running through the gardens, following the scents of rabbits and squirrels that she ATTACKS to work off that energy. If we attempt to practice Fetch! and Drop it! commands, she turns it into tug-of-war. And whether it's one of the Bassets or me or Mr. T (weekends only) who gets the brunt of her bites, it can get out of hand...fast. 

I usually have the protection of garden gloves and a long-sleeved shirt...but, not so yesterday morning. I was vulnerable, she was over-wrought and accurate, and I came inside bloody and shaking. Something had to change.

So, standing at the sink, putting the antiseptic on my arms, I thought: "WWTS?" If I called our trainer to ask for his assistance (as he encouraged us to do), what would he say? I imagine he would ask me if we ever mastered loose leash walking...which is the key that opens the door to letting a dog know who is really in charge.

No. We have not.

So, yesterday afternoon, I hitched up Abbie's harness, tightened the tension on her leash, and off we went. Trying again. Thankfully, our restart went well, especially since we only saw one person along the way...and no other dogs. And this morning's walk was equally uneventful.

Perfect? Nah. But success is just one try away.



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