Changing horses in mid-stream

So I haven’t written much about Spencer recently. This is partly because we moved the log of absences into an Excel sheet. And it’s partly because we have changed trainers. I didn’t want to write about that until the decision was final, and then I’ve been really busy. Let me start by saying that our old trainer truly loves dogs, and I’ve seen videos of him with his dogs, and I have no doubt that he has their best interests at heart. But contrary to what he thinks, not all dogs are the same, and not all methods are appropriate for all dogs.
When we chose Spencer at the shelter, they told us he was a fearful dog and that even walks were a trial for him. We found that he quickly came to appreciate his walks — especially once he could see and stopped walking into lampposts and things. What we didn’t know is that fearful dogs can become aggressive when they try to scare away whatever frightens them.
In the meantime, our first trainer’s method was based on a combination of leash corrections and then offering the dog hints on what to do to be obedient. He was absolutely against the dog taking any initiative. The problem with this is that leash corrections communicate stress to a fearful dog. Instead of associating the jerk on the leash with his behavior, he is likely to associate it with the things in the environment that make him nervous, or even the handler. So it is quite possible that instead of making Spencer more obedient, we were exacerbating what was only a minor problem at the beginning.

We started to suspect that we had a problem when Spencer starting lunging at people more and more frequently, but especially during his lessons. Plus, I cried at almost every one of our lessons in the last month.

So after doing lots of reading on fearful dogs and positive methods of dog training, we decided to stop working with Trainer #1.

We haven’t actually met our new trainer yet (for a bunch of unrelated reasons), but she’s been coaching us at a distance, and we’re already seeing positive changes. Instead of trying to scare people away, Spencer has reverted to wanting to say hello up close and personal with most people we meet…which is not something we can encourage since not everyone appreciates having a 92 lb/42 kg dog come up and sniff them!

If all goes well, we finally meet our new trainer Friday. Stay tuned.

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