Not too long ago, we took a decision to change trainers. The reasons are largely pragmatic. We are still connected to Irène and would recommend her to anyone, but seeing her meant driving to the edges of Paris, which always involved traffic and parking headaches. Plus we wondered if being in such an urban environment complicated training sessions for Spencer by surrounding him with too much ambient stress. Finally, we are interested in diversifying the kennels where we can leave him, and our new trainer Anaïs is associated with one of those kennels.
We like the idea that he can stay in a kennel where we know they use positive methods, but when we visited he didn’t do so well. The first time, he settled when we left him in a pen near other dogs, but when he was left in an isolated pen the second time, he wasn’t able to settle after 30 minutes. They won’t take him until they are sure he’ll be happy there.
That’s when we hatched the idea of doing his training at the new kennel. It allows him to get used to the place while we’re there and to let him form positive associations with the people and the place.
At our first session, Anaïs explained how his training is going to change now, but careful not to criticize what we had done before. On the contrary, she congratulated us on the progress Spencer had made since she had last seen him about nine months earlier. The changes being made now are because Spencer is capable of things now that he wasn’t before. Notably, he can manage stress much better, which allows us to challenge his limits gradually. Nonetheless, she said it is important to continue to monitor his emotional state and to know when to revert to giving a wide berth to scary things or even walking away.
Since Spencer has more emotional maturity now, we are finally able to start working on giving him less headway and teaching him that we’re in charge. This isn’t about outdated notions of dominance. It’s the same mentality as how parents lay down limits for kids and gradually transmit the rules for living in society.
The first lesson was simply walking around with Spencer and countering him whenever he tried to pull or lunge in one direction, directing him in the opposite direction from where he wanted to go. He sniped at Anaïs several times, but she said, “It’s no big deal. He’s just upset about not getting his own way. He’s throwing a tantrum.” And gradually he stopped.
At the second lesson, he was much calmer in her presence and more focused on where we were telling him to go. So we left the main compound, walked along the road to the other side of a field and entered a fenced in area under the trees that also belongs to the kennel. Anaïs suggested letting Spencer off leash and seeing how he did. He didn’t charge her once. We walked forward and backwards, calling him to come to use when we changed direction. He did great.
The third lesson involved Anaïs’ dog. The point was to see how Spencer did with another dog. We consistently blocked him when he tried to run up to the other dog in an uncontrolled fashion. He did pretty well, but just as he got really close, his excitement boiled over, he ran forward and mounted the other dog, which is very rude in canine behavior. The dog was very tolerant, but Anaïs was not happy since her dog is elderly. SHe suggested our seeing another trainer who has “coach” dogs, who will help Spencer learn how to be more polite.
In the meantime, the fourth lesson went great. Anaïs suggested we meet in the neighboring village to see how Spencer does in a more urban environment. We were there early, waiting for her at the parking lot. When she pulled in, I told Spencer, “Look! Anaïs is here!” As she got out of her car, Spencer went forward, tail wagging. and gave her a cuddle. She was as happy and surprised as we were that he recognized her “out of context” and was so happy to see her. We did a walk with Anaïs coaching us, and everyone thought it was a very good lesson. And that’s as far as we’ve gotten with Anaïs so far.