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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Practice makes perfect

I don't know how to tell this story modestly, well, because it was simply impressive and exhilarating (how's that for modesty?!). I was sitting in a café this morning reading some notes on canine rehabilitation when a young woman approached me and asked me, half-jokingly, if I could help her rehabilitate her anxious and aggressive dog, Chico, a middle-aged Chihuahua. He was sitting outside on the deck barking his head off, with the owner's other more psychologically-stable dog. We shared a chuckle when I told her that I was reading about physical rehabilitation therapy and not about dog behaviour.
However, I did offer to try something, with no guarantee that it would help - something I learned from watching and reading (-sigh!) the Dog Whisperer. Cesar Millan would certainly classify this dog in the "Red Zone."
I asked the young woman to wait in the coffee shop while I met with Chico outside on the deck. I approached both dogs, very closely, said not a word, and allowed them to smell me. After a few seconds they settled down, there was no barking, no growling, just calmness. That is when I reached down and gently held Chico by his collar with one hand, while I held the leash with the other. He literally freaked out for about 30 seconds. Growling, baring all teeth, he desperately attempted to turn around to get a piece of me. When he realized that his actions were in vain, I picked him up, sat on a bench, and plopped him down on my lap in a sphinx pose. Any little growl or manifestation of aggression was quickly corrected with a gentle tug on his leash, a quick and firm touch to the back, and a silencing "shh" or "tss."
I continued this for at least 10 minutes. Only while the dog was calm, would I say his name, give him a loving scratch on the head and muzzle, and gently stroke his fur and massage his back. I immediately felt a connection to him. Was I crazy or was this little devil starting to like me?
His owner was astounded (as was I). She said that nobody had ever sat with him like we were. It seemed like we were old friends.
Now was the second important test. Would Chico bark incessantly when the owner would leave him alone on the deck, as he had always done? I put Chico down, picked him up again, at which point he again freaked out and tried to get me. I quickly repeated what I had previously done: a very gentle correction and he was back on my lap, quiet and calm. I put him back down without notice, and told the owner to follow me back into the café.
We stayed inside for at least 5 minutes, our eyes and ears never leaving the dogs. Not a peep out of Chico. That was the first time Chico was quiet while he waited outside for his owner to return. I left her with a few tips so that the dog continues to improve.
We were elated. Internally, I was glowing.

I would not have attempted this with a dog much larger than this one.


Catherine said...

What a great blog post and fabulous story!

OldMorgans said...

I am impressed! I've been watching Cesar Milan's 2nd TV season courtesy of NetFlix and have been enjoying and learning. Do I agree w/everything he says?--of course not. But he has a lot to offer. I am finding I can even take it to my horses with whatever modification is needed for the betterment of all of us

Grlandherdog said...

Yay! I am familiar with the dog screaming his head off when left outside - that would be my dog, who also wraps himself around the pole.

We have been applying some of the principles from Cesar Milan - and they are slowly working.

Glad you had such a good experience with the wee doggy!

-> I started following your blog after meeting you at the Purl, yours is the only non-crafty blog I'm reading at the moment. Thanks!

TorontoVet said...

Thanks, everyone!
Girl&herDog, if you're not already doing this, make sure you have someone who will correct the dog while he is waiting for you and screaming his head off.
Was at the Purl Tuesday evening briefly and left to make dinner.
See you soon.

Mortimer Lang said...

That was awesome! I love Cesar Milan!