Dom the German shepherd completed his second week at Boot Camp by visiting the Winter Classic dog show in Novi. The fearful pup greeted people and dogs with a barrage of fierce barking when we arrived, but he quickly saw that there was way too much going on, and too many people to keep it up for long.
I can’t begin to describe how good this experience was for him. An expo full of thousands of dog people, all different shapes and sizes, some scary and some not. Most of them just ignored him. Some came up and made friends. And through it all, he was getting reinforced for paying attention.
It was a lot of brain work. It was exhausting. There were moments where he just checked out, falling back into his old habit of flattening out on the floor and just letting life have its way with him.
But he could be talked into participating again, without too much trouble. I made sure he was good and hungry before we started, so I kept him engaged with clicking and treating, and even got him to do a nice heel at attention.
Dom wears a flat buckle collar. Today he graduated to a martingale. He has shown good potential for future free heeling and one day will be weaned off the clicker/food.
He is a great testament to how attention work can help a fearful dog. It works the same for horses, who have a natural flight instinct. Keeping focus on the task at hand, lots of praise, lots of reinforcement. Above all it is important to keep emotions out of it. Don’t worry about punishing the animal or correcting the wrong choices, just focus on the behaviors you are looking for, and they will multiply.