Chaos. Brings to mind all kinds of slightly unpleasant things, doesn’t it? Out of control, unpredictable, destructive, kind of scary. now put all that into an adolescent male dog weighing in at about 65 pounds. That’s what Colleen and Shelly chose to adopt from the Humane Society. Chaos (aptly named) was an 11 month old Anatolian Shepherd cross and he needed some special help from some special people!
When they first called me about classes or lessons for Chaos, the description of the dog’s behaviors was rather scary. “He’s aggressive.” “He lunges and barks at people and dogs.” “We can’t control him on leash.” “We want to give him a chance to be a normal dog and do normal things.” Phew. Sounds like a tall order but lets give it a shot!
The first three weeks of class with Chaos were, well, Chaos. He barked constantly, if someone came too close he would lunge – fortunately we had a big space so the others could do their work without coming into the area we had set aside for Chaos. The first day he was in class, I could see what his people saw in him. He had a lovely eye, he didn’t look mean at all. There was nothing in his body language that said “watch out! I’m going to get you!” What I saw in him was frustration, he was frantic to interact but had no idea how. A rather classic case of inadequate socialization. That’s a very sad thing, a lovely dog that was given up because of behaviors that could so easily have been prevented.
Before Chaos came to class, we agreed that we would take it one day at a time. He needed to learn that he could be around other people and dogs safely. They wouldn’t hurt him, wouldn’t get in his face, and wouldn’t hurt the people he had quickly bonded to and would protect with his life. If he could learn these things in a class setting, good. If it was too much for him, we would have to try something else.
Remedial socialization is always so much harder than doing it right in the first place. We had to make him feel safe without making those around him feel unsafe! The first step was to get control of his head. Colleen and Shelley had to know that if a situation turned bad, they could quickly control him without hurting him. We put a head collar on him… yes, there are pros and cons to head collars, but we couldn’t mess around with his mouth. He was scaring people (including his owners), which was teaching him things about uncomfortable situations that we didn’t’ want him to learn any more of! (If someone makes me uncomfortable, I can bark, lunge and carry on, and they will go away…)
That was a turning point for Chaos. His people had a tool to help them help him. They could take him for walks without being afraid of his reactions, they could turn him away from “scary” things and reward him for focusing on them. Chaos learned to trust his people, if they said it was okay, by golly, it was okay! And he got the rewards to prove it!
Colleen deserves a huge cookie for the work she’s done with Chaos. She has a gift for training that she didn’t know she had until her dog needed her to discover it. Chaos has been in classes for almost two years now – they continuously challenge me to come up with new things to teach Chaos. Every week they go home with a new challenge, every week Chaos comes back with a big grin on his face and a new skill under his collar.
So, where is Chaos today? He’s got a Rally Novice title to his name, he’s training to compete in UKC (United Kennel Club) obedience, he’s training to compete in agility, he knows more tricks than I can count, and he can go anywhere happily, knowing that the world loves him and behaving like a true gentleman. He works on a body harness now, there is no need for anything else – he has the self-confidence and control to behave without a leash (but since it’s a legal requirement, he uses a harness and leash). Maybe it’s time to change his name to “Mellow”… naw, the old fire in Chaos is still there – its just channeled to productive use and good times now! For more information visit this dog blog.