Protocols for bravery

The 2-minute dog trainer probably had it’s beginnings in my training with Dash for bravery.

With every meal I insisted that he do something which made him uneasy, uncomfortable, or nervous.

His first task, if I remember correctly, was jumping up on an ottoman. Dash learned his new name while sitting or lying down on an ottoman. The ottoman was a stack of firm pillows so we started with the bottom pillow and added height until Dash was jumping up on a wobbly stack of pillows.

His second task was the teeter, beginning with the footrest at my desk. It has a 2-to-4-inch folcrum and a square platform on top. When Dash visited my desk to get attention he had to step up on the footrest with his front feet. After a few attempts at bravery he was able to stay up on the footrest while I wobbled it up and down saying “teeter!”

He had to go up and down stairs for his dinner as we feed dogs in the basement. He learned how to jump up into a crate in my truck for affection and little rides. As I said in yesterday’s blog, “be brave or be lonely, be brave or be hungry.”

Any sign of bravery was rewarded with huge praise and some treats.

Within a few days Dash and I were inseparable and he began a phase with separation anxiety. This often happens with rescued or rehomed dogs, especially if they’ve been neglected or downtrodden by an earlier human.

He clung to me, following me everywhere, so he had to be brave in separation from me. We worked every evening during classes at brave separation.

He wasn’t afraid of dogs, thank God, so the pack actually accepted him and gave him confidence.

The other confidence-building exercise Dash and I engaged in was distance training in agility. I did around-the-clock conditioning with jumps, tires, tunnels, and chutes. Dash became a phenomenal distance dog, with the sure knowledge of the mission and paycheck.

Whenever Dash and I were faced with something he feared we stopped right there, got our our treats and clicker, and worked through his anxiety.

I took Dash to an agility workshop to get him on someone else’s equipment and be able to click/treat in another facility. The workshop was in a horse barn and there were horses hanging over a gate at one end of the building.

Of course, Dash was terrified of the horses on the first day and avoided that end of the building. Late on the first afternoon he had an opportunity to sample a road apple (aka horse poop) and on day 2 he dragged me to the building for another sample.

I walked him to the end of the floor where the horses had hung out the day before and — miracle of miracles! — there were piles there of the most delicious smelling stuff. Dash’s opinion of horses changed that day and he decided he kind of liked those poop machines.

Another event that built confidence for Dash was getting to experience sheep-herding. Consider this — a dog does what is instinctive and natural and receives immediate gratification. He moves behind the sheep and they move forward. It’s an immediate ego boost and the dog feels powerful.

Dash’s experience with sheep started out with his lack of confidence evident, lots of barking and poop-eating. Our instructor was terrific, though, and worked us through moves that showed the sheep that Dash and I were partners (giving Dash power in the eyes of the sheep) and moves where I shifted the herd (proving to Dash that I was a strong leader).

At age 9 Dash remains afraid of nearly every strange thing and event. But he trusts me and will often do something simply because I insist he try. His fears are quickly overcome with food and a clicker.

For example, Dash hates being picked up (part of his legend, his story, is that the idiot purchaser had 2 small daughters who terrorized this puppy by dragging him and picking him up, forcing him into frightening environments), and I was trying to get him to step into a container of bath water.

When I tried picking him up he panicked. When I tried to entice him with movement he balked. When I got my treats and a clicker he stepped into the tub on his own within 3 minutes.

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