As a trainer, simple but important things still make me happy. I don’t do this often, but I have to brag about my sweet client family and their dog, Maggie. I so love it, when a fearful dog has a genuine breakthrough, that it brings tears to my eyes, and warms my heart.
Maggie is a 6 year-old, Standard Poodle, originally trained as a puppy in a prison program,at the DOC. Adopted about 2 months ago, her prior home history during the last 5+ years is unknown. She’s a very soft, sensitive dog, and has exhibited some major trust behaviors (but nothing aggressive, thankfully) toward visitors and outside family members. The good news is, that she adores her new family, is glued to her new Mom and is especially protective of the family’s 5 year-old son, who has recurring seizure activity. He has become my enthusiastic training assistant, and he loves working with her.
Over the last few weeks, we’d been working on some basic cues, and breaking things down into very small bites, trying to find what she’d respond to, without her retreating to hide behind Mom. Our ultimate goal was to have Maggie alert the Mom, if she’s not in the same room with her son, when a seizure occurs.
Maggie had not offered any behavior I could reward; she was mostly unresponsive unless both sons, or Mom, was working with her and even then, only tentatively. She couldn’t quite get over her apprehension enough to participate. It was sad and frustrating, all at the same time. My client and I sat on the floor (so Maggie couldn’t retreat further into the couch) and tried some simple shaping, building a “Touch” cue using the old Staples “Easy button”.
If you’ve ever seen this happen, when you see that light go on in a dog’s eyes that wasn’t there before, there’s nothing like it! The client and I both cried. It took us over an hour of lots of small slow reps, but Maggie made that button talk, over and over.
Now Maggie can go find her boy by name, find Mom, ring a bell and stay by his side and even brace him when necessary. All it took, was that one breakthrough to teach Maggie how to learn again. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fast, but it was so worthwhile!
That’s why trainers do what we do.