What about Bob

Winner: Best essay involving an Adopted/Rehomed Dog

Author: Julie Fudge Smith, CPDT-KA

Julie Fudge Smith, CPDT-KA
Julie Fudge Smith, CPDT-KA

When Elaine and Thor Boaz lost their beloved Golden Retriever last year they waited awhile before looking for another dog. They had always started with puppies, but when they learned about Bob, a large golden doodle who had been be kept crated for most of his first 3 years, something told them they’d found their next dog.  They contacted the owners, who were quite willing to pass along their problem dog.

Due to his excessive confinement, Bob did not know how to walk on a leash, or how to approach and greet people or other dogs. Nor did he have any self control when he saw cats, dogs, deer, or delivery people. But, most importantly, Elaine and Thor told me that Bob did not have any real “positive connection” to people. He did not want to be near people, did not look at them, did not solicit play, or wag his tail. Elaine and Thor had used traditional methods with their previous dogs, but were at a loss as to how to gain control over Bob’s wild ways, much less form a strong bond with him. An embarrassingly out of control walk through the downtown area of our little village prompted Elaine to call me.

When Elaine contacted me in May they had owned Bob for one month. I could hear the frustration in her voice, but it was matched by determination to do what was needed to give Bob a second chance on life.  We agreed to start with 4 sessions and I sent her a copy of my “Dog Personality Profile” to complete.  The profile asks for physical and behavioral information and issues, and asks the owner to list specific goals. Elaine filled out the form in great detail and listed 5 clear goals:

  1. Walk controllably on a leash anywhere and everywhere.
  2. Calmly meet new people or dogs.
  3. Be attentive to us in all settings despite being surrounded by wonderful smells.
  4. Come consistently when called, no matter the setting.
  5. Control his excitable nature so that he doesn’t chase the cat or jump on windowsills.

Our first meeting was May 19th. Everyone was eager to start, and I began with an explanation of my philosophy of training, which incorporates 3 key elements: Management, Relationship, and Training.  I find that the most successful trainers I know use this approach. Management means setting your dog (and subsequently yourself) up for success; relationship means building cooperation and trust; and training means using a clicker and positive reinforcement techniques.

Bob’s management strategy focused on helping him learn some self control, beginning with NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free). Though Bob’s previous owners claimed he could not be taught, he did know how to sit, so we used this as his default behavior. Bob could not get anything he wanted without offering a sit first. If Bob wanted to go out, he had to sit at the door; dinner would not be served without a sit; his leash was not put on without a sit, etc. In addition to NILIF, I also fit him for a Gentle Leader and gave Elaine and Thor a protocol for getting used to it that was designed by a local behaviorist. Until he was used to the Gentle Leader, Bob used an Easy Walk harness, and we stopped all walks in town until his training was a bit further along. A small fenced pasture, about 100 yards from their house, served as a place to exercise Bob. The pasture was a convenient distance for practicing walking without pulling and for Bob it had a wonderful reward at the end!  We also talked about how good nutrition and plenty of exercise is important for achieving a well behaved dog.

Despite their concerns, Elaine and Thor were on track for building a strong relationship with Bob, so we talked about the importance of consistency in building and maintaining their relationship. By providing clear and consistent leadership, Bob would learn that they can be trusted to care for him and he would be much more willing to listen and let them lead.

Training began with an explanation as to why I use clicker training:  it works, it’s fun, it builds my relationship with my dog, and it doesn’t require that I hurt or intimidate my dog to get him to obey. The clicker is a translator that allows me to quickly and effectively communicate to my dog that he is right on track.

Bob, Thor, and Elaine
Bob, Thor, and Elaine

It did not take long for Thor and Elaine to embrace the clicker, and to realize the power it gave them to control Bob’s behavior without having to man-handle this large dog into submission. Gaining control over Bob required that he pay attention to them, so the first thing we worked on was the Name Game which taught him to look immediately at whoever said his name. I also added the Attention Game. While the Name Game teaches your dog to look at you when you say his name, the Attention Game teaches your dog that it is in his best interest to choose to focus on you for direction and reward.

Since Elaine wanted Bob to heel right beside her and stop and sit whenever she stopped, the next thing we worked on was sit at side. Then, we put some of these things together. I placed 6 cones around the island in her kitchen and had Elaine start at one end of room with Bob sitting at her side in his Easy Walk harness and on lead. She said his name, he looked, and she said “Let’s go!”  They then walked 6 feet to the first cone. Elaine stopped, asked Bob to sit and when he surged ahead she just said, “uh-uh” and lured him back to her side and into a sit.  Then, another Name Game, another 6 feet to the next cone, stop, sit, etc. through all six cones and back to the start. Then I had her go in the opposite direction, doing the same thing. Thor had a turn and we played with various derivations of the exercise. Elaine and Thor were instructed to practice this exercise in all the rooms in their house, slowly adding in distractions. They were also to use this procedure to get Bob to the pasture, and to be patient with how much time the first time would take! Bob would learn that the quickest way to get a run would be to behave on the way there. Subsequent lessons included working on stay, come, and taking the show on the road.

Elaine and Thor made rapid progress with Bob. In June I received this email from Elaine:

“We’ve been walking Bob in town almost every day...Amazing moment #1: We were sitting outside of Whit’s [a local ice cream parlor]on the bench, and Bob was lying down on the ground. A gentleman was sitting across from us. He asked, “That dog is so mellow. What kind of a dog is that?” Unbelievable…I never thought I’d hear Bob referred to as mellow…ever!

Amazing moment #2: I dec ided it was time to walk again. As we past Victoria’s [a local restaurant] I heard a woman talk to her dogs to keep them in place. Bob and I just sauntered past (Yes, sauntered. We did not run!) I wouldn’t have even known that we were walking past dogs if I hadn’t heard the woman. Bob knew, but he kept right on heeling.

Amazing moment #3: On the return to the car a woman stopped to ask what kind of dog Bob was, etc. We just stood in front of the CVS chatting, and Bob was just hanging out with us…not lunging, just hanging , enjoying being petted  and oohed and aaahed over.

Now , maybe it’s the phase of the moon, maybe it’s because he already had some running  time and outdoor time before we went to town, or maybe, just maybe,  it has to do with his understanding where all this training is leading.  No matter what - it was a wonderful experience and I sincerely thank you for all your help. We couldn’t have gotten there this quickly (and with so much fun) without your help and guidance.”

Elaine and Thor were able to make such great progress with Bob because they had clear goals, they worked consistently and frequently, they were open to the power of positive training, and they had fun with their training. They knew that they would make mistakes and so would Bob, but they also knew they had the ability to turn those mistakes into learning moments. In their final evaluation, Elaine wrote, “Thank you Julie, for giving us the skills to help train Bob positively and effectively. It still amazes us that for 3+ years his previous owners unsuccessfully tried to train him and in just 3 lessons with you he was able to calmly walk in town! We also know that your approach helped us to bond with this new (to us) dog and are very grateful for that.”

About Julie Fudge Smith, CPDT-KA

Julie Fudge Smith, CPDT-KA, is owner of A Positive Connection, a dog training and pet sitting business in Granville Ohio. Julie offers both private training and group classes, and a variety of pet sitting services. In addition to APDT Julie is also a certified pet sitter and a member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS). She  is married with 2 children, a son-in-law, a grandson, 3 dogs and 3 horses.

About Elaine and Thor Boaz

While Elaine and Thor need to head out each morning to their day jobs, they always are eager to return home to their little farm in the evening to spend time with their dog Bob, their cat (who now finds Bob as endearing as they do) and their flock of sheep.


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