Marissa and her SDIT Xena

From our wonderful trainer, Kendra, who is working with Marissa and her SDIT, Xena. Marissa suffers from mobility issues and anxiety.

“I met with Marissa and Xena at Petsmart on Sunday. Marissa was babysitting a small baby at the time. Xena waited inside the car while the door was open for Marissa to unload the baby and get him in the stroller. Once Marissa gave Xena the ok to get “unload”, Xena was a little nervous because it is her very first time in public, but she did unload. We went inside Petsmart and it quickly became apparent that Marissa and Xena were feeding off each other’s nervous energy and it was not looking good. I knew something was off because Xena knows her commands, and when she did not want to obey, I knew we had to re-evaluate the situation and take a few steps back. Marissa was becoming frustrated and it showed in her tone of voice, then Xena started ignoring her. So we walked back to the front door, placed Xena in a down, and had a conversation. As a trainer, it’s my job to have open communication with my clients, so we I explained how frustration on the part of a handler impacts a dog. I told her of a situation I was in to help her understand to help empathize. I told her that sometimes I get so frustrated at home because no one ever helps with the chores and we have a family of 6, so it can be taxing. When I start getting frustrated and getting on to my husband to help me, then he tunes me out. But when I talk calm and nice he listens. Then, later on as a he does a load of dishes, he texts me to say that he did one load of dishes. He is looking for a “thank you, I appreciate that” and since we are creatures of habit, I know if I give my husband what he is looking for, then he will continue to help. But if I were to ignore his message and say “well that’s not good enough”, then he would stop helping altogether.

A dog is the same way; if you are ignoring them when they are doing what’s expected, and only giving them “attention” when they are misbehaving, then you are inadvertently praising the bad behavior and ignoring the good. That the total opposite of what is needed in dog training. I went on to explain that they are a team; they have to learn to use and trust eachother and work together. When Xena didn’t obey the first time, Marissa would get upset, then Xena would stop listening and focusing. So we tried again, and I asked Marissa to learn how to get Xena to focus on her first. There was too many distractions inside. We walked outside and quickly learned that when Xena is praised, it motives Xena more than treats! So every single time Xena looked at Marissa, she lavished her with praise. Soon Xena was excited to be out and Marissa had her confidence back! At that moment I knew they were a team!

We worked right outside the door of the pet store first; we had Xena practice sits and downs while people walked by. Then we worked on sitting and waiting before entering the store. We went right inside the first double doors where the shopping carts are. I made a loud noise and pushed the cart right next to Xena while she was in a down. Anytime Xena was starting to lose focus, I had Marissa get it back by waiting for Xena to look her way, then lavishing Xena with praise again. It worked like a charm! Soon Xena was ready go into in the store. We walked down isles, practiced sit, down, stay, heel, leave it, and meet and greets.

During the training, Xena was very attentive as Marissa’s pain level increased. Xena alerted multiple times to Marissa, and we went and sat down. At this point, it was too painful for Marissa to walk, so we found a wheelchair and Xena did great heeling next to it. We went into Bed Bath and Beyond and had Xena do some commands while Marissa was in the wheelchair. Xena was very careful when going through tight quarters and let Marissa go first while Xena followed. I gave Marissa the OK to start taking Xena out everywhere, including work.

They will continue to work on commands and also noise distractions. Xena takes a moment to recover from noise, so they will work on this until our next session. I also reminded Marissa to keep her frustration in check and remember when she is starting to get frustrated, it’s because she doesn’t have Xena’s focus before giving a command. So get her focus back, then give the command when out in public. Once Xena was focused, she obeyed flawlessly.