The New Trainer Meets Frisbee - I'm Shocked
Yes, shocked. Why might you ask?
Well, it's been about 3 years since a stranger has been in the same room with Frisbee without him wearing a muzzle. And even with a muzzle, the only stranger was his previous trainer.
Let me set the scene for you...
Frisbee is on a leash, no muzzle on his mat/pillow between the living room and the dining room. He has an open view to the front door. My husband, Peter is standing next to him holding the leash.
I walk in with Emilio, a bit nervous, not gonna lie. Emilio walks in like it's nothing.
Of course, Frisbee is growling and barking and acting very nervous but Emilio doesn't even make eye contact with him. He just addresses Peter and I.
I told him a little more about our history with Frisbee and he made some notes. He sat at our dining room table just as calm as could be. Eventually, Frisbee settled down a bit and at least stopped growling. But, he did not take his eye off of Emilio for one second.
Emilio wanted to see how we handled Frisbee so he told Peter to walk him to the stairs and tell him to sit. Frisbee ended up laying down. Emilio asked me what I thought about that and I said, "at least he laid down so harder to attack from that position".
He said, "Wrong. Frisbee just basically told Peter to f*** off" Peter told him to do one thing and Frisbee did what he wanted. This was a clear message that Frisbee was running the show, not us.
Next, he had Peter take him back to his pillow and while holding the leash just walk around the pillow. Frisbee was almost frantic trying to keep his eye on Peter. This was a clear sign of fear from Frisbee. Peter repeated this a few times and finally Frisbee relaxed. He still followed Peter as he made the circle but didn't do so in a frantic manner. This was really interesting for me to watch.
Now it was Emilio's turn to handle Frisbee and this is where my anxiety starts to get crazy. I will tell you that Emilio is a former marine and a big guy. His presence alone could be considered intimidating. He had Peter put a choke collar or Frisbee and a leather leash.
He told us that he might have to have a fight with Frisbee and if Frisbee tried to bite him he would defend himself as needed which might involve a punch. Yes, my heart sank but I also understood the dynamic we were in.
Emilio took control of the leash and stayed very present in the moment to make sure Frisbee didn't try to take a bite out of his leg. The leash is only so stiff so it's not easy to keep a little distance. Emilio did a little maneuvering when it seemed Frisbee was about to pounce. And he was super careful not to let Frisbee get behind him. He likes to bite from behind which is part of the fear aggression.
Emilio just walked Frisbee around in a small area for a few minutes to let him know he wasn't going to let Frisbee get the best of him. I still couldn't believe that this total stranger was handling my dog and was so calm.
Next, he had Frisbee sit and face him. I explained to Emilio that the previous short-term owner's vet and my behavior specialist both said Frisbee had a very intense stare. Emilio agreed as we watched Frisbee just glare at him. Emilio said he had to get Frisbee to break the stare so he could show he was in charge, not Frisbee.
Let the stare down begin. Emilio just stood still about 4 feet from Frisbee and just stared right back at him without moving. Surprisingly, it only took about 5 minutes for Frisbee to turn his head and break the stare.
Score one for Emilio.
At this point you might be wondering what the purpose of all of this is and I don't blame you.
We were told that Frisbee's fear aggression was in part due to us not showing enough leadership with him. He didn't feel "safe" so to speak because we let him feel he was in control. We needed to show him that he could relax and trust us to take care of everything. In order to do that, we needed to take over the leadership role.
This isn't easy to do and unfortunately requires corrections that are very difficult to give when you love your dog. These corrections are simply a very specific way you hold the leather leash and give it a quick tug with the word NO spoken firmly.
And yes, this tug on the leash made Frisbee yelp. The first time I saw Emilio do it, my heart sank. Emilio was trying to get control and get Frisbee to trust him and obey him. It took multiple corrections for this to happen with just simple commands of sitting, laying down and staying. Honestly, Frisbee has already been trained to do this but he was treat trained. There were no treats in this training. I also think Frisbee was totally confused and didn't quite know what was expected of him so it took a bit.
But in the end Frisbee seemed to get it and started following Emilios commands quite well.
Now it's my turn. I'm given control of the leash while Emilio goes out to get his 80-pound pitbull. Frisbee has never really been around big dogs so this would be another test for him. The other purpose of this was to show us how this might look for us if we committed to the training and could have the leadership respect from Frisbee like Emilio had from Rocco.
When Rocco came in, Frisbee growled and the fur on his neck stood up but he didn't move. You see, Emilio showed me how to hold the leash in my own power zone so that I would have total control. And believe it or not, I felt it.
Emilio showed us how well Rocco was trained on leash and off leash. That dog did absolutely everything he was told to do without missing a beat. It was quite amazing.
Now I had to walk Frisbee with the heal command around the living room and dining room to see how well he obeyed me. What I learned is that all of this is very specific to how we handle the leash. I felt I needed a college degree to learn it and am still learning it. It makes it even more complicated when you add your nerves and stress to the mix.
But the problem is when I didn't handle the leash right I was confusing Frisbee and if he didn't do what he was supposed to do it would require a correction. Ugh. Talk about adding to the stress and nerves. But it also makes you take this very serious and get it figured out.
I ended walking Frisbee in a circle around Rocco while he was laying by the front door. At first I got nervous and made it a big circle. Frisbee was fine. I realized it was me, not him who was anxious. So, I tried again because I wanted to trust myself to relax and trust that I had control. The second time was better.
You may have heard it said that it's harder to train the humans than the dogs. I kind of believe this.
If you are questioning why we would do this or thinking to yourself you would never do this please understand that everything we do and have ever done has been in what we believe to be the best interest of Frisbee. Until you've been in this situation you don't know what you would do or try to save your dog.
Having a dog with fear aggression is very difficult. Most people would have put him down already. I couldn't do that even though I was pressured to do so. The next option was totally isolating him from everyone, which is pretty much what we were doing.
But we became prisoners somewhat in our own home due to our dog. That's a tough way to live life.
Our goal is always to keep people safe, keep Frisbee safe and if possible give Frisbee as much of a normal life (whatever that means) as possible. We don't like having to isolate him but on the other hand every day Frisbee lives a comfortable day, I think it's a gift to him considering the alternative.
I had already worked with two trainers, the most recent one had Frisbee in a muzzle and wouldn't even get within 10 feet of him in a muzzle. That was disturbing. Here Emilio walked right in and took control. That's what Peter and I needed to see to believe there was hope for Frisbee.
I also worked with a Behavior Specialist and that was worthless. He did nothing to work with Frisbee and after 7 hours and $1000 he just prescribed Prozac.
I've had Frisbee's canines (fangs) filed down by a vet dentist which cost $3300.00. This was done during the phase when I was being pressured to put him down. I met this dentist and had many conversations with him before making this decision. In the end the goal was to minimize any damage should Peter or I make a human error and put Frisbee in a situation he is destined to fail in. And also to give me a little peace of mind and maybe help me not be so nervous which in the end helps Frisbee.
So, here we were imprisoned by our dog. By that I mean, it was hard to take a vacation because only our one daughter could come over and feed him, etc. She works long hours and has two dogs of her own so this was always a burden to her. I didn't have anyone else to watch Frisbee.
We also couldn't have people stay at our house (other than my parents) because we'd have to crate Frisbee the whole time.
Trust me...it's just hard.
You get to a point where you'll try just about anything because trying new things is better than doing nothing. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't But we have to keep trying. He's only 6 years old so we have a lot of time to still deal with Frisbee.
Back to the training...
We were pretty much done for the day with the assessment. In the end, Emilio recommended they take Frisbee away for two weeks to work with him on their own which would make it easier for us to work with him. As it turns out we were leaving in two days for six days to take out youngest daughter to LSU to start college. So the timing was perfect.
We agreed to the 2 week "boot camp" which would be followed by 4 more training sessions for us to learn how to continue his training.
The next day, Blue (the nickname of the person who would be keeping Frisbee and also a former marine) came to pick Frisbee up. I won't lie. It was heartbreaking loading him in the crate in the back of the van. The look on Frisbee's face broke my heart but I had to keep reminding myself we were doing this for him.
Blue promised he would send us pictures and updates and would be bringing him back in a week for a training session. I had to trust that we were doing the right thing...but were we?
Stay tuned to see what happened during the two-week "boot camp" and in the next blog post I will share a couple photos that blew my mind. Actually, when Blue sent me the photos while we were in Baton Rouge, I cried...literally cried.
I hope you are enjoying this story. It's intended to share our experience with a dog with fear aggression in hopes that it might help others experiencing the same thing.