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Behaviour Modification - What would you do?

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Hi, everyone! I've not been on the boards in a while just because it's been a bit busy here. I wanted to update on Dallas's fear aggression and ask an opinion.

So I think around 6 months old is when Dallas started having fear aggression issues, possibly 7 or 8 months. It started with kids. He would lunge, bark, and growl at them. I didn't realise the severity of the issue until he bit my neighbour's granddaughter. That's when I contacted a behaviour specialist (wish I'd done it earlier). 

His fear aggression spread, though. It's gotten to a point where when we're on walks, I always cross the road when someone comes towards us. There have been moments when I couldn't get away from someone headed in our direction, so I sort of block Dallas off from them. (He has bitten me in an attempt to bite whoever is passing us before - didn't break the skin but stung like heck and left a bruise!)

We started behaviour modification with our local behaviour specialist officially in July or August. She recommended we use Behaviour Adjustment Therapy by Grisha Stewart, so we've been doing that. Typically what we do is we go to the park and keep a safe distance away from kids (for both Dallas and the kids). When he notices a child, we do our cue where he touches my hands and heels next to me as we walk away. We have been journaling his progress. 

The behaviour specialist believes Dallas is improving. To be honest, I do, too. It's very slow progress, but he seems to be becoming more tolerant. He's learning to look at me when he sees a kid as well. 

I recently asked if I could incorporate stuff from Click to Calm as well. The behaviour specialist thinks that's a great idea so we've been doing that.

But today I messed up. As we were going for a walk, I didn't notice a woman rounding the corner we were coming to, and Dallas bit her (same that I experienced - no break in the skin or ripping clothes but stung). The woman was understandably upset but told me to keep Dallas on a muzzle (as I should have been doing - my own fault I completely admit to it). So from now on I'm keeping him on a muzzle. The only reason I hadn't been doing that is so it would be easier to click and treat quickly. I can't even tell you how much of an idiot I feel like - and rightfully so! That was dangerous and stupid of me to do. I do muzzle him when we are in busy areas (if I even have to take him there in the first place), in places where I know he'll respond poorly (like the vet's), and in places where I'm not sure how he'll respond, but I hadn't on walks in our neighbourhood just because there aren't a lot of people and it's pretty quiet. But, like I said, that was incredibly stupid of me so he'll be muzzled from now on.

The thing is, I have my doubts. I know he's responding well, but what if I can never get him out of this? Despite everything I'm doing? The incident today has really shaken me. My husband and I want to start having kids in the next couple of years. Am I being naive thinking I'll be able to keep him and have kids? I'm just feeling so down about it and so concerned. I can't rehome him. That's too irresponsible, especially with how he is in regards to strangers. I love him to bits. He's so good at home. He's such a joy to train and play with! What would you do in our situation? 

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1 hour ago, dallasbc said:

But today I messed up. As we were going for a walk, I didn't notice a woman rounding the corner we were coming to,

I don't have any dog advice because I'm not experienced enough and don't have any happy success stories of previous dogs to draw from.

However, I have been in the situation of feeling that things are going well and then something like that happens leaving me feeling mortified and questioning what the future holds.

It sounds like you are making progress and if that woman didn't round the corner unexpectedly then you'd still be feeling positive. It was just too much too soon for him. She must have been really close for him to have bitten her, unless you have him on a longish lead. Although saying that we've had people come far too close to us. We now try to go as wide as we can round the corners that we can't avoid so we can what is coming. We've found a few very open parks to practice our walking so we can see everything around us, and we wear a muzzle on one of our previous favourite places where we had an incident because it is all corners and bushes so surprises are unexpected.

Each new experience, however unpleasant, gives us another opportunity to tweak our processes to avoid it happening again.

I don't know how things will work out with children, but my thought is that your dog will be older and further along than he is right now (unless you're due imminently ;)) and you will have complete control over the situation. There won't suddenly be a 3 year old in your home being scary and unpredictable, but a baby that smells like you. Your dog will get used to the sounds and movements of the baby long before the baby is approaching him. Do you put on baby/children sounds for your dog to listen to at home? We've done this a couple of times and our puppy was definitely less reactive the next time we went near a childrens a play area.

 

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I have a youngster of 17 weeks.  Super intelligent,  skittery, affectionate and nosey, but still unsure of the big outside world.  High Viz jackets give him the heebie jeebies, and people viewed from a distance, say across a playing field or park.  I ask him to sit whilst he figures things out. I keep quiet; if he is a little scared, hearing me will reinforce it.  Inconvenient sometimes, at least he doesn't bite.  What a nightnare for you, I'm sure you have all our sympathies.  Now he is entering adolescence,  and occasionally  I 'send him to Coventry' and it brings him down to earth pretty quickly.  No touching, no talking, no looking etc.  Dog?  What dog?  Just body language.  He gets the message pretty quickly that I am in charge here, and he is safe.  A couple of hours is usually all it takes. Just body language no shouting  or harsh words or giving away your insecurities by maintaining your dignity (tricky whewn you're absolutely steaming at that point!) and I reckon we've all been there too.  But everyone in the household must follow suite. And he must be the last to eat. My old collie, now 14, kept trying to rise in the ranks until he was about 11, this method  worked every time.  He's given up now thank heavens, my lovely old boy and is quite happy being the underdog.

Have decided to try an Adaptil puppy collar to help produce calming influence.  Mixed reviews though I was surprised how many owners favoured them. If it doesn't work, no harm done. Perhaps your behaviourist may suggest something like this for a trial.  I'm taking him to sit on the bench outside Morrisons tomorrow.  Just to sit and observe folks going about their business, bikes, dogs, prams and so on. I shall keep schtum and hope people come up to him to say hello.  If anyone finds an elderly woman and a collie puppy hiding under a supermarket bench tomorrow, please come and rescue us...Anyway, good luck with it all, do update us on your progress.

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I understand your horror and guilt and fear; I would likely feel the same way. But you have not been at the new training with the behaviorist for very long. Two month, tops? Since you love this dog and he is a pleasure at home and you do not want to rehome him, if you feel the training is making progress then stay with the training.
Be diligent and positive. Have faith in the training and in the dog. Sometimes it takes a very long time to change behavior, and you have not been at it long enough to know how this will go.  And, best of luck to you.  Try not to beat yourself up for making a mistake - we all make them and this one wasn't fatal. Just look forward and believe that it will turn out OK. It is important that you send positive messages to the dog with your attitude and body language; he will know if you are doubtful of him. Think the best of him and it may turn out that way.

Keep us informed.

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Setbacks happen. It's part of the process of learning and growing. It's how we -- and the dogs -- learn.

So, what's the takeaway here? What did you learn? For one thing, probably that you need to be even more aware than you'd realized that people can show up unexpectedly. The next time it happens you might be more ready to execute a very quick U-turn and avoid the interaction. When it happens you'll be able to praise both yourself and Dallas for a job well done.

Remember the 3 Ps. Patience, persistence and practice. I'll add a 4th one -- positivity. As long as you're generally moving in the right direction you're making progress, no matter how slow it feels. Baby steps are progress (another P ;)). As D'Elle said, you've barely begun this journey.

So take a deep breath and be ready to start again tomorrow. And every tomorrow after a setback. That's the way forward.

Yes, please do keep us posted.

 

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20 hours ago, dallasbc said:

What would you do in our situation? 

Disclaimers: 1. The following is totally regardless of the emotional bond you have with your dog. 2. I can (obviously) not really say what I would do in your situation, just what I'd do in mine with a dog like you describe.

That said my harsh answer would be, I would have him put down. This kind of dog is in my opinion a liability. Biting strangers just because they are in reach is of course totally unacceptable behavior. If the only way to correct this would be a many months long traject with a professional trainer ($$$$....),  then that price is simply too high for me. I would rather spend my money, time, and energy on a biddable talented dog who does not have such problematic issues.

 

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I agree that it's possible euthanasia might be the only realistic option in the future if Dallas can't become trustworthy.

But it's also only been a couple months since the OP started this process and there has been some initial progress. With further work and using the muzzle to prevent another bite, I think it might be worth continuing under the supervision of the behaviorist if the OP has the dedication to pursue it. It's not going to be a quick fix, and it'll seem like it drags on forever. But if there's progress being made, and if the OP's up to the challenges of not only the work but also the management and expense, I can see continuing at least for a while before making that decision.

I would also think that if the behaviorist is at all conscientious, s/he will be honest in assessing the progress and would also be willing to advise on the choice.

One other question: Have you discussed the possibility of using meds with the behaviorist? This seems like the kind of situation where they might be helpful.

Also, you may want to consider reading Pam Dennison's Bringing Light to Shadow. (https://www.pamdennison.com/product/bringing-light-to-shadow-a-dog-trainers-diary/) It's a training diary chronicling her experience rehabilitating an aggressive rescue that might give you both some insights and inspiration should you choose to continue.

 

 

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22 hours ago, dallasbc said:

What would you do in our situation? 

I would keep going with the training, it will take time to see improvements. patience and consistency. and keep the dog with the muzzle at all times if needed. this will give you confidence during the training.

 

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Thanks for all the responses everyone! I appreciate your views and input. I'm feeling better today than I was yesterday. Dallas is in a muzzle on walks now. He's not a huge fan, but he's doing really well with it (and quite frankly, he's just going to have to put up with it).

You guys are right that 2 months hasn't been very long, and the behaviourist has said he's doing really well. She thinks yesterday it was too much too soon like jami74 said. I'll give him more time and put in more work with him and see where we get to. If he doesn't improve though, I think I will have to put him down, as much as it breaks my heart. At the end of the day, I've got to do what's in the best interest of myself and the people around me. Plus it'll be probably a year at least before we try to have kids, so that gives us time to see where we get to! I'll play baby sounds and stuff like that in the meantime :)

My husband has a friend that comes to our home fairly often. At first, Dallas would bark at him and growl at him. His fur would stand up. So what we did is every time his friend came over we put him in his crate until he calmed down. It's gotten to a point where he's totally fine with my husband's friend. He even went up to him today to be pet. So I feel that he has every chance of being rehabilitated. It's just so emotionally draining sometimes, especially when things happen like yesterday or when he doesn't seem to be making progress. It makes you really doubt yourself. But I'll let you know how we get on as we continue. Thanks everyone! 

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@dallasbc

 

I really recommend CBD or some type of anxiety meds to help with training. I had to do it with my ellie my rescue and have seen some really good results, she never got the chance to bite someone but we have been close. It just helps her think straight while we work on the behavior stuff she came from a shelter was completely shut down and it took me weeks to just get her to look at me without trying to eat me, and now she is able to walk in a downtown city area and pass other dogs and people, take puppy classes and go on hike, but I have been working with a behavioralist for about 5 months. 

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@Kennedy that's so cool! Well done to you guys on all that hard work you've done. What amazing results! I hope we can get there with Dallas. I've emailed our behaviour specialist asking about meds to help relax him. I can even get the adaptil that dumbbird7 mentioned. Is Ellie able to go off leash on hikes? We've been working super hard on recall with Dallas and I have the goal of eventually being able to let him off leash... whether or not we get to that point is another story, but I like to have hope. What sort of things did you do to get her to the point of being able to walk downtown without issues?

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I posted a whole bunch of video in the 'abca look up ' thread about my fear aggressive dog.   It's doable.


She's on prozac and has been for a couple of years.   Lots of work, too.


No regrets. 

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6 hours ago, dallasbc said:

...It's just so emotionally draining sometimes, especially when things happen like yesterday or when he doesn't seem to be making progress....

Those are the times when it's really helpful to take a mental step back and literally breathe through it. Focus on your breath and put things into perspective. Ask yourself questions like, was this incident typical of what it's like every day with Dallas? Does this happening change the progress we've made so far? (It might take a day or 3 to know the answer to this one.) Has this pushed me past the point that I feel like I can go on with her?

Chances are the answer to these will be no. Then in the words of Livingston Taylor you just just remind yourself that

Life is good
You were heading for a fall but
You pick yourself up
You dust yourself off hey
Didn't hurt at all

And start again where you left off. :)

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@GentleLake I use Petreleaf the highest dosage and give .25 mgs 2 times a day. I am lucky I live in CO so it is pretty easy to get in almost every pet store. 

 

@dallasbc

To give you some hope, when I got Ellington it was a whirlwind of a day. I had recently lost my Jack russell foster fail right when I moved to denver and I was heartbroken. I grew up raising german shepards and pretty much have always had a dog in my life. I went to the shelter to donate his things and there was Ellie literally in a kennel going to be put down for the same reasons as Dallas she was labeled as aggressive and has had 3 different homes before she even turned a year old. The shelter thought I was crazy but after explaining to them the experience I had had with dogs let me take a look at her to see if I could even get a leash on her. And for some reason she did and they let me take her home on a trial. 

Now I took this reactive dog and moved her downtown in the middle of the city so we really had no choice but to get u( yes I know I am stupid). In the beginning it was a lot of management, muzzles, waking up at 4am for walks, hell I even bought a doggie treadmill so she could run in my apt. And it was gaining a lot of trust. We just worked to build trust and structure I first made Ellie sit for everything ( doors opening, food, Toys) just to help her fear and teach her good ways to respond to things. 

I reached out to a behavioralist right away who started to work with me using a lot of the similar techniques you are using. Lots of treats. We worked at a distance and just every time she looked at something "scary" she got a treat. And slowly started to close the distance with short training sessions and let me tell you this took so much time and was a rollercoaster. She also goes to a "doggie daycare" for problem dogs. She goes with her trainer and 5 other dogs in a small group and works on building confidence and I think this training has helped so much! She gets to watch the other dogs and learn from them and really grow in a way I could never teach her. She has graduated 2 group classes with flying colors and we are working towards her good citizen. 

But my advice don't take Dallas for long walks where he has a long period to stress out. Take him out in short sessions and train and keep it fun and look for other times to exercise when you know you aren't going to encounter anything that will push him over the threshold. All these training should be short and fun and always end on a good note.

I can tell you it gets better. And the meds make a world of difference! You don't know how many nights I cried my eyes out thinking my dog was going to hurt someone and we were going to have to put her down. It isn't going to be a straight line of progress and days like this will shake you. I have had many days like this where I was holding ellie in a corner of the hallway to keep her from lunging at someone cause she was scared. And how embarrassed I was to admit I have a horrible dog that is possibly dangerous. She isnt perfect now we still have our days where she is scared we just take it day by day and problem by problem . 

 

P.s she does go off leash in certain areas where I make sure I can see all around :)

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1 hour ago, Kennedy said:

I use Petreleaf the highest dosage and give .25 mgs 2 times a day.

Thanks. I'll look for it online, and may even be able to find it in pet stores. If it's hemp based it may be available anywhere It the marijuana oil that's regulated.

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13 hours ago, CptJack said:

I posted a whole bunch of video in the 'abca look up ' thread about my fear aggressive dog.   It's doable.


She's on prozac and has been for a couple of years.   Lots of work, too.


No regrets. 

I love that! I'll check out your post in the abca thread. But the fact that you have no regrets, I love that. 

 

12 hours ago, GentleLake said:

Those are the times when it's really helpful to take a mental step back and literally breathe through it. Focus on your breath and put things into perspective. Ask yourself questions like, was this incident typical of what it's like every day with Dallas? Does this happening change the progress we've made so far? (It might take a day or 3 to know the answer to this one.) Has this pushed me past the point that I feel like I can go on with her?

 

Definitely. He is frequently reactive like that if someone comes so close to us (in fairness, the lady was really close just because it was a narrow sidewalk - I could have touched her shoulder). This was just the first time in a long time he managed to actually get close to someone. Muzzling him does give me more confidence. I still don't let him near people in case he jumps on them or noses them, but at least I can rest assured if we get too close to someone without me realising he won't be able to bite them. And he is improving. i can't deny that. Just last week, we passed 3 boys about 10 years old who were walking quietly and calmly. They were probably 10 feet away from us, maybe a bit closer. Dallas wasn't bothered in the slightest. He just looked up at me and did as I asked (heel). If this had happened when we first started, he would have probably gone ballistic. I'm still not sure if this incident has affected the progress we've made, but we'll see. So far it doesn't look like it has. Yesterday I took him for a walk along a path that is quite narrow and has a low wall on one side and a fence on the other. I only use it because most people don't use it, and if they do there are exits quite frequently along the path that I can get to if we need to get away from someone. Well, yesterday when we were walking, a woman was coming up from behind us and walking quicker than we were. Rather than exit the path, I went into a little dugout they have along the path where they have benches. I was feeling ok with that since he had his muzzle on and with me in front, a wall to one side, and a bench to the other, I didn't think he'd be able to jump on the woman. In the dugout I had Dallas do a sit while we let the lady pass. She came right up behind me, and Dallas was completely fine. He maintained his sit and didn't budge. (Heavy praises for that!!!) He was neutered 3 or 4 weeks ago, so there was almost a 2 week period of no desensitisation training going on. I think that did set him back a little bit.

 

I'm not completely pushed past the point where I feel like I can't go on training him, but I have to admit I'm getting there. I feel like there's only so much I can do. But the fact that I can see him improving keeps me going right now. Also, our behaviour therapist is just so good. She's super encouraging and makes me feel like we can do this.

 

@Kennedy thank you so much for sharing your story!! It's so uplifting and encouraging, really! Well done to you for all the work you've done with yours and how far you've come. That's so cool! I'm not sure if we can do a small group training just because of lack of classes in our area, but I'll look into it. That sounds super beneficial! At the moment our walks are no more than an hour each, depending on what's going on outside, really. We went to the park this morning to do some training and play like we do every morning. Only one person and his dog came into the park the entire time, and it was someone Dallas knew and wasn't bothered with so we actually stayed in the park for an hour and got some great training and play in. If it had been busy (like it has been on other occasions), we would have just stayed for maybe 10 minutes then gone. There have been times where loads of dogs are at the park or loads of kids so we just don't even go in. I might adjust it though so we're doing frequent short walks throughout the day. That might help. But thanks again :) I'm going to try to incorporate some of what you've done into our work.

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Forgot to mention, I just bought the book Scaredy Dog! Understanding & Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog by Ali Brown. Has anyone read that one before? Thoughts on it?

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On 10/10/2018 at 10:37 AM, dallasbc said:

But today I messed up. As we were going for a walk, I didn't notice a woman rounding the corner we were coming to, and Dallas bit her (same that I experienced - no break in the skin or ripping clothes but stung).

I think the euthanize advice is a bit premature, you fully owned that you should've had him muzzled but didn't. And that it taught you a lesson you're not likely to ever forget.

And a note on corners, for reactive dogs and their owners they can be scary! Particularly corners at busy intersections where any view of where the sidewalks meet are obscured by a large shrub, tree, brick walls, etc... Be on high alert, even with the muzzle on approach them with caution. I can see what happened to you with myself and my own reactive dog; loud car noises and visual distraction from their movement and turning a blind spot corner where my dog and the pedestrian on the other sidewalk meet = recipe for disaster! 

From one reactive owner to another, stay with it and I wish your Dallas the best.

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6 minutes ago, highway61 said:
On 10/10/2018 at 12:37 PM, dallasbc said:

But today I messed up. As we were going for a walk, I didn't notice a woman rounding the corner we were coming to, and Dallas bit her (same that I experienced - no break in the skin or ripping clothes but stung).

I think the euthanize advice is a bit premature, you fully owned that you should've had him muzzled but didn't. And that it taught you a lesson you're not likely to ever forget

Seeing as how he's bit twice now, once a child, I have to disagree with it being premature..there's no way to warn the third person, or if it will happen. Kudos to her for trying and admitting it's a plausible option at this time.

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I would really attempt to keep your reactions and emotions under control.  You have to KNOW and PROJECT that you have everything under control, people and kids are no big deal.  If you are nervous even if it is because you are nervous about Dallas he will pick up on that and think people and kids are making you uncomfortable therefor he has a Reason to be worried.  

I feel like crossing/avoiding the situation could cause him to be concerned as could leaving when others approach.  I agree you have to do what it takes so he does not bite but just keep an eye to how these things trigger reactions in him.  Notice when he is more worried and when he isn't.  Could be has lots to do with you.

The leash attached to the dog is an immediate line to our emotions - tension, worry, stress...he feels it all as he does when you are not worried, confident, trusting him

 

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On 10/12/2018 at 9:16 AM, highway61 said:

I think the euthanize advice is a bit premature, you fully owned that you should've had him muzzled but didn't. And that it taught you a lesson you're not likely to ever forget.

And a note on corners, for reactive dogs and their owners they can be scary! Particularly corners at busy intersections where any view of where the sidewalks meet are obscured by a large shrub, tree, brick walls, etc... Be on high alert, even with the muzzle on approach them with caution. I can see what happened to you with myself and my own reactive dog; loud car noises and visual distraction from their movement and turning a blind spot corner where my dog and the pedestrian on the other sidewalk meet = recipe for disaster! 

From one reactive owner to another, stay with it and I wish your Dallas the best.

Oh advice on what we have done for corners and doors or other things like this where I can’t see I have taught Ellie to sit and wait while I take a few steps ahead to see and then tell her good and then she continues to walk with me. It just helps to make sure we aren’t running face to face with a trigger! If there is a trigger I have taught her “place” which is where I step back away from the trigger to a safe distance and then have Ellie sit in front of me with my body between her and the trigger and treat until the trigger is gone. My trainer explained when they get to that triggered point we need to hyper keep her attention and treat every good decision even if it is just sitting in front of me. We are the point with this now when we do place I just treat when she gets into it, when the trigger is at a prime point, and when the trigger if gone if she has not reacted. Now she knows any door, corner, any thing we can’t see she has to sit and wait for the okay to walk through :)

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3 hours ago, denice said:

I would really attempt to keep your reactions and emotions under control.  You have to KNOW and PROJECT that you have everything under control, people and kids are no big deal.  If you are nervous even if it is because you are nervous about Dallas he will pick up on that and think people and kids are making you uncomfortable therefor he has a Reason to be worried.  

I feel like crossing/avoiding the situation could cause him to be concerned as could leaving when others approach.  I agree you have to do what it takes so he does not bite but just keep an eye to how these things trigger reactions in him.  Notice when he is more worried and when he isn't.  Could be has lots to do with you.

The leash attached to the dog is an immediate line to our emotions - tension, worry, stress...he feels it all as he does when you are not worried, confident, trusting him

 

 

2 hours ago, Kennedy said:

 

 

 

 

Do not think of a pink elephant right now . Is it working?

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21 hours ago, Kennedy said:

If there is a trigger I have taught her “place” which is where I step back away from the trigger to a safe distance and then have Ellie sit in front of me with my body between her and the trigger and treat until the trigger is gone. 

Yes, this is my world as well! I use this tactic on our daily walks with great results. I get my boy in a sit and with proper distance, we're good. My challenge is to stay in front of his triggers (I know them all by now) and keep him from going over threshhold.

I chuckle if someone asks if they can walk Sammy. I feel like telling them "sure, but I need to certify you first"  :D  Other than his usual triggers which he seems to have little or no self control, he's very smart, polite and managible. 

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