Chipper the terrierToday was the most brain-rewarding, super fun training day in a long time. In a week, at least! One of my favorite clients, a magnetic, bright-eyed little terrier named Chipper, danced with me to the same tune. That moment when hundreds of hours of education and many thousands of hours of experience move my brain and muscles for me and I can just be present and in sync with the dog? Absolute magic. I live for those moments.

Chipper and his person have been working on his dog and human stranger reactivity, so this is a long term project. Through his body language, I’ve come to know Chipper’s emotional states quite well. I also know that when Chipper is not too stimulated to think, he’s a doggie genius. His fear of dogs was much greater than his original fear of human strangers and we are at the stage in his training where we are moving from classical conditioning (awareness of dog = yummy food, not contingent on any other behavior) to more operant conditioning (look at dog, then look back at person for yummy food).

Today I asked for one more thing. “Chipper, how about you also train me to walk away from the decoy dog at your cue?” In a more controlled setup than my prior over-threshold mistakes, I pushed slightly to get the bark. So his bark was more controlled, as well. Two yips turned into one yip, which soon turned into a quieter burf as he discovered that he was cueing me to make a 180-degree turn away from the dog. His pace moving toward the dog became more deliberate, as well, as he kept his brain online and, near the end of our session, only went as far as he was comfortable. It was beautiful watching him make his own choices while I adjusted my timing and rhythm along with him — sometimes leading, sometimes following, sometimes in step.

Behavior intervention is my first love in dog training because the rewards are as great as the challenges, every dog is her own individual, and I can keep learning behavior for the rest of my life. My heart soars every time a dog enlarges his world under his own power with my support. And a smooth learning dance just makes me happy!

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