After a few private lessons with Nick and Michelle, we enrolled in an obedience class. Because other dogs in the class were also considered aggression cases there wasn’t the typical “Let’s let our dogs meet and be friends.” It was made perfectly clear that a lot of clients were there specifically for help with aggression so “Don’t let your dog attempt to approach other dogs.” Thank you! The last thing I was prepared for was for someone to coming running up “Oh I love Rotts! Can I pet her?” and they’re petting before I can say “No!” or “Hey Fluffy, look a friend” and have a dog encroach in Liezel’s space.
The first night of class Nick said, “I don’t want to see anyone with their leash wrapped several times around their arm. It should be loose.” It makes me smile thinking about it now because prior to the private lessons that was me – leash wrapped around my arm and holding it for dear life. There was another person in class probably more nervous than me and she had to unwrap the leash. At the end of that class Nick said, “Take a deep breath, you got through the first class.” I watched that woman take a deep breath and literally saw relief on her face. I wasn’t alone! Someone else in this world was as anxious and stressed about their dog.
My stress was not only the fear of Liezel biting someone (she, to date, has not bitten anyone) but the idea that Liezel was so scared of people. I have to do everything in my power to help Liezel have the best life she can and being stressed out all the time is not right. My vet told me that the adrenaline from a fight or flight response in a dog is active for days. It’s not like us where once we calm down and realize the threat is gone we can relax – dogs feel that adrenaline for days. Days! My poor puppy was feeling that for days after every scary encounter?
We graduated the six week class and while we had a long, long way to go, we were in a public setting with strangers six weeks in a row and made it.
For the next several months we continued taking group obedience classes and private lessons. Some days were horrible – barking, lunging, hyper-vigilant, bulging eyes, spit flying, etc. Some days were incredible – we could enter and exit class with no reaction, we could talk to other people and she would politely sit at my side, she would “stay” on command with distractions (people walking by, siting with other dogs also in a “stay”). Sometimes she looked like a super star, some days I left class only to get in the car and cry.
One particular day was really bad. Usually, as the class before ours let out, we would stand off to the side in a spacious open field. Not this time. There was 14″ of snow so we had to stand on the driveway / parking lot. As the prior class came out, Liezel went off! Barking and lunging at everyone. It was so bad that I took her back to the truck, got in and started bawling. Thoughts like, “that’s it, I quit,” “I can’t do this,” and “what am I going to do?!” ran through my head. I considered leaving and just going home (did I mention I drive an hour to get there) but knew Nick would call me and make me turn around.
Nick came out to the truck and after we talked for a few minutes – he talked, I complained and cried – he took Liezel in while I got myself together. I felt so hopeless, defeated, tired. Nick handled Liezel for half of the class. She was nervous and continued to watch me with a “Mamma, please come get me” look in her eyes.
I talked to Sandy, another trainer, who had such encouraging words for me. She reminded me how far we’d come. This was one bad day out of many good ones. We were taking classes which was one of my goals. That Liezel isn’t that bad (comparatively speaking in her experience). And, she said if Nick didn’t feel Liezel could improve, he would have told me so. So while sick to my stomach, with red puffy eyes, there was a tiny spark of hope.
It’s very hard to reflect on the good in the midst of the bad. As I think back to that day I can still feel the hopeless, helpless, defeated feeling. But I made, and will make, myself think about the awesome days when I look(ed) at her and think, “You were awesome today!”