I had to redefine the trigger words in Liezel’s mind. The redefining required reward and correction. All of the training up until ten months ago was reward-only; our new trainers incorporated corrections.
When Liezel reacts to strangers, she tunes out anything around her and fixates on the “scary thing.” I could pour treats into her mouth (never did, of course), but that fixation remains until I either pull her away or the person goes away. The only reward she wants is for the scary thing to go away. No amount of talking, luring, or nudging was going to snap her out of it.
Enter prong collar. The process of seeing the scary thing, saying her name and commanding “Heel” was nixed.
I began giving correction when she started to stare. The correction would cause her to look at me. When she did, she was rewarded with “Yes!” and food. We continued walking and if she looked back to the person, a mild correction. As soon as she looked to me, “Yes!” and reward.
Heel and watch commands took on a new meaning because of training: group classes and private lessons. Both commands are used very regularly, and while it took a while for her to not look around frantically when said, she can now heel and watch without worry.
I also started saying her name at random times and and in random voice pitch. This too, took a very long time for her to not immediately tense up and look around with hyper-vigilance. Eventually, when she saw no signs of danger, she would look up at me and get, “Yes!” and food.
We had to work on this in the yard as well. It is really sad to me that the poor little thing associated her name with something scary. Every time I said her name, she stared at the gate, tense and alert. Much the same as everything else if she would look back to me, she was rewarded.
The time it took from saying her name to her looking at me was continually decreased. She started by staring until she was sure the coast was clear, after a while she would look for danger and then look at me (reward!). Today, I can say her name and she immediately looks at me for food. And I will continue to reward her.
I still periodically yell “Morning!” or “How are you, today?” when in the yard (the neighbors must think I’m seeing things). And while she will look in the direction I’m facing, she goes right back to what she was doing before I said it. At first, we could be playing tug and if I said “Morning” she let go and ran to the gate, hackles up, barking. Today if I do it, she turns her little eyes toward the gate but will not let go of the rope.
Liezel has new trigger words. She could be at the farthest corner of the yard and if I say “sweet potato” she comes running. The same is true if I say “go to grandma’s.” Her name isn’t scary anymore and I’m thankful we were able to fix that.