When we started training with Nick (our fourth and final trainer), he asked what my goal was. Naturally, my first goal was to be able to take Liezel out of the house without her reacting to every human. From there: taking group classes, being able to take her for a walk, and a far-off dream of competing in a dog sport. Having very little confidence that group classes were in our future the other two goals were the goal equivalent of winning the lottery.
But, because I had mentioned competing, our training took a little turn. We were (am) always focused on keeping Liezel from reacting and lessening her fear, but our training started to evaluate our heels, sits, downs, etc. Not considering any other way, I let Liezel sit on her side and down with her back legs kicked out to one side. Liezel’s heel was a bit sloppy – as long as she was next to me and not pulling head or lagging behind, I was satisfied. Well, these lackadaisical ways were not going to cut it if we think we’re ever going to compete.
Nick started teaching us sit with Liezel’s legs under her and down with all four feet on the ground (picture ready to spring up) and heel with her front legs aligned with my left leg. Her front went from just sitting in front of me, to being between my legs with her chin on my belt buckle. In other words, strict, precise positioning. We worked on watch constantly. Sit, watch; down, watch; heel, watch; front, watch.
With a lot of correction and a lot more reward, we started getting better! We’ve been training with Nick almost a year now. In that time, other people in classes have complemented us on Liezel’s watch; when dropping off or picking Liezel up at daycare, my husband has had people say things like “You have obviously put a lot of time into training” or “How did you get her to watch you like that?”
Also, giving Liezel commands and making her focus on us doesn’t allow her much freedom to seek and find scary things. Her focus and obedience allows us to take her out of the house, take walks around the neighborhood, and attend group classes without a guaranteed meltdown. There’s always the possibility that something will set her off, but after all the hard work, it’s not a guarantee.