I had a private trainer come out and I learned so much about animal behavior and canine communication in just one session, but I also tried things that I don’t think were best for Kona. The trainer didn’t do anything wrong, but I did. When she asked if I was okay with a prong collar, I should have said no, or that I had to look into it. It seemed awful to me, but she said it was like the mom correcting her pup, so I thought that made sense, but I’m not his mom… I admittedly said I would do anything to get him to stop lunging. So, out came the prong collar and the corrections. I didn’t feel right about it, but what did I know? All I knew was that I was doing something wrong and I needed help before someone got hurt! Knowing what I know now, I never would have gone down that road. I would have listened to him and I would have trusted my instincts. Pet Parenting Fail #4.
We started working hard on his anxiety and reactivity and on building positive associations with everything, and he was actually the star pupil at our next obedience class. The instructor even used him as an example of when to teach "settle" because he was just on his back with me rubbing his tummy. I got to show off how he could do all the commands and let me clip his nails, clean his ears, and brush his teeth. He paid perfect attention to me during the instructor’s distractions, while she attempted to break his sits and downs. We had been working on his reactivity during the week, but there were other factors that I think played a part in his better behavior. We didn't have to just sit in a circle forever that class, so that helped a lot I think. I had also self-medicated my anxiety and brought a friend to make me feel more comfortable. It was pretty obvious that everyone there was scared of us, so they all gave us much needed space too. There were still those times though... There were 2 guys in class that Kona went after a couple times, but he almost reacted a lot more. I think we actually tried one more class, but it was a disaster, so we dropped out. Finally, I did something right! He was way over threshold there and it was not beneficial for him. All he was learning was how to perfect his lunging skills. We soon quit going to daycare as well, partly because I was too embarrassed to go back, but also because I wondered if that had been the beginning of the end for us.
As far as training goes, I think Kona was a fascinating and complex case. I loved everything about him. I loved his demons and his angels. I was never disappointed in him. I only wanted to help him for him, not because anything that he did bothered me. I didn’t want him to ever feel like he had to protect me, or himself, or his possessions and I was terrified at the thought of him getting into a situation where he was forced to act in a way that put him in danger of euthanasia. I would have taken a bullet for him. I did still feel selfish sometimes and wondered if he would be a happy, perfect, carefree dog in another home. Many people told me that, but I just couldn’t have that guarantee. What if he wasn’t better with someone else? What if he ended up with someone who was not as devoted and careful? What if he still acted out and had his life ended prematurely? How could I live with that? At least I knew that I would do everything I was capable of to give him a great life. I certainly made many mistakes and repeatedly failed him, but I tried to work around our limitations in order to meet all his needs. We may not have been able to walk up to strangers and dogs on the street every day and play, but I brought in fosters and arranged playdates so he still got his doggy playtime. We visited with people he was comfortable with, and that were comfortable with him and he got training, play time, mental stimulation, exercise and love every day. I did make a pact with myself though, for Kona. I would have him evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist, and if his professional opinion was that Kona would be totally fine with someone else, I would have to find him a new home…
03/25/2012: Having a blast at the river with his buddy, Beau & 04/07/2012: Livin' it up with his tiny little foster sister, Polly.