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Adena and Cole

Before Cole, I had never had a dog: I am a cat person…I don’t even like dogs - but then he came into my life, and I fell in love with him. Cole had been on the street and then in a shelter before he came to me at about six or seven months old. For the first few months with me he was Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky – he loved every dog and person he met.

After a few months, it was as if a switch flipped. Cole became very anxious and aggressive around other people, especially kids and anyone moving fast, whether running, on a bike or a skateboard. We took a training class, which was about learning commands and manners, but Cole growled and lunged at people, so the trainer sequestered us behind a gate at each session. I didn’t understand what was happening, but knew that I was in big trouble.

I got an electronic collar and thought I could control him/the situation if I were 100% vigilant about what was happening around us. I spent all my time swiveling my head around like a crazy person, trying to anticipate “trouble,” so I could grab him before something bad happened. We were on a trail in the Oakland hills when a runner (I had already spied her walking quite a ways behind us) came around a corner and Cole bit her. I was devastated – I knew that something had to change if I was going to keep him. Within days, an acquaintance referred me to Kathy, and I contacted her right away. Her website talked about the kinds of problems I was experiencing, which was the start of some hope.

When I talked to Kathy, she was very straightforward. She told me that most of the changes that needed to occur were about me, not the dog - that his anxiety and resulting aggression was an attempt to fill the void caused by my lack of leadership. It was counterintuitive to me that his happiness would be rooted in his sense of safety, and that his sense of safety would be rooted in my strong leadership.

Turns out, he is at his happiest and most relaxed when he is working to understand and comply with my expectations. It is a full-time job with Cole - there is never a day where I can say: “Okay, you can do whatever you want.” If something is okay sometimes, but not okay at other times, it causes confusion that fuels his anxiety. When I started working with Kathy, I had to shrink his world big time. No more sleeping under the covers, no more free range around the house: I tethered him on a short leash when we were home during the day, and I crated him at night.

Kathy asked me to do things that were really hard for me, but I did them (to the best of my ability) because I decided I was paying her a lot of money and that substituting my judgment for hers was not going to get me anywhere other than where I already was.

So I did what she asked, and hoped that eventually I could expand his world. We exposed him over and over to scary stimuli, letting him know what he could and couldn’t do in response. It was months and months of hard work.

By following Kathy’s recommendations, I now have a dog that can be off-leash around people. When something scares him, instead of lunging at it, he chooses to avoid it. Maybe someday he will be less fearful, but for today it is enough that he can manage his fear. Is he 100% trustworthy, especially around children? No. So I pay attention, and I am careful. But I’m no longer a crazy person with him. He is at my side by command when around children, and I always have a basket muzzle handy. Because what I understand today, is that he wants me to tell him how to behave. That’s my job.

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