I was called to work with Lilly, the Pit Bull mix rescue, because her owner Kim was told by another trainer that, “It’s not a matter of IF Lilly’s going to bite someone - it’s a matter of WHEN she’s going to bite someone.” Kim was hoping that one day Lilly could be a therapy dog… As I was being told this in their front yard, Lilly was barking at me, restrained by her owner’s leash. I continued to talk with Kim, and ignored Lilly until she paused in her barking - and I tossed a treat behind her. She scurried back, got the treat, and continued barking. She paused, and I tossed another treat behind her. She got the treat, came back to the end go the leash, barked three times and stopped. I tossed a treat behind her. She got the treat, came back, and mumbled a little bark and waited. I tossed a treat behind her.
She ran back, got the treat, came back in my direction, and stared at me. I waited a couple seconds, and tossed a treat behind her. She ran and got the treat, came back and looked at me quizzically. I ignored her, and continued to talk with Kim. Lilly quietly sat! I tossed a treat. She got the treat, returned and sat in front of me. At this point, I’d moved close enough that she could have jumped on me, but she sat right in front of me. I said, “Good girl,” and tossed another treat. She happily chased the treat, came back and sat right in front of me.
Lilly had learned without being corrected or told what to do, that sitting in front of a new person was a game that she could play - and that new people approaching were not a threat. Barking would be ignored, and sitting and being quiet would be rewarded. It’s a learning process, and she figured it out without being told. This dog definitely had potential.
So we started getting her to check in. I’d say “Lilly,” and when she would look up at me, I’d toss her a treat. She was easily distracted out in the front yard by every little movement or sound, but when I said her name, “Lilly!” she would come back to me for a treat. But then a boy rode by on a bicycle…
Lilly lunged and barked, and started to pull Kim toward the street. I said, “Lilly!” in a sing-song voice, and she paused… turned around and came back to me, and looked at me. “Good girl,” I told her and tossed her a treat. “We can make this work, for sure,” I told Kim
We worked with Lilly in the front yard, then the back yard, and then walking through the neighborhood, adding a few distractions each week. Then we met in a quiet part of Glasgow park, and the next week a busier section, and finally, as Lilly developed confidence, were able to walk past people on a path, and dogs 20 feet away. Kim works with Lilly every day, and even takes her to work with her. Lilly is still working and practicing, gaining confidence and learning about the world, with the goal of AKC Canine Good Citizen - and then hopefully one day.... Therapy Dog.