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Princess Leia

I got a call from Jeff, who had rescued a 2 1/2 year old female Golden Retriever – a breeder dog from a puppy mill. TB was camped out on a rug in his bedroom and refusing to leave that spot, or go outside! Jeff said she had to be be pulled or carried through the doorway to go out to potty, and she weighs more than 60 pounds. 

Breeder dogs in puppy mills often live in crates in a barn, and rarely even see the outside world. They never leave the barn, so the outside world - with the overload of smells, sounds and sights - is frightening! It’s so sad. 

Jeff and I set out to help TB relax, discover her new surroundings, and become a dog. But first  - how to get her to go outside. The person who fostered TB, before Jeff adopted her, had another dog that she could follow out the door. Following another dog helped her with confidence, but there was no other dog here. 

Jeff put down a trail of blankets and rugs, and got her to move from the bedroom to the living room. It turns out, she was more comfortable walking on a softer surface than the hardwood floors. She made herself at home on the rug in the living room, and Jeff was able to coax her outside through the front door to potty. She was camped out in the living room when I arrived. She was very calm and sweet… but so shy and timid.


I wanted to build her confidence with training and focus exercises in her comfortable place (the living room), and then start to slowly increase her area. We worked on hand targeting in the living room (TB is food motivated) with a very high value treat. She would move a couple feet to touch our hands with her nose, and earn a treat. It was a start. 

Then I set up red solo cups around her, with treats under them. She tipped a cup and found the treat, and then thought about, and tipped a couple of the other cups. I spread the cups a little farther around the room, and she got to explore the room. I just wanted her to relax, and feel like a dog. 

The second session, Jeff told me that he wanted TB to go down the back steps (back door is on the second floor) to get into the fenced in back yard, but she did NOT like the steps, and was even afraid to go onto the porch to get to the outside steps. She would lie down by the doorway and refuse to go onto the porch. I told Jeff that I wanted this to be her idea. So I set up some red cups with treats just past the threshold on the porch and we sat on chairs on the 2nd floor porch... and waited. 

After a few minutes, she slowly walked through the doorway and tipped a cup, got the treat and went back in the living room. So I did a refill, and sat down again. A couple minutes later she walked in, tipped a cup, got the treat, tipped another cup, and went back into the living room. I refilled and we sat. After about five visits she started tipping all of the cups - then leaving the room. 

I refilled the cups and whispered "Let's go," and we propped open the back door, went down the steps and waited in the yard. We waited more than 5 minutes, and then heard one of the cups being tipped over. Jeff wanted to call her, but I urged him not to. We waited… After 3 or 4 more minutes, she poked her head out the door and saw us. "Shhh... don't call her. Let it be her idea."  She slowly walked onto the landing and ran down the steps to greet us. We cheered!

We ran around the yard with her for a bit and celebrated, then Jeff took her back around the house, and in the front door, and we repeated the previous exercise. We set up the cups with treats, left the door propped open and went down the steps into the back yard... and waited. After a couple minutes we heard the cups tipping, and saw her smiling face peeking out the door. She saw us and ran down the steps.  We repeated this 6 or 7 times, and each time her bravery time improved. 

We sat in the yard and talked, while she walked around sniffing, peeing, and being a dog. We’d made a major breakthrough, and it made the day so much brighter. We did it by making her adventure fun, and letting everything be her idea.

One thing I hadn't mentioned. Jeff wasn't sure this match was going to work out. He was going to have to do some traveling toward the end of the summer, and if we couldn’t fix this problem, he wouldn’t be able to leave her with anyone. He was thinking that he might have to return TB to the foster, so he hadn't named her. He didn't want to get attached, and have his heart broken. We'd been calling her TBD (name To Be Determined). I was calling her TB for short. As we were finishing up the session, I said, "You were so brave today, TB!"

Jeff looked at me and announced, "Her name is Leia.”

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