Dog Boot Camp Success: Lucille 4 is Heeled (pun intended)

On Friday, I took down my old, anonymous blog,

It’s a huge vote of confidence for  Lucille 4 (her name used to be  Lucille 3, but now that she’s a different dog, she deserves a different name, don’t you think?). And she’s absolutely earned it.

My 4-year-old shepherd/heeler mix has been more than just a challenge for the last two years. I mean, you’ve got to be pretty intense to inspire a blog called mydogisanahole.  She picked up a mean case of leash aggression soon after I moved to Chicago. She couldn’t walk past a house across the street that had a dog barking in the back room. If the dog was actually visible? Forget it. I used to run with her daily, but couldn’t handle the frustration (and risk of being tripped as she charged an invisible or visible animal). I dreaded the twice-daily walks, scheduling them when the fewest people would be outside.

She struggled with passing people, too. Nipped at a kid on a skateboard. Charged an old man with a walker (admittedly, he kind of deserved it). Leaped at an old Eastern European woman in a muumuu. I kept upgrading her collars, from a “gentle leader” to a harness to a not-so-gentle prong collar, and gave her a death grip when passing anyone. If a dog was anywhere in the vicinity, we turned around or ducked down an alley or did whatever to avoid getting anywhere near it. It. Was. Awful.

In the house, she had an anxiety of a different sort. She licked and licked and licked. Any sort of skin, exposed or covered, her tongue was on it. If more than one person was home, and they were trying to hold a conversation, she was in the middle of it, nudging, licking, getting in our faces. If we had guests over, her nose was planted firmly in their crotches (male or female) from the moment that they walked in the door. That is, if she wasn’t putting their hand in her mouth to guide them, nipping them, licking their toes or jumping on them.

She’d had obedience training, I’d had private training sessions, I’d read multiple books. Each led to minor improvements, but it was never enough. Besides, she eventually just stopped caring about what commands were given–especially if a guest was over.

Then, she went to boot camp.

I admit, I was skeptical. I thought, sure, they’d train her and reinforce her commands. Then she’d come home and we’d fall into our old ways. I accepted fault for her poor behaviors, but I didn’t know how to fix them. I figured we were entering into an expensive cycle. But I knew that something had to be done.

Now, I stand corrected. She’s been home a week now, and she’s an entirely different dog.

Her trainer was (and is) Curtis Scott, who runs Canis Familiaris. He actually doesn’t seek new boot camp students, and urges most interested parties to simply enroll in a class rather than drop off their dog in his care (he works with Found Chicago, which rescues and rehabilitates dogs and cats) for two weeks. But because Lucille 4 was having so many social issues, he wanted to get her around other dogs right away, so he accepted her. Half of the fee we paid (it wasn’t cheap) went to Scott, the other half went to Found Chicago. With that in mind, it was a bargain.

I don’t know how Curtis, who is an ex-Marine, does it, but Lucille 4 has come so far that I don’t question it. Before camp began, Curtis asked me to list the top three issues I wanted him to work on. I told him leash aggression, licking and the whole jumping/nudging/anxiety and need to be the center of attention.

When her boot camp ended, we also got a video of her progress–she was playing with other dogs, greeting people in an acceptable way, walking through PetSmart like a confident, lovable creature. Phenomenal. Since she’s been home, it’s stuck. In fact, she’s so good now that both Neil and I really enjoy taking her out for walks, to the point that we’re exhausting her. Yesterday, I took her for a two-mile morning run. That afternoon, he took her to the park yesterday to throw a ball around and totally wore her down. Last night, I took her out for a walk around the block but she was doing so well, and it was such a nice night, we just kept going. That all showed this morning, I took her for a four-mile run. I was dragging her by mile three. Still, it’s good to know that not just our lives that have improved. She’s getting rewarded heavily for good behavior.

Today, my nephews came over for lunch. In the past, Lucille 4 would have been quarantined, because Louie, the 2-year-old is allergic to her licking, and she’s always been in his face, non-stop. Not anymore. She didn’t lick him once. She greeted everyone, and then went and laid down, watching us all from afar. When invited over by my oldest nephew, Simon, she approached him and stood still while he and his brother pet her. Then she went back to her spot to lie down. Simon has been the only one disappointed by the changes in Lucille. “But I like when she licked me!” he said today. Too bad, kid. Too bad.

She’s also greatly improved on the leash. Curtis taught us some tricks for walking her to keep her from pulling, which work like a charm. On a number of walks, I’ve let her approach and play with other dogs on the street, and she’s behaved perfectly (better than the dogs she’s playing with). Other times, if the dogs are on the other side of the street, her ears and back hair will perk up, but I’ll repeatedly say “enough” and she won’t give them a second look. Passing large dogs on the same side of the street still presents a number of issues, but I’ll continue to work on it with her.

The changes have given me a whole new respect for Lucille 4. You can actually see that she’s trying very hard to practice what she learned. It’s made for a much more peaceful and happy house. I’m eternally grateful to Curtis and his assistant, Debby. I will recommend their classes to everyone I meet who needs canine intervention. And I will try harder to keep in mind that everyone can be rehabilitated, they just need to find the right teacher.

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4 thoughts on “Dog Boot Camp Success: Lucille 4 is Heeled (pun intended)

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