ClickerSolutions Training Articles

You Can't Train a Catahoula with a Tootsie Roll!

When we lost our sweet girl Nica over a year and a half ago, I swore I'd make sure my new pup would have the very best from the start. It broke my heart to see her be so afraid of everything. God knows what happened to her before we got her. In her very short life, 4 1/2 years, she showed me how to really care about a living being. She brought out the "mother" in me.

So when we got Jester a year and a half ago, I was going to make sure he was a well adjusted dog - not afraid of people, loved dogs, able to take everywhere. He arrived at our house at four months old acting like a seasoned adult. He showed no deference to 4, our seven year old lab/shep mix. He was a bully, *very* food aggressive, and had no idea what calming signals were and didn't really care. He was one rude boy.

I was so distraught. I thought, "Here we go again - from the opposite side. A totally aggressive dog. I should have known better, getting another Catahoula."

I started him in Basic Obed classes (positive but not fully clicker at the time) with my trainer Dee, who had helped me so much with Nica. She showed me this *new* technique, clicker training. Jester took to it like a Catahoula to a hog . He was a natural. I loved the idea of letting him use his brain. I already knew he was a genius.

Well, he was a nightmare in class. Growling, lunging, staring down any dog that happened to look his way. We spent most of our time in the *chill out* corner. I wasn't confident with the clicker - still a little shy "clicking in public".

He got progressively worse as he entered adolescence (starting at 6 mos). Picking on all the dogs at the park -- the more submissive, the worse he was. We started only going when we knew it would be empty. Couldn't be within 10 feet of another dog while he was on leash.

I basically stopped all *formal* obedience training and worked on him "being polite" and spent time just getting to know each other. We did lots of one for you, one for 4 (our other dog) exercises to get him to understand if he let 4 get a treat, he'd get one, maybe even two.

I started feeding them in completely separate closed rooms (and will always do this). No sense in creating anymore stress than necessary. Did a lot of C/T for lying nicely on his rug, not chasing the cats. Lots of rewards for playing tug with 4 and giving the toy back to 4 when he let go instead of running away and snarling if 4 got too close (or worse, attacking 4 when 4 won the toy!).

When I got Turid Rugaas' booklet, we played "calming signals" while we watched TV. He'd sit on his rug and I'd yawn, look away, lick my lips. He'd look away, yawn and sniff and I'd C/T him for it. He got really good. The look on his face the first time we played this was precious. He cocked his head, wide eyed and slightly relieved, like - "Phewww - now we can get somewhere."

I started letting him play with one dog at a time that I felt he would do ok with. Luckily for me, Jester is so easy to read. He's like a Shakespearean actor - very expressive. Now that I recognize his language (still don't do too good with Shakespeare though!) it makes handling him so much easier. We started playing regularly with George, a female Chessie who is his same age. She is very submissive and always greets him in a down kissing his face. He responds with a wiggle play bow. Yes!

We've started working on formal obed now - sits, stays, downs, recalls and lots of tricks. I am more confident with my clicking abilities and have a better bond with Jester now. For a while there, I really couldn't stand him. I would come home from obed classes, crying because he was so horrid. I was mad because I thought I had a horribly aggressive dog that I wouldn't be able to take anywhere - again, and felt guilty for not really liking him.

It turns out he's not dominant aggressive as I thought but a real chicken with the attitude of a good defense is a good offense. Once I understood that, it was easier to set him up to succeed. I now know what sets him off and am managing those things as we work thru the problems.

He had his first agility run thru Sunday and he had a blast - tail wagging, smiling the whole time. He is in agility classes on Tuesdays and is relaxing now to the point of lying down while the teacher is talking (still doesn't like the black lab or the Collies). I also put him in a lower level agility class on Mondays just to work on being around dogs on leash. He did great -- even with Lars(very confident Rottie) and Tango(goofy, very large Dobie). Lars was in his first agility class at the beginning of the year. He wouldn't keep his eyes off him - growling and lunging when ever possible. Tonight, he didn't even notice him. And when he did look in his direction, all I had to say was Jester, watch and he would - C/Jackpot.

I can't believe how far he's come in the last few months. I can't believe he is the same dog. He makes me smile everytime I look at him for everything he's taught me. When I told the people on the Catahoula list I don't plan on alpha rolling him or smacking him with a wiffle bat when he fought with 4, they told me I better be ready to call 911 when he decides to show me who's alpha. They also poo-pooed me for clicker training him instead of using compulsive based methods, stating that you "can't train a Catahoula with a Tootsie roll."

Sigh, don't they know chocolate is bad for dogs!

Marni Fowler
copyright 2000 Marni Fowler


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