Working with the fearful dog by Cathy Toft

Reprinted from the Collie Connection, Fall 1999


Babe's training pays off! You may be following the saga of Babe, the badly abused Collie from Colorado Collie Rescue. My greatest fear has been that Babe will get away from me when we're out in public, and because of her extreme fear of all people, even me, I would not be able to catch her. In previous articles, I described the steps and strategies that I was taking to be able to catch her at the very least, and I hoped one day to have a real recall with her. I'm pleased to report that, while the recall (proper) is still eons away, my first goal has been accomplished!

Babe, learned to "down" on command by watching me ask my other Collies to down. This training turned out to be a life saver, perhaps literally, because Babe would allow me to catch her by first sinking into a down. The trick was to get her to trust me enough to go into a down for me, and training and many repetitions were how we accomplished that.

The test of our training came one day shortly after the 4th of July. I was out running my 4 Collies (yes, all at once, and we are indeed a spectacle). Most accidents happen after a series of unlikely mishaps begin to pile up, and this accident (Babe getting away) was no different. First, I encountered my dog club in our local park, giving the last class in an agility session. Graduation Day was a paired race, and guess what, they were short of dogs. So they asked me to run Kallie and Megan paired with two of the students and their dogs. I said I'd be happy to, but someone had to hold Babe, as she could not be tied out somewhere--she would panic and hang herself on her choke collar, which she still wears for her safety.

Fine, we ran the races, but Babe got very nervous. Right after the second race, some kids across the park began setting off left over fireworks, and that was the end. Now Babe and Lady, my most sound sensitive Collie, were in a dead panic. I told the class that I just had to get going, so off we ran with two terrified dogs.

Just as we rounded the corner out of the park, a woman spied Babe (my only rough sable Collie) and as happens so often, cried out "OH A COLLIE!! I had a collie when I was a child" and she come straight and quickly at Babe, with a direct stare, on a mission to return to her lost childhood but threatening Babe more than the woman could possibly know. Just as I was shoring up leashes to deal with this new complication, a pack of screaming kids on skateboards comes careening down the street. Screaming kids and skateboards are Kallie's worst horror, and in her panic, she begins to circle me and hogties me with her leash. Meanwhile, Megan is absolutely delighted at the appearance of the loud children and dashes off toward them, leaping with joy in the air.

In the midst of this melee, I tried gallantly to get the dogs out of the street, be polite to the woman, walk with my two feet lashed together, reassure Babe, Lady and Kallie and reel in Megan, when It Finally Happened.

I dropped my end of Babe's leash, and off she went. It couldn't be worse. Kids, noise, fear, threatening woman, fear, middle of the street, me wrapped like a maypole in the three other leashes.

My first reaction was to run after Babe (yeah, run, right) but luckily being hogtied I couldn't. I then gathered my composure, took a deep breath, and tried to be CALM. I tuned out the woman and the children. As we have practiced so many times in my yard, I slowly approached Babe with one arm outstretched, and in a high pitched voice, I sang out her cue words "C'mon Babe". Babe sized up the picture, and after looking around her to see that she was running right into a parked car, she slowly sank into a down, letting me walk up to her and pick up the loose end of her leash. So it was over, just like that. The Crisis lasted only a few seconds, though it felt like eternity. But immediately I realized that all of the training had just paid off in spades--not only the practice of catching Babe in the yard, which we do at least a half dozen times each day, but also Babe trusting me as the safest alternative in a very strange setting.

This was all sinking in when the woman caught up with us and insisted on petting Babe and talking at length about her childhood. I was only partly listening as I untangled leashes and kept an eye on 4 unruly or frightened dogs. Fortunately the children skateboarded off into the sunset and the firecrackers faded into history, leaving me with 4 dogs who recognized that when 2 humans meet on the street they BLAH BLAH BLAH for a long time. All 4, knowing the routine, and settled into downs until time to move on. The rest of our walk was ordinary, but what we'd accomplished that day felt as good to me as any title ever could.


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