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Holly Leaps

As some of you know, we adopted a pair of very undersocialized pups from a shelter in Kentucky a couple of years ago. While they have made progress and are getting over their timidity and lack of self-confidence, Kit, has progressed further and faster than sister, Holly. Although we can take them to the park, Holly is still is too fearful for neighborhood walks.

The other afternoon, Cameron took Lola, our Wirehaired Pointer and Kit to the park, leaving Holly at home so I could try again to get her to walk around the ‘hood. Even with high-value chicken hotdog treats, we weren’t making much progress—she just froze and refused to budge from a spot a few feet from the front door. Not wanting our training session to end in a failure, we returned to the backyard where I put her through her sit/stay/down/let’s dance paces, all of which she aced.

I decided to try to teach her a new trick, a high-jumping one. I made a simple jump using two small buckets with a bamboo pole balanced across them. Holly wouldn’t go anywhere near this contraption, so I scattered tiny pieces of hotdog on top of the overturned buckets. Gradually she got up enough nerve to eat off of them, but there was no way to make her “go over” or even “under” that pole. Figuring it was too high, I reconstructed the jump using bricks, approaching the two-inch height was easier, and she was able to walk over, I added more bricks, and she attempted little jumps, pretty soon with more bricks, she was doing more and more “revs.” Even when she knocked the pole off, which frightened her, I reassure her and then put it back up and ask her to do it again, this went without a hitch.

It was time again for the “main-event” buckets—I stood in front of her and the vault, she was about 2 feet from it and I called to her, she slowly looked to the left and then to the right, as if thinking, “can I really do this?” Then the magic moment arrived and she sprinted forward and leapt over—without touching the pole at all! My little Fosbury leaper! I was overwhelmed with her sense (and mine) of accomplishment. I gave her an extra big piece of the hotdog and lavished praise and hugs on her.

It only took 15 minutes and one-quarter of hot dog. Can’t get any better than that!

Have you had an aha moment with your dog? Tell us about it.

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and editor in chief. thebark.com
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Submitted by Diana | July 26 2011 |

That is wonderful :) What a beauty she is! When I first got my wheaten mix, Tallulah, I quickly discovered how scared of everything she was. While on walks she would stop and run backwards, so I got a coupling leash and instead of leading her myself, I attached her to my schnauzer mix, Oliver (who is afraid of nothing!) She quickly learned all the fun things to smell and trusted Oliver immediately. While she may never be big and brave, she goes everywhere now and remains fairly calm always :)

Submitted by Kay S. | July 27 2011 |

I wonder if you could see the same progress by rewarding 3 steps from the door, then four, etc. and continuing on to the neighbor's house, etc. It would be a slow process, but once she got going the distance might increase pretty quickly.

Submitted by Claudia Kawczynska | July 27 2011 |

Kay, I have tried that technique with her "street" walking but she is so fearful that she refuses all treats, no matter their "value." The one thing that does help is when I walk Lola with her, but that doesn't help much, but we can make it to the corner! Holly and Kit were really severely deprived until we got them at 6 months old, we've come a long way (especially with sis Kit) but we still are working to overcome their fears. But thanks for the suggestion.

Submitted by Tiff | April 17 2013 |

With my fearful collie, food wasn't really a thing that worked at all for these high stress times. Like with evil DOORS. They MOVE by THEMSELVES.

V dangerous.

Used to have to get her worked up and we'd run through the door together, then rejoice on the other side how we MADE IT. Going for a wee in the garden was a bit of a drama. She has always been much more able to deal with things when excited about a toy, or if we were moving faster.

I spent a lot of time singing when I first had her. Singing happy songs and skipping along the road, all about how the lovely flappy bag wasn't going to eat our brains, or the lorry, or the wheely bin. Getting past a wheely bin took a while. Look, I touched it! I didn't die! ERMERGERD IT WILL KILL YOU. etc.

Sometimes, I'd end up carrying her and talking all about things, because that's OK and safe. Otherwise she'd just get wound up into such a state she'd lose her little collie mind. Even a 12-14kg skinny collie gets heavy after a while!

Singing happy songs about how cars aren't terrible and we love driving along really - actually, this was one scenario when throwing biscuits into the boot seemed to distract her from her conviction that I was taking her to be slaughtered.

She still thinks things that might fall on her head are very dangerous, but you'd hardly recognise the dog she is today from the strange darting little shadow, skittering around the edges of rooms and barking at visitors from the stairs.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 27 2011 |

I had a new foster dog and took her to an agility class as soon as I got her, because the class just happened to be starting then. On the first week, she was completely shut down and didn't want to try anything.

On the second week, we decided to try to get her to talk through the tunnel. Using only about 1/4 of the full tunnel, we scrunched it completely up so that she only had to walk through about 8". It was still really scary for her.

Not kidding: she walked into that tunnel with her tail between her legs and head down and walked through the other side with her head up proud and her tail wagging. She became the star of the class after that. It was a beautiful thing to see. I wish I had a video of it.

Submitted by Susan T | July 28 2011 |

You must both be proud! You have to admire the courage it takes for an anxious girl to keep trying. I remember when you first brought Kit and Holly home. The difference between their confidence levels then and now is night and day for both of them, and a testimony to the power of your (and Cameron's) hard work.

Submitted by Kristi | April 10 2013 |

Keep the faith - we adopted sisters with a similar personality spread, when they were adults. One is hyper-alert, and much more fearful. The other is a tank of a girl - happy, eager, enjoys affection a bit too much even, curious (interestingly - she's floppy eared and much sturdier, while the fearful dog is slight and prick-eared). Now that they are both 8, the fearful dog is much easier going and a lot more resilient. She approaches even guests for affection comfortably. She still startles at most sounds or sudden movements (except the vacuum cleaner, weirdly), but goes back to resting again very quickly. She has even started to play with us over the last few years.

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