Louie is Afraid of Big, Black Dogs!

Louie and I just finished our first night of training and much to my surprise he was a superstar. In fact, the trainer took him to the middle of the arena and practiced with him as the model dog. I was shocked and wished I could have grabbed my phone to take a picture. At first, he was a little apprehensive when she took hold of his leash but as soon as she circled him around to face me, he performed like a champ. He trotted in grand style, sat when he was told to sit, and did everything he and I practiced over the last week. I was amazed.

Something strange happened at the end of our training time. There was a very high level of energy in the facility while other groups of dogs were coming in as the previous class disbanded. Louie immediately picked up on this. He became very anxious and started a very low soft growl at the large black lab he had stood next to all night long. I immediately responded by correcting him and removed him from the ring. Crisis averted! We trotted off and headed for home.

This reminded me of something I’ve noticed about Louie. He seems very fearful of large black or dark brown dogs. I recognize this may be due to an aggressive stand the other dog may take toward him. But there are a few large black or chocolate labs who frighten Louie even if they are just walking with their owners. Sometimes, if the dog locks eyes with Lou he will take on a macho attitude and act like he’s tougher than he looks.

I’m not sure where this comes from except that Louie has a very good memory. He remembers the cat from whom he took a beating; he remembers a man and cigar smoke because a neighbor walks his dogs while smoking cigars and Louie has a very strong reaction to the smell even when the man is nowhere in sight. So some time in his past, Louie must have had a negative experience with a large black dog.

There are a couple exceptions to this fear. There is a large dark brown Doberman down the street named Rowan who is really good friends with Louie. They love to romp around with each other. Louie is so short, he fits right underneath Rowan, but apparently neither one of them have noticed. While the power of relationships is not a new phenomenon to me, I realize how important relationships are in helping dogs overcome their fears of other dogs. Much like humans, dogs remember things that frighten them or make them uncomfortable. And they will react with fear or anxiety the next time they encounter a similar situation.

When Louie first met Rowan, I sensed this might happen. However, to change that reaction, I asked Rowan’s dad if Louie could check him out. He was more than happy to have Rowan sit so we could approach him very slowly and cautiously. Louie clearly sensed that Rowan was not an aggressive dog, and consequently they became friends.

This tendency to react strongly and often unconsciously to others is also typical of humans. Sometimes experiences have made us apprehensive of certain kinds of people—right or wrong. Unlike dogs, though, humans are easily taught not to trust or like another, and that message stays with us for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, those prejudices prevent us from building authentic relationships with people purely based on a bad experience with one person or what we have been wrongly taught over the years. Our world continues to witness the damage prejudging others has caused. And while it may seem almost too simple, being intentional about building relationships will dispel wrongful thoughts. It takes strength to not allow prejudices to control us or direct our actions and it takes courage to get out of our comfort zone.

Once Louie has an opportunity to get to know a dog of whom he might normally be frightened, he relaxes and starts to build a relationship. Now if I can just get him to drop the tough macho act, we’ll be making real progress.

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Watch Louie and his pal Rowan!

Read Steppin’ Out Of My Skin: Dispel Prejudices, Embrace the Power of Relationships

“Racial relations in America continue to be one of the country’s most challenging issues. Applause goes to Danise DiStasi for highlighting what an enormous block prejudice is and for suggesting ways it can be transmuted. Read and learn!”

Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager and The On Time, On Target Manager

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Louie, This Is A Football!

I found this post, generated by Louie DiStasi’s Facebook page, last week. He shared how he signed me up for obedience class. Apparently, I am a control freak and a know it all. He was hoping this class would help me.

FB Post LouieAt first I thought it was funny, but then realized Louie just doesn’t understand that he still needs help with many issues. So based on Zig’s advice, I enrolled Louie in Queen City Dog Training Club. I did so because if all goes well, perhaps he can get into agility training at some point.

I filled out the online form and was hoping for an opportunity to share more detail on Louie’s issues, but that would have to wait. I received a call requesting that I attend the first class alone, without Louie. This was reminiscent of when the principal would come to my grade school classroom requesting my presence in her office ASAP. That happened more than I care to admit. I wondered why I needed to go to obedience training without Louie. I immediately started down the path of, “I am not the one with the issues. He needs to get started as soon as possible and I should not waste any time learning the rules of the game.”

But off I went to the class with about 12 other dog owners. As we filled out our papers, I finally saw my opportunity to share more about Louie. There was a very small space on the paper to express my concerns which I completely filled and added additional comments within the side margins. But my anxiety level increased as I listened to others talk about their dogs.

I let out a long sigh as I pictured Louie in the training ring with other dogs who were much bigger and had even more problems than Lou. I wasn’t sure I was up for my one night a week session with crazy Louie who will no doubt be crazier with several other dogs with similar or worse issues. What was I thinking? It is OBEDIENCE class. Perfect dogs do not attend obedience class. It is mostly dogs who have issues…like Louie! And the trainer made it clear; this is not a time of socialization, this is for obedience. Oh boy—here we go!

As stressful as the first session was, the obedience class provided ample opportunity for me to learn a few leadership lessons:

  • First, when I returned home, I practiced the basics with Louie using his favorite treat—mozzarella cheese. He did really well. I was reminded of one of my favorite lines by Vince Lombardi, “Gentlemen, this is a football!” I realized that I need to constantly reinforce the fundamentals with Louie.
  • The next day, when my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren were visiting, Louie was scrounging around for crumbs. I made him sit on his bed by the window and wait until we were done eating. As I walked into the kitchen, he slowly slipped away from his bed and quietly made his way back to my family. I had to make him go back and sit on his bed several times. Some lessons must be taught repeatedly!
  • And finally, as I was walking Louie with one of his girlfriends, Allie, her mom kindly suggested I be a stronger leader to Louie. She was absolutely correct. And Zig reminded me of that as well in that Louie is a control freak and needs to know I am in charge. This is another one of those leadership lessons I’m still learning – the need to continually establish my authority with Louie.

Honestly, I sometimes grow weary of leading anyone or being in charge of anything, much less a dog who should obey my every command. But what a delight when I return to the basics with Lou, and he immediately gets it. Seeing his response encourages me to continue to drill the fundamentals and prepare for the next level. It is not easy and, at times, it is not fun. However, it is incredibly rewarding. The same holds true for parents and for leaders in the workplace. As a leader, I am committed to press through once again and each level gets easier with time.

Louie’s post was correct; this obedience class is as much for me as it is for Louie. By the time you read this, Lou and I will have been through our first class together and most likely will have survived and be ready for class two. As for the comment about me being a control freak and a know it all? Let’s just say Louie continually provides good fodder for our blog!

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