I’m not sure if all of you follow Belle’s blog, Just Between Us but if you do you’ll know that she’s been writing an amazing series of posts on her training journey. Because of how closely our training stories run, and at a lot of points, intertwine, I thought I’d write a few posts on it as well. I really am no where near as good at writing serious posts as Belle is, but bear with me, I’ll give it a go.

The current crew of Belle and I.

It started with a Chocolate Lab named Alki. He was very, very dog reactive. He was a short term foster and returned to his owner after several months. However, in that short time we were introdued to Cesar Millan and his “rehabilitation” methods. The stage was set for a disaster.

Several years, and my parent’s divorce, later Belle and I both got into dogs again. This time we fed off of each other, obbsessive like only young teens can be, we covered every aspect of dogs. Every dog book in our libraries has our grubby fingerprints all over it. I (stupid child that I was) introduced her to Cesar Millan.

We scorned those “positive people” who had to use treats to bribe their dogs. (Never mind the fact that neither of us actually owned a dog, let alone had successfully trained one.) Swearing up and down that we’d never have to do that with our dogs.


When I was fourteen we had a sleepover, the highlight of which was a trip to the Humane Society.

My Mom had put her foot down on getting a dog several years ago, but after this trip I begged, wheedled, and pleaded until at last, she agreed.

We went the next week and picked up Holly. She wasn’t my first choice, in fact she wasn’t even a breed that I really wanted, but somehow I got her.

Sweet Holly, taken late last year.

At first Holly was (almost) everything I wanted. She loved people and dogs. Granted she jumped at every sound, wouldn’t look you in the eye, was terrified of sticks, and wouldn’t wag her tail at anyone. To me she seemed perfect.

Then it started. She started reacting to other dogs, mildly at first, then barking and lunging if she met them head on. I went running back to Cesar Millan and his books.

It only got worse. I corrected for staring at other dogs, lunging, or barking at other dogs. It only escalated to the point where Holly was actually getting in fights. Everything got worse. I switched to a prong collar and walked Holly nine miles a day to tire her out. None of it helped. Holly enjoyed the exercise, but the corrections and exercise did nothing to help her reactivity.

So ensued a year or so of stupidity. Everything Holly did was out of “dominance” I corrected her for everything wrong, never praised her for anything right, used alpha rolls, prong collars, and verbal corrections.

Poor, poor Holly. Looking back on it I’m surprised she didn’t take my arm, or at least a few fingers off. I completely deserved it.

Instead my sweet girl just shut down. She was terrified of me. She worked for me, but slowly and out of fear. The only times she really came alive were for meals. It was an awful time, made all the worse because I didn’t understand anything about what was going on or what I was doing.

Enter Dozer.

Belle got him about six months after I got Holly. He and Holly were best buds at first sight. I was so jealous, he was a perfect dog, he listened, heeled, was “submissive” and had no issues at all. It made me more determined than ever to get Holly to be “calm and submissive”, so she could be a good girl.

Dozer and Holly, best buddies.

I continued using harsh methods. Holly didn’t trust me, she was afraid of me, she didn’t really like me. Quite honestly she was terrified of me.

Finally, one day I wanted to teach her something that couldn’t be taught using corrections. Something she wouldn’t do on her own.

I wanted to teach her to carry things in her mouth, and to retrieve.

Stupid child that I was I actually did try force to get her to hold things. It worked about as well as writing on water. That is to say, it didn’t. Finally one day, out of options on the correction based front, I dug out the clicker that I had been given over 5 years before.

I tried it.

Five minutes later Holly was eagerly picking up the object I had decided to work with and practically throwing it in my lap, her ears up and her tail going a mile a minute.

A regular retriever!

It was at this point a switch was thrown in my mind.

If Holly had caught on so quickly to that, why not other things? Doors were opening.

I’ll continue this in my next post. I hope it’s not too dry and boring.

Until Later!

Kat, Holly & Brigantia