Growly Class I: Hurricane Gianna Emerges

It's taken me a week to synthesize what happened: Gianna was the worst dog at Growly Class. We felt good going into classes because we took her to the training facility a week in advance so that she could get familiar with the scene via doggy daycare. Of course, she was fine off leash and hardly wanted to leave.

Our seemingly clever prep work proved ineffective for class, like running a mile to train for a marathon. Gianna outright failed every task put in front of her. Mind you, the "tasks" were simple scenarios where she met the other dogs at a safe distance while on leash. Success was as simple as her not freaking out, but she continually freaked out.

The first task, standing by our car while other dogs and owners did the same, set the pace for the evening. She couldn't handle it. She lunged and barked at other dogs she saw. When I pulled her back, she would nip at my shins and shoes like I was cattle. I'm planning to wear shinguards for the second class, seriously.

Other dogs progressed to a new trial where they were to walk down the parking lot aisle, something like a Soul Train dance line, while we struggled to keep her attention behind our car where other dogs were out of sight. The trainer took us inside to try a harness that provided better control and quarantined us in a corner of the room so that the other dogs could come inside without confrontation.

We remained in that corner of the room, near two other misbehaving dogs, for the rest of the evening. All that was missing was a dunce hat.

Gianna's fundamental problem is that she struggles with "proximity anxiety" (she doesn't like the distance limitations of a leash) and she "resource guards" (wants to protect us). That translates into behaviors where she lunges and barks and gets defensive of us when there are other dogs around. To help desensitize the leash trials, we're supposed to pop treats in her mouth when she feels anxious as a way of saying "It's OK." At first, that worked, but the treats got old after the first 20 minutes. Hell, I can only take eating human candy for so long.

By the end of the hour class, I was exhausted from trying to keep Gianna in place and using a "happy voice," Gianna was way stressed out and Amanda was on the verge of tears. We so wanted a glimmer of success in that first class but knew we had more work to do. Work continues at class tonight. Wish us luck!