We adopted a 1 year old chihuahua from the West LA Animal Shelter in November 2017. She had originally been owner surrendered, then adopted and later returned to the shelter. She had major aggression issues with other dogs and biting people.
After bringing her home for the first few days she was a sweet little dog who enjoyed her twice daily walks. She was fine with my children and husband, and besotted with me. I saw no real issues with her and wondered if perhaps the people who returned her were making excuses for the fact that they had changed their minds about owning a dog.
By day eight things began to change. She began growling and barking at other dogs on the street, later this became people on skateboards, bicycles, and individuals simply walking by. If we were in an outdoor restaurant and the waiter approached the table she growled and attempted to bite them. Things got progressively worse as she would no longer need to see another dog on the street, as soon as we left the side gate she would start barking and pulling at the lead. Walking her, something we had both previously enjoyed, became extremely stressful.
Having grown up with a collection of strays my assumption was that if you give a dog a lot of love and care they eventually calm down and fall into the rhythm of your household. This dog was going the opposite way and I felt totally out of control. The absolute last thing I wanted to do was take her back to the shelter, and finding a home for her privately was going to be very tough. Who would want such an aggressive dog?
Things came to a head when one day in CVS at the checkout she bit a man who walked behind us on the ankle. He had not attempted to touch her, but simply gotten to close to her. Fortunately no blood, but he was surprised and angry and I was scared. What if it had been a little child on the face for example? She had also started growling and trying to bite my husband if he got too close to her or attempted to put on or remove her leash which made me feel very trapped.What if I needed to be away from the house for a few days and leave her in his care?
I contacted Leonard who assured me that during the 3-4 week period she would be with him and his pack 24-7 and do everything with them. Unlike some other training facilities it wasn’t just a couple of hours a day, but effectively a round the clock real life training and rehabilitation programme.
On the morning we left her my husband and I did so with some trepidation. But Leonard’s reviews and video material on YouTube were very reassuring and I needed someone who understood dogs in a way that I did not. That very afternoon I got sent pictures of my little dog posing in a relaxed and confident manner alongside his two dogs on a walk. The same dog who only that morning had been snapping at dogs 10 meters aways on the street. Now she was walking and standing alongside them in a relaxed manner. I could not believe it. Evidently I had found the right man for the job.
During the next three weeks Leonard kept me posted with frequent (and beautiful) photographs and videos of my dog alongside his and emails about her progress. He assured me she was a good dog but just needed the right training and consistency on my part! While the two of them had to resolve certain trust issues she had with him, they eventually got to a place where she was sitting on his lap and expressing genuine affection for him. I could see the change in my dog and it was a heartfelt relief and weight off of my shoulders.
Before taking her home I had to spend some time with my dog as Leonard observed my behaviour as well as the dogs and how we both co-create the dynamic. Which brings me to a central benefit of working with Leonard – he not only understands canine behaviour but is an astute observer of human behaviour too. So much of what our dog expresses is a consequence of how we as dog owners treat them and how we relate to them – both verbally and non verbally. While many of my dogs issues were pre-existing, I had to learn what I was doing to contribute towards the problem and what I might do to help solve it.
I found spending time with Leonard empowering. It helped me pay attention to my body language, how I moved, and how I viewed the terrain I was entering into and navigating with my dog as we took our walks together – the pack mentality. It was a genuinely good dose of psychology for both of us.
An animal is not a machine that can get sent in and fixed for good, they are living beings with all the complexities that involves. My dog and my work together is ongoing but I am now equipped with the tools, understanding, and confidence which I was lacking previously thanks to Leonard. My dog is more relaxed, our walks have become enjoyable again, and my dog now listens to me. Revolutionary. Leonard is indeed a gem.