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The Art of Training
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What she wanted to teach the dog was simply to be quiet and walk near her leg. “Every time she would bristle up or go into an alert, I would have her back close to my leg. Finally, she gave me the eye contact I’d been waiting for. I said, ‘Okay, she’s ready. She understands what I want her to do. But let’s go outside and walk her and sit with her a bit and keep this going.’ We walked for a while and then sat on a stone wall, with her at my knee. I stroked her from the ear down, with one finger only, requiring nothing of her but being in my body space.”

 

Earlier, Pona had watched the volunteers gush over this Pit mix, and she’d seen the dog flash stress signals. “They were overwhelming her, and she was trying to soothe herself, yawning, licking her lips.We could have bounced a dime off her skin, it was so tight. But after we sat outside with her, just doing nothing, she relaxed. I got her to continue making eye contact, establishing some lines of communication. And then we went in and walked right through the dogs.When a particularly hyper Sheltie mix kept jumping and barking at her, she actually looked the other way and kept walking.”

 

The volunteer watched in amazement. “I never even saw you correct her,” he said.

 

Pona shrugged. “There was no need. I’d taught her, ‘Stay by my leg and be quiet.’”

 

That’s the whole point: Once you relax with each other, you can communicate.

 

For more on Pona and Assistance Dogs for Living, visit marilynpona.com.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 57: Nov/Dec 2009
Jeannette Cooperman is St. Louis, Mo. based writer and editor.

Photo: Peter Newcomb

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