Lessons from Challenging Dogs: Helping Jazz
By Luzelle Cockburn
I was once asked to look after a Belgian Shepherd, called Jazz, while her owner went away on holiday. She was a nervous dog, yet had a bite history. She was already on her second home and both homes were too harsh for her temperament. Both her previous owners wanted to compete with her, yet neither could get her to heel with joy.
A Rough Start
The day her owner left the country she escaped. Someone she knew managed to get her back in her run. She distrusted people and though she was nervous and soft, she was quite opinionated and bossy – an odd mix but a reasonably common combination. I was to learn that her mannerisms had more to do with how she had been handled and trained than her personality.
My first challenge was to build trust with her. Once I got her trust, I knew that she would stay with me as she is an extremely loyal dog. But how do you build trust with a dog that has a bite history, is nervous and acts like a wild animal with strangers?
After a bit of a rough start, I soon started breaking down Jazzie’s barriers and gaining her trust. And not only that, within a short time, we started developing her love for precision heelwork, something neither of her previous owners could get her to do happily – and one was a dog trainer.
“She distrusted people and though she was nervous and soft, she was quite opinionated and bossy – an odd mix but a reasonably common combination. I was to learn that her mannerisms had more to do with how she had been handled and trained than her personality.“
When Jazzie’s owner returned from holiday, he noted that she had become a happier, more social dog. Other people who knew her also noted the same. In fact most people disliked Jazz before I worked with her and actually started finding her a pleasant dog to have around. Jazz had been a suspicious, stand-offish dog previously. However, with my help, and by including her in my life and giving her confidence she started blossoming! Jazz’s owner and I ended up swapping dogs temporarily so that I could continue working with Jazz.
It was around that time that Choco came to stay. Now Choco and Jazz were partners in crime (they even killed a sheep together, I was told) and Choco had lived there I believe till he was about 6 months old. He was a stunning dog. Anyway, the night he arrived, the first thing that happened was Jazz and Choco had a short fight that sounded terrible. Neither of the dogs had serious injuries but Jazz had left Choco with a nice hole on his forehead. You see, Jazz was a dominant dog. And first things first, she established her rank with Choco.
Jazz and Choco came with me on road trips, visited pet shops and friends, went to training together, they were lovely dogs to have around. I had no problems with the two of them. I could even walk the two of them together off leash through a sheep paddock without problems.
I continued working on both their obedience. It was fun. I really enjoyed working with those two dogs. But long story short, I ended up swapping dogs back after finding out that my dog had ended up pregnant while in the care of Jazz’s owner.
A Summary of Lessons from Jazz
Unfortunately, as Jazz’s owner did not want to change the way he handled her, despite seeing what an amazing dog Jazz could be! She soon regressed into her old behaviour. So the lesson learned is that the dog’s behaviour does change to a degree depending on the person they are with. That is why I teach you how to teach your dog. Because I don’t live with your dog, I need you to be able to train your dog.
I learned a lot from working with Jazz. Firstly I learned that you need to adjust to the dog to get the best out of them. I learned that the most important part of dog training is building a relationship with a dog. And building a relationship, needs leadership, patience and trust as a corner stone (you can learn more about appropriate leadership here).
Jazz was a sweet girl who just needed her confidence built, but also needed consistent rules so that she didn’t end up being a bully.
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Some videos of us working with Jazzy below, enjoy!
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