LARA Update – December 2010

I was looking through some photographs of Lara the other day and realized the first time I met her was in January of 2010. She was curled up in the corner of her kennel at a local animal shelter, so afraid that she would not even raise her head from beneath her paws. For several weeks I watched as nobody adopted her, actually nobody even showed the slightest interest in her as she did not present well at all.

The happy Lara

I have been fostering her since early March 201o on behalf of New Spirit 4 Aussie Rescue and the journey has been very slow yet very rewarding. I decided to foster Aussies about four years ago when I adopted Bailey, my five year old Red Merle Aussie, through APRH. I wanted to help rescue dogs and it was a great way to do it.

Anyway back to Lara, for those of you who have been following my Lara Blog you know we have gone through many stages.

Stage 1 – We could not even approach Lara, she would run and hide in a bush or behind a chair or just freeze on the spot. We began to treat her for being close, 10 to 15 feet away

Stage 2- We could finally approach her inside but had to carry her in and out, her outside trips were on a twenty foot line. She was so scared of a leash if it became taut that you had to follow around behind her making sure it did not get trapped on anything. If left unsupervised for more than 5 seconds with the long line she would chew straight through it.

Stage 3 – We began shaping calm behaviors around people, we shaped her to approach people and then to touch a hand. We then used this to catch her to carry her in and out. We then used the touch cue to move her in and out so we no longer had to carry her. A six feet trip could take 5 minutes.

Stage 4 – We began clicker training her to sit and down. We had to do this from a distance as she became too scared if we got to close. We could now move her in and out and we began working on name recognition so we could get her attention if she was outside.

Stage 4- We began working on ‘let’s go’ so we could control her outside. She was now allowed off leash in the yard as we could at least get her back to us. She began playing with us and the other dogs. We shaped a nice ball drive so exercising her became easier.

Stage 5 – Lara was allowed to romp on the north 5 acres of our property with the other dogs, she was attached enough to me and the other dogs that she would follow us all back into the yard.

Stage 6 – Lara has learned that begin inside the house is not that scary, she still shudders at strange noises but has learned to sit and relax on the couch when we are watching television.

So what have we learned through all of this.

1. Dogs that have been abused or had zero socialization have a long road to travel, that needs to be taken slowly and at their own pace

2. There is nothing more satisfying than working with a dog that is almost feral, very scared and very shut down and the simplest of behaviors they offer are a huge breakthrough. I never thought I could get so much joy from having a dog tap my hand with its nose on cue.

3. With patience, kindness and a good plan, almost anything can be achieved with a dog. Check out the DogSmith FREE MTR cards that show how to train each of these skills.

So who is Lara now?

Lara is a delightful dog, with a lovely personality. Her exuberance with her new life sometimes gets her in trouble. She does not always respect the space of other animals and has been known to climb over the other dogs in excitement to reach a goal. She loves her ‘peeps’ those she trusts and they are few and far between as she is not overly keen to meet new humans.  Her antis are comically entertaining. Even at her most frightened she has never show as much as a snarl. She is amazingly athletic but I believe her personality will restrict her from ever performing, had she had a normal puppy-hood she could have been a fantastic agility dog. With that said if she continues to progress the sky may be the limit.

Lara is welcome to stay in our home for as long as it takes to find her the perfect home. A home with patient and understanding owners who will enjoy what she has to offer at the speed and pace she can offer it.  Owners that are prepared for the first few months to work slowly with her and to build a loving and trusting relationship before they expect anything from her. Owners that are prepared to give her adequate exercise and mental stimulation in a safe environment while she assimilates to her new home. Owners that can wait for the day when she feels safe enough to give back the same amount of love and trust that they have put forth first.


So LARA really can be Pooped Out!

I have been planning for several weeks to take Lara out onto the main piece of our land for a run with my dogs. I have been very hesitant as 8 acres is a large piece of ground if you have a dog loose and cannot catch it. We have been working on lots of recall games and name games and I have been very comfortable that in our 2 acre training field I can normally get her to come back to me, her recall in the context of her safety areas is very reliable.  She has shown very little interest in our 2 mini donkeys and our array of ducks and geese and two pet sheep.

Last week when I tried to walk her on a leash at the front of our property she put on the brakes and I had to carry her back to the yard. She is very scared of anything new so I was not sure she would even be brave enough to venture out with us.  Anyway this morning it was so bright and cool outside I decided ‘today is the day’.


We carefully lured the Donkeys into our pond pasture with hay and the sheep into our training field. I was convinced that when we opened the gate, the same way we do every morning that my dogs would charge out, off across the bridge and Lara would stay back. WOW what a surprise, she charged off with them. Four dogs all running at top speed. As Lara hit the metal bridge for a second she glanced back and I felt for sure she would stop and retreat. With a huge Aussie smile on her face she bounded forth. She ran and ran and ran, through the stream, back and forth, jumping through the long grass and into the tree lined area.

We walked as the four dogs ran at top speed exploring everything, like dogs do, enjoying every smell as if it was a first time experience. As we walked we realized two dogs had gone missing. From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a Red Merle Aussie running across the pond pasture and as she ran down the bank and into the pond she disappeared followed by a smaller, whiter Red Merle Aussie. Bailey had taken Lara off to the pond to cool down after their morning romp.  They had navigated a gap at the bottom of the fence between the stream and the pond as the water level has dropped giving them just enough room to squeeze through.

They were polite enough to join us at the bottom gate, the entrance to the house, so we could open it for them. Lara had a ball; she was great around the donkeys, ignored the sheep, ducks and geese and fully entertained herself with the donkey poop as she rolled in it to help dry her off after her dip in the pond. So now on our daily morning and evening walks we will be entertained by the comical entertainment of two Aussies and not just one.

Lara was pooped, not just covered in it but mentally and physically pooped.

LARA – First Day at School

This evening LARA attend a DogSmith Dog Training ‘Drop-In’ class.

Bethany Jordan, The DogSmith Florida Panhandle and Southern Alabama was holding a DogSmth Pet Dog Training Class so we dropped by with Lara.

I was very excited that i could walk her around on a leash while a student was working about 50 feet away. Lara would also focus on sit and down. Every now and then in her excitement she attempted to jump 6 feet in the air while doing a 360 degree spin but on the whole i was delighted with her progress.

Learn more about The DogSmith

Lara Meets New Shoes and Stuff!

We often talk about the importance of socializing dogs and why it is so important when dogs are young and in the ‘explore everything – no fear’ period. This becomes so obvious when you are faced with an older dog that has had limited exposure to almost everything. Even the smallest of things become a major emotional event to overcome. Think about shoes. I have noticed, since the weather has cooled down here in Florida that we are now shelving our flip-flops and summer shoes for the more hardy footwear, when I approach Lara with my new feet coverings it takes her several seconds to sniff, assess, bark and then accept socialization of shoes, too funny. I now go outside with a different style of shoe as often as possible.


Last week we began training Lara on the dog door we had installed in her room. Yes she lives in a 20 x 20 room that we have gradually added home items to so she has time to accept each new piece of furniture. If you have followed Lara’s blog you will know that it was a tremendous effort to even get her inside in a relaxed state. We have attempted to bring her into the main area of the house but the overwhelming number of stimuli, visual and sound, has her running for the hills. She now loves her chair and her dog bed is left to cool. She is comfortable with a radio on and does not shudder each time a door or window opens or closes. Anyway, part one of her dog door training was to remove the cover and expose the flap; it took two days for her to be comfortable with this. Once the cover was removed she would not go in or out of the room. Step 2 was to secure the flap up exposing the outside. Once in the room she would not approach the door. Step 3 – once comfortable with the flap fastened up was to encourage her through the dog door. This was actually the easiest step. I trained Rick’s 9 pound JC mix to jump back and forth through the door and Lara was so excited that she jumped after Gizmo and was astonished to find herself outside. Now getting her back in through the dog door, that will have to wait a while!

New Spirit 4 Aussie Rescue, Shelter, Love, Comfort

New Spirit 4 Aussie Rescue, Inc.

New Spirit 4 Aussie Rescue is an all-volunteer non-profit 501(c)(3) organization serving Australian Shepherds and Aussie

mixes in the eastern half of the United States
See the available dogs for adoption

We evaluate Australian Shepherds and Australian Shepherd mixes from selected shelters and private owners no longer able to keep their Aussies.  If we judge a dog suitable for placement with an average adopter, we foster it in private homes and get to know the dog.  We then post the dog to our website and place it in an adoptive home where the energy levels, expectations and personalities are a good fit.

Think of us as a “doggie dating service”!
Don’t want to adopt
but do want to help?

We depend on donations to supplement our adoption fees.
Sometimes, the cost to rescue a dog far exceeds our adoption fee.
We accept checks or Paypal.
You’ll receive a letter acknowledging your gift for your tax records.
You can also help by visiting our Paws To Shop section.
Thank you in advance for your generosity!

(You don’t need to have a PayPal account yourself.)

You can do a little or a lot:
no experience necessary!
Make reference check phone calls, do home visits, help with transporting dogs, fundraise, maintain webpages, help at rescue booths, or become a foster home.
Your fellow New Spirit volunteers will be there to help every step of the way!

Month 7 and Lara is Finally On a Leash!

Finally, Lara on a Leash!

September 28, 2010 Month 7

I know it has been a long time coming, this blog on Lara’s progress, but it comes along with great news. After weeks of painstaking work each day with a leash we have finally accomplished the training goal of ‘walking on a leash.’

One of The DogSmith key training skills is just that, we actually do a special 6 week course called ‘walk nicely’ as it is such an important skill for our  pet dogs. What I had overlooked until my experience with Lara is that before you can teach a dog how to ‘walk nicely on a leash’ you have to teach them how to be on a leash, not ‘stand nicely on a leash’ but to actually accept the leash without ‘freaking out’ the minute it comes into sight or is connected to a collar.

From day one, for those of you who have followed this blog on Lara, we had to train her from a distance as she was so frightened of people; in fact she was scared of everything. Most of Lara’s training had been done at 10 feet or more as we could not get her any closer to us. We have moved her around the farm for exercise using the other three dogs, where they go she will follow.  As a result of this distance handling we do now have a nice ‘sit’ and ‘down’ and ‘stay’ behavior at ten feet, something many pet dog owners never achieve.

When we first introduced the leash it was for safety and so we could catch her. She has chewed through many a long line and can expertly grind through a 20 foot line in about 3 seconds. If you actually held the 20 foot line or any leash while she was on the end of it, if it became tense she would ‘freak’ (howl, jump, spin in mid-air at three feet, all in about 4 seconds) and then shut down. She would just sit, tuck in her tail and refuse to move.

So this is the pattern and process of her training for the last few weeks.

1.      Any contact I have had with Lara has included a leash draped around my neck. At first when we started this she no longer came in for strokes, she would keep her distance. We gradually shaped her back in for strokes with the leash still draped around my neck.

2.      Then we worked on her ‘sit’ in the context of me being next to her with the leash around her neck.

3.      When we got out her food bowl and filled it, the leash came out just before. The leash began to predict that she was being fed.

4.      Then we worked on shaping a hand holding the leash down towards her face.  This took a couple of weeks because she would jump back as soon as the clasp of the leash got close to her face.

5.      Then we worked on connecting the leash while giving her lots of yummy treats.  We normally did this first thing in the morning when she was at her hungriest.

6.       Then we worked on waiting a couple of seconds with the leash connected, in a stationary position, before we gave her a treat.  We gradually shaped this behavior ‘sitting with the leash connected,’ for several seconds.  Then we shaped it for longer durations.

7.      Then we worked on clicking and treating for any calm behavior she did while connected to the leash, lots of reinforcement.

8.      Finally to get her into motion we used a hand for a target. The first behavior we ever shaped was to target a hand.  We had used the targeting a hand behavior to help desensitize her to human hands as she would run away whenever you moved a hand near to her.

9.      The leash walking started with one step, target the hand, click and treat, to two steps, target the hand, click and treat.

10.  I then worked on the ‘let’s go’ cue. When you say let’s go she now moves towards you and then she gets her reward.

So yesterday, finally, I had her walking around my yard on a leash with a happy tail. Yippee. The brakes did go on the minute I attempted to take her through the gate into the front yard. Now we have a lot of work to do to generalize this behavior to other locations. Progress is great, however small.

Lara Showing How Happy She Is Playing Ball