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It Came Down to "Boot Camp" or "The Boot"!
By Vee Ledson

Pippi, Vee Ledson's German Pinscher
Pippi
The "BootCamp" GP

That's where I was about fourteen months ago, with my German Pinscher, Pippi, then ten months old. I had picked Pippi up from her breeder when she was two months old. She was adorable and cuddly, licking faces ravenously.

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Then she was introduced to her crate. For three nights, she screeched, scratched and generally made a nuisance of herself. I thought I'd be evicted if she continued like that. But, I persisted, and she relented, never growing fond of her little den, but nonetheless, feeling safe inside.

When I went back to work after the couple of weeks I had off at the time I brought Pippi home, I arranged for a neighbor to take Pippi out for short walks during the day (it was the middle of winter) and to play with her in our home.

Upon my return that first day, Summer, Pippi's sitter, told me that everything had gone well. I was pleased, except for the fact that the vinyl covered foam pad I had put in the bottom of Pippi's crate was unzipped, and bits of foam covered the perimeter of her crate. "I guess I must have forgotten to do up the zipper," I thought to myself as I cleaned up the mess, zipped up the pad, and placed it once again in the bottom of Pippi's crate.

The next day, everything went well with Pippi and Summer, but, again, there was foam all over Pippi's crate. That little creature, not much bigger than a rat, had figured out how to undo zippers. Needless to say, that was the end of the vinyl pad. Don't scream abuse, she got a towel instead!

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Aside from this, everything seemed to be going very well with Pippi. We attended "Puppy Preschool", and, though she didn't win any of the last-day competitions (quickest response to the come command, longest sit-stay), she did graduate. And, I organized for the trainer, who also had a dog-walking business, to take Pippi on walks on weekdays. Just two months later, the trainer/dog-walker told me that Pippi was too fierce with the other dogs, charging at them, and grabbing onto their fur. Pippi was expelled from dog walking.

Now, it was no great surprise that Pippi charged at other dogs. She did this often, especially when they ran up the riverbank, and she was too "chicken" to go in the water with them. Of course, they had been fetching balls and sticks. And, having a higher footing than them gave her an opportunity to try to put them in their rightful place, that is, inferior to her.

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I had also started experiencing problems with Pippi. She had not responded to my shaking her by the scruff of her neck to correct little growls, or possessiveness. She would, instead, continue to challenge me, and firm reprimands meant nothing. My sister, who manages a pet supply store, deals with difficult dogs daily, and has two bull mastiffs, labeled Pippi the "devil dog". Neither she nor anyone else I knew seemed to be able to get Pippi to comply. Pippi was particularly sensitive to people who came near or tried to interfere with her when she had a marrow bone, a smoked bone, or a bull wrinkle, a euphemism for a bull's penis, or when she was lying or sleeping comfortably. And, I can't forget to mention her performance when she had her nails clipped, all teeth and snarling.

Pippi and I enrolled in obedience classes, and I hired another dog-walker. Mark took to Pippi from the start. And, he didn't seem to be concerned by her behavior with the other dogs. (I breathed a sigh of relief at this news.) He was having a problem, however, with her returning to him at the end of the walks, and said heıd have her trail a leash so he could stop her when it was hometime.

I purchased a special type of lead that is designed to minimize tangling, and off they went. Mark was pleased with the results saying that when it was hometime, he would step on the end of Pippi's leash (no, not when she was running he didn't hurt her!) and bring her home. A few days later, Mark began to have some difficulty. Pippi had figured out just how long her leash was, and she made sure to stay just that distance away from Mark. And, despite his long legs and high fitness level, he could not catch her. No problem, we agreed, and I provided him with the next length up. I think it was 8' now instead of 6'. That worked like a charm, that is, until Pippi figured out the increased length and stayed even farther away from Mark. So, I upped the length again, moving to a 10' leash. Same problem. It worked for a couple of days, and then Pippi was running to her heart's content.

This time, I got a 30' leash. Mark liked this one, because it also slowed her down you can imagine the weight and drag of this leash. Unfortunately, within the week, Mark reported that, yet again, Pippi had figured out just how far she needed to stay away from him, and that even despite trailing 30' of leash, she was too fast and too cunning for him to continue walking her off-leash. Unfortunately he was going to have to walk Pippi on-leash. No more trailing.

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Obedience classes seemed to be going fine. That is, until we got to sit-stays and down-stays. Pippi turned into a Mexican jumping bean. She would sit for about two seconds and then jump up on me whining or yelping, telling me that I was torturing her, that she was simply not going to do as I had commanded. She was defiant and challenging. And, I was in the perfect place for someone to show me how to handle my little devil. Or, so I thought.

The trainers, there were three of them, made their rounds. Each one gave me her suggestion of how to deal with Pippi, tried it herself, failed, and walked away. One, who owned a complacent Doberman Pinscher who stood in the center of the ring the entire class watching almost piteously, told me that she disciplines her Dobe by putting a Styrofoam cup over his nose. And, she even demonstrated it. He just stood there looking even more goofy, not moving a whisker, the Styrofoam cup muzzling his snout. But, she didn't try it with Pippi. Gee, I wonder why.

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I found myself leaving at the end of the classes, crying, and I called my sister in desperation. "Jena," I said, "I need some serious help. Obedience classes are not working for Pippi, and I am concerned that things will get worse instead of better."

Jena referred me to a trainer who is known for working with very challenging, including aggressive, dogs. After I spoke to Kim about Pippi, she said she didn't think Pippi made it into the "very challenging" category, and she referred me to a trainer who deals with "somewhat challenging" dogs. Meg came over soon after, and we had our first training session.

Well, Meg kept Pippi on her choke collar and leash, and, using a marrowbone, she very quickly had Pippi growling up a storm. And, she corrected Pippi quite harshly. Pulling up the leash and almost "hanging" Pippi, with Pippi's hind feet still on the floor, to prevent her from biting her, because that's what Pippi obviously wanted to do. When Pippi relented, she released her and praised her. Meg's suggestion: Pippi should trail a leash and be corrected whenever she growls, snarls, snaps, or shows possession. She should not be allowed on the bed or the couch.

So, now Pippi was trailing a leash at home. And, I was faithfully adhering to Meg's instructions. And everything was working very well, until Pippi tuned into the location of the end of her leash (does this sound familiar? She'd already had some practice on her walks!) Now, when I went to reprimand her, she would turn and charge at me, growling and snapping. One time, she charged at me, and then at a friend who was visiting, just for good measure, I suppose. Well, that was it.

I called Kim and convinced her that Pippi had graduated from "somewhat challenging" to "very challenging", and Kim came out a few days later. After the usual routine with Kim pushing all of Pippi's buttons, and hanging her again, Kim recommended "Boot Camp". Well, Boot Camp was my last hope, and I knew the only other option was giving Pippi "The Boot" (returning her to her breeder???). The former was difficult, and I didn't look forward to future conflicts, but the latter was unimaginable. I loved Pippi. She was my girl.

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What is "Boot Camp"? Well, I suppose there could be many versions of Boot Camp, but I am going to talk about Pippi's boot camp. Pippi had to wear a pinch collar* all of the time unless she was sleeping in her crate. And, if she was out of her crate, she had to be on-leash, and that leash had to be attached to someone, in their hand, on their belt, etc. Pippi was to be given a minimum of attention, preferably none, and no runs off-leash or agility classes (Pippi loved her agility classes). Essentially, no fun, no privileges and no opportunities to break the rules.

Kim also showed me that Pippi's inability to sit-stay and down-stay was sheer manipulation. On the pinch collar, Pippi lay very politely without trouble for the half-hour duration of Kim's explanation of Boot Camp.

I would like to say at this point that the only thing more heart-wrenching to me than seeing Pippi corrected on a pinch-collar (she would yelp and scream) or being the one to do that correcting, was the thought of having to give her up. This, and only this, motivated me to keep working with Pippi.

Pippi thought her whole world had fallen apart. She was scared and nervous. For the first few days, she shook continuously. But, then she got used to her new status. She learned to think of herself as a dog, not a boss. She followed the rules. She didn't growl anymore. She was no longer defiant. She no longer jumped on visitors, licking them to death, ignoring their protestations. Instead, she proceeded in everything more cautiously and submissively. After six weeks of torture (No, not Pippi, me, this was torturing me!) Kim came back and declared Pippi a much-changed dog.

She warned me, however, that I could never rest on my laurels with Pippi. She said that Pippi is highly intelligent, and that I will always need to watch her and, from time to time, I may need to clamp down on her again, and reinstate Boot Camp to remind Pippi who is boss. Pippi graduated to, once again, trailing the leash with a choke collar.

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I am pleased to report that since this day, we have had very minor conflicts with Pippi. Of course, she is more mature at two years old. And, I donıt know to what extent the lasting change in her behavior is due to maturity or to training. But, I do know that I did everything I could to remedy my problems with Pippi. It was a struggle, and many days I cried, thinking she might have to go back to her breeder, or worse, that she might have to be put down.

That is not to say that Pippi is an angel now. No, she is still the same girl. But she knows her limits. She sleeps more. (Thank goodness!) And, I am always cautious with her.

I know she is not tolerant of little children. In fact, she seems to not even recognize them as people. And, if they poke or prod her, she may growl in irritation. It is my responsibility to keep her away from such situations, and I know from experience that I can't count on parents to use good judgement in allowing their children to interact with dogs.

And, I am happy to report that Mark no longer has any problems with Pippi who is now as desperately attached to him as she is to all her "people" and wonıt be too far away from him on walks. In fact, Mark has told me that she's his best dog-walking dog. He doesn't have to worry about her at all.

And, as long as Pippi continues to behave properly, she doesn't have to trail a leash anymore, and she has regained couch and bed privileges. Believe me, I also enjoy having that prickly little heater beside my legs while I sleep. Unfortunately, itıs sometimes accompanied by big, slobbery kisses when I wake up.

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* A pinch collar is not a device of torture. The prongs are flat-tipped, not pointy, and, used properly, it will not cause any lasting deep-muscle or superficial damage to your dog. A pinch collar works when it fits snugly, not tightly, around the upper part of a dog's neck, the part of the neck that is very sensitive to pressure. (The lower part, collarbone and shoulder area, which is affected by loose choke chains, is very strong and less sensitive. This is why dogs on choke chains are able to pull their owners down the street with little awareness of the constriction of the choke collar.) Once a dog feels the effects of a pinch collar, the dog takes steps to ensure that it does not recreate this sensation. And, so, voila! No more pulling!
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Last modified on Sunday, 12 August, 2012