Hulking brothers, Enzo and Dante, arguably possess the signature intimidating look of their Cane Corso (meaning “body guard” or “protector” in Latin) Italian Mastiff breed. Their impressive super hero conformation complete with rippling muscles, broad head, and almost 28 inch shoulder height did not, however, represent these sweet boys’ temperaments when they arrived at the Academy in February.
Although very loyal and loving to their owners, Dante and Enzo were not so sure about other people, dogs, and most notably, loud noises. Leash tugging, fear aggression, and barking at the site of strangers made walks difficult and the dog park a far-off dream.
On day one of our doggie bootcamp program, gentle coaxing was used to introduce the “place” position (lying down in a designated spot, often a canine cot on our training field), but were met initially by both boys with nervousness and eventual all-out fear of the unknown request. When a new request was made, such as “sit”, followed by a physically guided placement to the wanted position, they responded with squinted eyes and a steep crouch position opposed to our handler, while digging their heels in the ground. It was decided that a slower pace would be more appropriate in this beginning stage in order to build trust and break their mind’s cycle of panic. The rest of Dante and Enzo’s introductory training session were spent bonding through walks around the property and gentle stroking and enthusiastic praises for following along.
Gradual and consistent introductions to commands, using treats and gentle yet firm corrections, combined with daily exorcise to clear the mind of anxiety, began to diminish the uncertainty of daily life at our Academy.
Our trainers were pleased to find that Enzo responded to treats enthusiastically which made for smooth progress into confidence of his new obedience vocabulary. Dontae, however, did not share the tasty sentiment with his brother and would accept treats, but did not feel motivated by this style of coaxing. Stronger praise and petting rewards were found to work much better in making him feel safe and focused on his handler.
Now that the vocabulary and comfort with their new daily routine was set into place, it was time to test their listening skills around surprise situations. With the help of noise makers, resident academy working dogs, and our friendly kennel technicians, our trainers began the process of desensitization to sudden distractions. Through consistent repetitions of their learned command combinations with patience and a steady influence of calm corrections, both furry students moved on to the next level: retention.
As the season began to change, bringing leaves and blooms to the resort’s rose bushes, Dontae and Enzo’s attitudes blossomed with the foliage. Virtually no corrections were needed in daily obedience training, and barking at new canine visitors in the kennel suite room subsided to a comfortable sniff and relaxed demeanor. It was now time to begin the next stage of training in order to test their patience and ensure retention of temperament upon their home-coming.
Enzo proved to be the more focused of the two mastiffs, and gladly gave our trainers his full attention during sit and stay holds, complete with lowling tongue and eager bright eyes. Dontae, however, being the quicker but more curious of the two, found the new spring smells in the grass more interesting than eye contact and often felt his job was done once he had followed his handler’s command. The presence of our kennel technicians often broke his focus and motivated him to eagerly greet the newcomers, rather than keep his mind on the task at hand. Deciding that his brother’s patience and newfound focus would be a good influence on him, our trainers decided that a little friendly competition would motivate Dontae into good canine citizenship. Joint sessions proved a success, as Enzo led his companion by example and come April, the brothers passed our final bootcamp exam!
Congratulations to Dontae and Enzo on completing Hillside K9 Academy’s most effective training program. We are always inspired by the sweet nature’s of students like you and know that no matter what issues a dog may express in uncertain situations, patience, consistency, and loving firmness will always conquer fear and anxiety. Good luck in your future ventures!
Stay tuned next week for our upcoming spotlight on Arthur, a two-year-old Rhodesian Rdgeback, who had a rocky start in his training journey at the Academy. Read about his newfound confidence and the joyful transformation of his fear-aggressive temperament!
Kaila Haas - Passionate animal lover and fan of the Hillside Canine Resort & Spa family!