Rocky joined my private sessions snarling as he came into my training environment - a 95 lb pitbull whose next stop was death. "How can I trust this gentle dog with my 7 year old and family? He is mild and sweet in our home. Yet, he is like Jeckle and Hyde when he sees another dog. Can you do something?"
I offered they bring him in from the car. Two CGC (canine good citizen) students volunteered to remain in the area chatting and working with their dogs while I worked with Rocky (50 ft distance, but still scent able and out of sight)
The family purchased a 15 minute 'test drive the trainer 'session. They were right. He entered as a pulling, snarking pit bull. With my pocket full of treats and a clicker to mark calm, I greeted them giving rocky my distance and the family unit a warm welcome. (Note my greeting was not a direct approach but friendly human hellos and canine calming signals as I wove to greet them)
Rocky was curious at this strange human walking, head turning, lip licking behavior - He licked his lips, sat down, turned his head to the side and then faced me with a tilted head. I clicked - he tilted his head the other way looking at me. At ten feet, I did not approach further, the family was loaded up with treats and we talked about "walking in a friendly manner." I asked the father if he had control, he did and I asked for a leadership stand, respectful (firm, kind) voice with a "Let's Go." And we walked as I drew closer chatting with the family we went to a quiet area where I set up a serpentine course with distractions (4 upside down food dishes) to weave through. We spent the next minutes playing following the leader as I made encouraging sounds walking in front of the weaves - the game was fun, fast and controlled. The dog looking between trainer and father for advice.
At the end of each course we moved to a quiet place, Rocky sat where we worked on calm response - handlers given stills in attention, and positive training techniques using clicker - observance, click, treat. We practiced this in multiple areas and then played "weave with the trainer" again. In addition, I removed myself to pet and get dog licks from my two neutral dogs, returning with scent. Rocky was having fun in a stressful environment, under control and happy. We ended the session with a "no rehearsal of bad behaviors".
Come on Rocky, Let's get into the car. With out a peep tail wagging he walked out. End of session one. We had a LONG way to go, but I believed the dog was workable and not ready to be put down. We would work 30 minutes a week for eight weeks. I committed to teach, the family committed to work with Rocky in learning.
What was interesting is the response from my two neutral dogs in the CGC. When Rocky first snarked, both dogs bristled on guard (they were 50 feet away) and both dogs wanted to go toward Rocky and not retreat. The handlers of the two CGC students allowed their dogs to play.
No rehearsal on exit. 25 reactions in 15 minutes.