Local News

Escape artist challenges 'Bad Dog' Challenge III

Posted May 21, 2009 2:12 p.m. EDT
Updated May 23, 2009 3:51 p.m. EDT

— "Bad Dog" Zoey is as an escape artist who just wants to be free.

"As soon as you open the door, she's out. She will literally knock you off your feet," owner Lisa Piratzky said.

Piratzky estimates the lab-pit bull mix has darted off from her house up to 30 times.

"I worry about her safety, about possibly running into the street and getting hit," she said. "She turns to see us, and she knows we're calling her, but she won't come back."

Trainer Hannah Branigan, director of family pet behavior at Care First Animal Hospitals, took on Zoey's tendency to run off.

Branigan started by taking everyone into the fenced back yard. She taught Zoey a new cue word, "freeze."

"'Freeze' now means, 'Come, get in front of me, because there's going to be a great big party right here, and don't you want to be a part of it?'" Branigan said.

The party included a lot of high-pitched praise from Piratzky and tasty treats, such as turkey and cheese. The exercise taught Zoey to return to Piratzky when she says "freeze."

With success in the back yard, training moved to the opening to the world: the front door.

"We're going to teach her 'wait' means 'don't cross this threshold until you're released,'" Branigan said.

Little by little, Branigan opened the door. "I'm going, 'Wait.' She offers a sit," the trainer explained. "But I want more than that. I want her to actually give me attention."

Again, praise and treats were used to help Zoey want to stay behind the open door. "She's getting a lot of reinforcement here not barging through the door, (but) for waiting," Branigan said.

A couple times, you could see Zoey thinking about bolting and testing herself, but her trainer kept in control of the situation.

"If she were to try to dart, I would use my body to block her," Branigan said.

After some practice, Zoey was getting the idea. It worked when Piratzky took over, too.  Eventually, Zoey gave Piratzky her attention, even on the porch.