RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Pat and Dennis Dolan would like to walk their year-and-a-half-old retriever mix Oakley around their neighborhood, but they dread running into any neighbor walking their dog. There's always the potential for violence.
"He's a sweetheart at home," says Pat Dolan, "but he can turn any walk into a nightmare and has."
But it didn't start out this way.
"We got him at 9 weeks old. Six pounds. Cute as ever."
But today Oakley is 90 pounds of trouble, a danger to himself and others. Dog trainers call it reactive behavior. He's ready to lunge at any dog he encounters with dangerous consequences for all concerned.
"He's pulled me across streets. He's pulled me down," says Pat. "We can't take him to a kennel. We can't go on vacation. And finally my husband Dennis said we've got to get him under control or give him up and that would break my heart."
Finally, someone suggested K-9 Games, a training facility at the Great Western Marketplace in west Reno. Many of the dogs that end up there have had the same behavioral problem.
A canine treadmill is part of the routine, a chance for dogs to stretch their legs in inclement weather, but they're also learning.
"It allows them to complete a bonding experience moving in a pack with other dogs," says trainer Paige McElroy."It also gives us control so we can control who's in front of them, who's behind them, who's beside them. So we can set him up for the perfect situation."
Oakley will spend some time pacing, but he's also getting some individual instruction, close encounters with other dogs, as the trainers watch for the subtle signs that trigger his behavior.
He's only had a couple of visits so far and is showing progress, but anyone will tell you it can be very different out on the street without an experienced trainer holding the leash.
That's why K-9 Games trainers have gone to the Dolan's southwest Reno home. This is the real-world application of what was learned at her business. The Dolans as much as Oakley are the students.
If they approach an encounter with another dog fearing the worst, they transmit that anxiety through the leash directly to Oakley, who reacts predictably.
As the lesson continues he shows more confidence and so do they.
It ends with Pat walking Oakley and another dog he doesn't know up and down their street, a reenactment of those lessons on the treadmill.
For a family that feared they were facing the worst, it counts as significant progress for both.
There's still work to be done, but the odds on Oakley's last chance seem to be improving and that is not only good news for him, but Pat and Dennis as well.
You'll find more information about K-9 Games and the training they offer; click here.