Thursday, June 13, 2019

CPCRN Training Tip: treat and retreat

I truly believe that dogs rescue us just as much as we rescue them.

I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a training tip for this blog. It seems like a lifetime ago… and, in a way, it was. I had to take time off from normal day-to-day life while I cared for a loved one with very aggressive cancer. He died in April, just four months after receiving his diagnosis. I’m still grieving, but I’m finally returning to the land of the living. And who better to help me along that trip than my recent foster, Miss Maybelle?

Maybelle (CPCRN Mayfly) is a three-year-old Westie, rescued by CPCRN. The owner described Maybelle as perhaps being a "problem" dog. A breeder “had to keep her in an ex pen attached to a wire crate as she would growl at him, and he didn't trust her outside as she tried to hide and he couldn't catch her.” Did CPCRN want to take her? CPCRN said yes.

Maybelle was such a fearful little girl that she bit the vet tech during her initial intake exams. They put her harness and leash on her when she was anesthetized for her spay. And transporters were warned not to put their hands into the crate when they were bringing her to me to foster.

I knew how Maybelle felt. I didn’t want to deal with people just then, and I felt sure that Maybelle didn’t either. People scared her, and she wouldn’t accept human touch. So look at who reached out to her... Kua, my Siamese cat who was rescued from a hoarder. I adopted Kua to bring comfort to my loved one during his cancer ordeal, and Kua did the same for this frightened pup.

Rescued cat Kua reaches out to assure a fearful Maybelle.

After 24 hours of giving Maybelle time alone, I started tossing treats to her. I learned this “treat and retreat” at a seminar by Suzanne Clothier. Rather than lure a dog closer to you by offering a treat from your hand, you toss a treat to the dog’s “safety zone,” the distance far enough away from you where the dog feels secure. Then toss a treat a little closer to you. Then toss another treat out further again, to let her retreat to her safety zone. The point is to show a fearful dog that you respect her need to feel safe, and that you are not going to trick her into doing something that increases her fear. The dog learns to trust you.

After four days of letting Maybelle set the pace of our acquaintance, she was still skittish, but she let me pick her up and pet her. She let me trim the hair from her eyes. And she made friends with my collies Nemo and Rosie.

Collies Nemo and Rosie help Maybelle learn about life in her new home.

On May 4, two weeks after I started fostering Maybelle, I applied to adopt her. We’ve been having such a wonderful time. Her antics and love erase a little of my grief every day. I am so glad she rescued me.

Dawn Forsythe


  1. Oh, this is what Tomas, my cat does when I bring in a new foster. he greets and shows them there is nothing to fear even though my two Cairns may not share his attitude. it is always a surprise when a different species helps another species to heal.

  2. Dawn - What a loving and full of good information article. Thank you for sharing.
    Hugs from Boston Chris


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