Susan and Phoebe
project name

Susan and Phoebe

Phoebe was very sweet, but submissive and subdued and needed some help coming out of her shell.

  • Client:

    Susan and Phoebe

  • Our Role:

    Leash Training / Escape Artist

I’ve no doubt Rick Walkley’s talents saved our lives.

I’ve had dogs all my life, most of them easy-going. When my last child was heading off to college, she found Phoebe for me (our previous dog had passed a year earlier).  Phoebe had been sheltered for some time, having been surrendered by her first family. She was very sweet, but submissive and subdued — it took nearly a week to convince her it was okay to go upstairs with us.  Indoors she behaved (and still does) very well.

Outdoors was a different story.  She’d obviously never been walked on a leash and thrashed wildly when she wasn’t jolting toward the nearest wildlife.  Never having had such issues with a dog, I just assumed it would be a matter of time working steadily with her.  But I tried every known collar, harness and leash to little avail.  My girl wanted to run – and found ways to accomplish that. She became a real Houdini no matter what restraint was used – and then proceeded to fly across streets and through neighborhoods and open space, chasing deer, rabbit, coyote, fox – you name it.  During her first month with me, she was hit by a car – but thankfully walked away from it unharmed.

We did group training, indoors, at a local daycare/boarding facility.  Of course, she was JUST FINE indoors!

Nothing I did seemed to have any effect on her behavior outside.  Impacted by the failing economy and my own personal financial struggles, I had little to spend. I checked books and videos out of the library, found free advice online and worked with her endlessly – to no avail.  Her wild thrashing subsided, but the jerking and pulling on lead did not.  I had to be on constant alert.  We could (and did) go an hour straight with the stop / turn / start again routine.

I am a huge walker – but I soon began to dread taking her out.

I found out about Rick and Focus, and filed the information in the back of my mind.  I figured I’d be looking at a six-month or more investment of both time and money if I could get to the point of affording him.  I had no idea how off the mark that was!

We moved to a different neighborhood where the wildlife was even more present, as in 24/7.  Phoebe’s thirst to chase grew stronger; she learned to get a running start to launch climbing over the fence.  She could back out of tight collar before you knew what was happening. Eventually she began breaking through window screens to go after the deer. Last summer, during a morning walk, I didn’t see a deer approaching us — but Phoebe did. The deer darted into a very busy road, and Phoebe lunged to follow.  In those milli-seconds I reacted and in the process knew I’d made a mistake. I held onto my dog, but in grabbing the line with my second hand (I know, I know), managed to lose all the skin on the underside of four fingers.  That cost me 7 weeks in bandages and limited use of my hand.

That same week, taking her out late in the evening for a last watering, something scuffled around in the rocks between my house and the neighbor’s. In a flash, Phoebe wrangled out of her collar — with my injured hand, I simply couldn’t divert her maneuvers – and took off into the night. She was gone nearly two hours playing chase with the critter in the surrounding, unlit foothills. Experience had taught it was fruitless to pursue her – she was too fast and too heedless.  Waiting for her, I was alternately angry and immensely sad.  I knew I was all out of steam with “trying.” I figured she’d already used up what extra “lives” she’d been granted. When she finally limped into the driveway, her face was etched with deep scratches and all four feet were bloody. Later, neighbors revealed there’d been a bobcat lurking about our house.

I’d just started a new job and had some stability and at the top of my “I can finally do this” list was contacting Rick.

We met at Cottonwood Park on a hot afternoon, for orientation and evaluation. Rick was confident; me, less so.  But here’s the incredible, mind-blowing truth: we only met with Rick TWO more times, several weeks apart, in my neighborhood. A few phone calls in between. Those three sessions – and daily, dedicated work on my own with Phoebe – have completed changed my dog as well as our relationship.  As I told Rick recently, I don’t know who looks forward to the walks more – Phoebe or me.  When we start out, she’s the happiest, wriggliest, hip-swinging, jaunty thing on four legs – and completely under control.

Phoebe is totally off leash, responds to voice command (but wears a dual-purpose “insurance” collar about her neck) and is an absolute delight. We walk daily, year-round, for 50-60 minutes. We walk within five feet of deer – sometimes on both sides of us – and she doesn’t flinch.  She looks at the gazillion rabbits that play around our house but doesn’t go after them. I can put her in the fenced yard (split boards with mesh wire, so she can see out) and trust she won’t attempt an escape. I can work in the garage with the door open and she doesn’t venture past the driveway.  Life with my 75-pound golden/lab/something is WONDERFUL.

Rick is masterful. What he teaches can’t be gleaned in the books or from the videos or online forums. He will gently help YOU learn to do what works and honestly, so much of it has to do with your own confidence, voice and body posture.  Down to the smallest detail.

On his third visit, after seeing Phoebe in action, Rick said something like, “I’m not sure why I’m here.”  The lesson for anyone considering Focus Dog Training is this: if you do the work, it does work.  But it doesn’t seem like “work” because the results come quickly, which makes for a happier dog and a happier person, and it’s all synergistic from there.  I was so hungry for things to change, I couldn’t wait to get home from my job and spend the time with her.

Three sessions over six to eight weeks – the best investment ever.  If you’d like to know more about my experience, feel free to email me at