From this . . .

And this . . . (with our beloved neighbor, Opal)

To this!

We hit a point where Cocoa Joy (who was about five or six months old in the above photos) was having trouble “wanting” to obey. True, she was very young but not too young to learn. She would go to class and spend the first part of the session doing what her trainers (Xalina) called “drive-bys.” Running full-tilt throughout the room. Older clients would scatter and whisper about her lack of control, and dogs that were already trained watched in complete amazement. At first, I would helplessly chase after her and drag her back to her “place.” A couple of times, I almost wanted to act as if she didn’t belong to me, but I knew that would not work because (one) she always returned to the point where the crime began and (two) I loved her. She was mine and I knew we had to sort this out as the British say.

Finally Sandy, another one of her trainers, helped me understand that a gentle leader is not a muzzle. Many dogs wear them because they reduce stress and make a dog feel more confident. That night as she looked into my eyes, she realized that I was fighting back tears over the thought of my precious puppy acting like a holy terror.

“You have to get a hold of this now and do the necessary work to train this dog.” I must have nodded “yes” because that was when things began to change—fast.

While we had been talking, Cocoa Joy had been in the middle of one of her “drive-bys.” She turned a sharp corner, made a left hand turn at the feet of the other trainer, and turned up the speed as she headed straight for the chest of a large chocolate Lab that sitting motionless about ten feet in front of her. Before I could say a word, Sandy reached down and snagged her. Her little paws went up in the air and that was it. She was whisked away in the arms of “loving correction” and removed from the scene.

Less than fifteen seconds later, I heard the front door to Dog School 101 open and close. I knew Cocoa was on one end of a lead and Sandy was on the other end, and they were heading outside. I had no idea what was going to happen, but for the first time, I knew Cocoa was not going to return the victor. Minutes passed and then more minutes. I strained my eyes in an effort to see where they had gone. Xalina kept talking and teaching the class, But there was no sign of Cocoa Joy or Sandy.

Then they returned.

A gentle leader was in place on Cocoa’s face, and she was actually prancing back into class. I could feel the happy stares others as they noticed her heeling beside Sandy. “Now, that’s an obedience dog,” Sandy said as handed me the lead and walked away. I can truly say from that moment, there was been a huge change in Cocoa.

When she has her gentle leader on, she is more confident, focused, tolerant, and ready to learn. Though she fights wearing and has it from day, she has come to realize this thin piece of fabric is her ticket to go anywhere—Lowe’s, Panera, Dog School 101, and lots of long walks. The training at Dog School as been a lifesaver for me and for her. The truth is, Sandy and Xalina have converted this dog from being wild and unruly (I call her my Wild Bean) into a dog that is both loving and very patient.

She has her basic training, her Canine Good Citizenship classes, and just recently she passed her test to become a Delta Society dog. She was even used as a teaching dog while I was away on vacation! Now, she is ready to visit nursing homes and other places where people are lonely or hurting.

Cocoa is always going to have a quick wit and love this in her. It gives her character and is the thing that motivated me to name this site “Cocoa Smiles” because she really does smile and she laughs, too.