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Peer Model Dogs

What is a Peer Model Dog?

When the trigger for the fear, anxiety or reactivity is another animal, the dog has to be exposed to that trigger to learn how to handle it appropriately.  There is no dispute that dogs communicate with one another and also take their cues from other dogs.   Socialized and “appropriate” dogs are crucial when it comes to working with the dogs that exhibit less than perfect behavior.   For these training exercises, The Pet Connection depends on their “Peer Model Dogs.”    


Because these Peer Model Dogs are integral to the training process, The Pet Connection would like to recognize their fearless canine leaders of past and present.



Description:  Dashing, Dependable Dexter, The Dog Whisperer

Dexter was a fantastic lad of about 10 years old when he began his career with Lynda Anderson at The Pet Connection in 2013. A beautiful Border Collie, Dexter was adopted by Lynda as a companion for her dog, Legolas, who could be reactive to other dogs.  As Lynda describes it, “Legolas picked Dexter.”  Lynda had started coming to The Pet Connection for help with Legolas’s reactivity. The Pet Connection trainers mentioned that they needed more peer model dogs, and Lynda advised that her other dog, Dexter, would be great in that role. Lynda brought Dexter to her next class and then started bringing him and staying for all the Sunday sessions.

Dexter put the other dogs at ease, and they looked to him for his guidance.  During Dexter’s tenure as a Peer Model Dog, The Pet Connection began working with Nala, a very dog reactive dog who had hit a plateau with the traditional CC/DS training.  Her “go-to” behavior was bullying, triggered by her fear and anxiety around other dogs.  Implementing some concepts of the B.A.T. and C.A.T. methods, The Pet Connection first had Lynda and Dexter make passes outside the glass window of the training room while Nala was inside.  Dexter was gradually worked inside the training room.  The idea was that once Nala would give an appropriate calming cue, Dexter would retreat.  At first Dexter would retreat to another room, then out of sight behind a moveable counter, and eventually just further away from Nala, but still in view.  Throughout the course of several months, The Pet Connection worked Dexter closer to Nala, challenging her more to implement the proper calming methods, while careful not to overwhelm her.  

It soon became apparent that Dexter needed no guidance from the humans—when Nala would give a calming cue, Dexter would immediately retreat.  Dexter also had a knack for sensing how close he could get to Nala during the exercises to get near her threshold but not beyond, and he would position himself at that distance.  Dexter and Nala eventually got within sniffing distance, followed by some contact sniffing while still on leash.  

Then the day came that leashes were dropped, and Dexter and Nala became play buddies.  Every Sunday, Nala was excited to see Dexter in class, and Dexter would watch for Nala to arrive. Dexter truly helped Nala over her biggest hurdle—he taught her how to be a dog that could trust and like other dogs.  It was Nala’s interaction with Dexter that made Nala’s family begin to consider adopting a second dog.

Hearts were broken when Dexter passed away from cancer in 2014.  He left a void that can never truly be filled.  But there is no question that his legacy lives on, and that he would be proud of his fellow Peer Model Dogs and the ones that continue to learn from them. 


Description:  Meticulous Maggie, The Hall Monitor

Approximately three years ago, Maggie was brought into the Kansas City, Kansas shelter in a litter of 8-week-old puppies.  At the time, LeAnne was working at a shelter location that was being shared by Unleashed and The Pet Connection.  Danielle Reno, Director at Unleashed Pet Rescue, had three of the six puppies in the litter, but she was having trouble finding foster homes for them.  LeAnne offered to take the three puppies for an overnight foster.  In the morning, one of the puppies went to another foster, leaving LeAnne with two. 

However, because the puppies had come into the shelter unvaccinated, and were not vaccinated upon intake at the time, they had to be watched for 10 days before they could be put up for adoption to make sure that they did not develop any diseases. LeAnne continued to foster Maggie and her brother Murray as a 10-day disease hold.  On the 10-day mark, one of the siblings with another foster came down with distemper.  The same day that the sibling was euthanized due to illness, Murray and Maggie were showing signs of kennel cough. Distemper comes into stages and the first stage often looks like kennel cough. Then the virus attacks the nervous system and dogs often experience seizures. A few days after the death of the first puppy in the litter, Murray started having seizures and he would not eat.  He was seizing, in pain, and was suffering, so he was euthanized by the emergency vet.

Maggie had not progressed quite as far with the disease, and LeAnne had been reading about vitamin C and other supplements that help boost the immune system. She started Maggie on a feeding program consisting of homemade food with specific supplements, which LeAnne fed to her every two hours. Maggie had a total of 12 seizures over the following two days, but after that, the seizures stopped and Maggie continued to improve.  For the month following, Maggie would break with fevers intermittently and had many health issues.  By the time she had been symptom-free for more than a month, all but one of the remaining littermates had developed distemper and died.  Statistics show that only 20% of puppies and 50% of adult dogs survive distemper. 

When Maggie was able to be placed for adoption, LeAnne simply could not let her go. Because Maggie’s diet was still being supplemented and her immune system was still compromised, LeAnne worried too much that she would not make it through her first year of life without the proper care.

When Maggie was about 6 months old and had been symptom-free for three months, she started coming to classes with LeAnne to help with her socialization. However, since LeAnne always had foster dogs, Maggie was already pretty well socialized with other dogs.  Maggie has a very herding breed personality, so she likes to work and she smart and obedient. She is also very attentive to LeAnne.  These characteristics have  helped her when working with other reactive dogs.  Her worker-bee attitude and her ability to follow LeAnne’s instructions make her a fantastic Peer Model Dog for working with reactive dogs.

Maggie can recognize an inappropriate stance, vibe or signal exhibited by another dog, and will reprimand the dog with growls or barks.  The other dogs, even the dog reactive dogs, accept her reprimands and attempt to adjust their behavior accordingly.   Maggie also does not hold a grudge with dogs who may have acted inappropriately toward her in the past, but she also does not forget.  She is careful, cautious, but continues to teach and reprimand those dogs. 

In addition to her Peer Model Dog status, Maggie also is the cover girl for The Pet Connection's Facebook page, which shows her paw being held by Leanne’s son, A.J.

Maggie will become bothered if she does not get to go to class with LeAnne, which is a rare occurrence.  Being a Peer Model Dog is truly a part of who she is—one might say being a dog trainer runs in the family.  


Description:  Lovely, Level-headed Lucy

Slightly more than two years ago, Lucy, formerly known as Brandi, was an emaciated, shy stray of about 38 lbs.  She was 1-2 years old when found, not spayed, and heartworm positive.  Unleashed took her in, and assisted in getting her the care she needed.  At this time, Lucy began coming to classes at The Pet Connection.  It was discovered through The Pet Connection that although Lucy was extremely skittish with people due to her rough start at life, she had a knack for helping the dogs in the training classes.  

Cindy Nicholas, a volunteer with The Pet Connection who had been working its adoption events, had been in search for a new friend for her dog, Hector.  The foster dog Hector had lived with was adopted, and Hector was bored.  Melody thought Lucy might be the perfect match, and Cindy went to meet her.  

Cindy sat on the floor to allow Lucy time to approach her at Lucy’s own pace and comfort level.  Once Lucy got up her nerve to approach Cindy, she sniffed and licked Cindy’s face, and that was all it took for Cindy.  Unleashed paid for Lucy to be spayed and for her heart worm treatment, and Cindy took Lucy home. 

Due to Hector being somewhat selective with his dog friends, The Pet Connection and Cindy worked out a very slow introduction of the two dogs, consisting first of coordinated rotations in the same house for an entire week before the two dogs even actually saw each other.  Lucy is now Hector’s best friend, and is at her proper weight of about 60 lbs.

Cindy now also works as a volunteer for The Pet Connection’s training classes on Sundays and Wednesdays, where Lucy continues to be a Peer Model Dog.



Description:  Big Ol’ Bear, Mr. Chill.

Bear arrived at The Pet Connection from the Garden City, Kansas Animal Shelter in July of 2014.  He was handpicked by LeAnne as a potential companion for Nala. Bear was estimated to be about 2 ½ years old the time, and had already been surrendered to the Garden City shelter twice, the most recent time by an owner who was moving.  

LeAnne worked with Chris Childs and Karen Read, Nala’s family, to arrange a series of meet and greet sessions between Nala and Bear, using the normal CC/DS methods.  These sessions occurred both at The Pet Connection’s training center, as well as at Chris and Karen’s home.  Because Nala loves kids, LeAnne’s sons, A.J. and Anthony, also would come to Chris and Karen’s house to help Nala associate good things with Bear.  Once Nala began to trust and accept Bear, overnight visits were held.  

During this slow transition process, LeAnne personally fostered Bear, and took him to The Pet Connection classes with her.  It was observed that Bear was quite chill with the dogs he encountered, which makes him a great dog to help other dog reactive dogs.  His calm, “no-worries” demeanor and non-reactivity to dogs who exhibit inappropriate behaviors make him a calming factor in class. 

About 1 ½ months after LeAnne rescued and fostered Bear, Karen and Chris permanently adopted him, and Nala and Bear are best friends.  It would have been nearly impossible to try and adopt another dog for Nala without the very slow transition that she needed, and thus it could not have been done without the fostering provided by LeAnne, coupled with the frequent meet and greet sessions.  

Nala continued to attend The Pet Connection classes to continue to improve her reactivity to new dogs.  Bear attended Nala’s class with her, and was her calming force.  Nala passed away in late 2018, but Bear has continued to be a Peer Model Dog for The Pet Connection’s sessions.  Taking Bear’s lead, Karen also has begun volunteering for The Pet Connection in many ways. 

Become a Peer Model Dog

We are currently searching for more Peer Model Dogs! 

For additional information about classes, consultation, The Peer Model Dogs, or to assist The Pet Connection with its continuing effort to make animals more adoptable, help maintain a balance in the home with pets and their families, and continue to save lives of homeless dogs, please contact Melody at

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