I often run ads that ask, “Does your dog pull on the leash, jump on guests, bolt out of doors, act aggressively, ‘help you drive’?” In 2007 when a four year old Airedale named Dazz came to live with us, he pretty much did all of that. He wasn’t aggressive really, but he did lunge at every dog, squirrel, and truck that went by, which made walking him a challenge.
His back-story was not unusual. A young couple had gotten him as a pup. The husband was in law school; the wife was a nurse. I suspect they doted on him and clearly they weren’t much into the whole discipline thing. As time passed they added a baby to the family and the husband graduated law school and went to work. Life got very busy and there wasn’t a whole lot of time left for the dog. Dazz let it be known he wasn’t happy about these new circumstances. Among other things, he pooped in the baby’s room and I think even on the baby’s bed. The couple was at their wits end. Dazz’s breeder, as many of them do, had said that if for any reason they couldn’t keep him, they could return him to her. Providentially, I had just met this breeder at the annual Governor’s Foot Guard dog show. Dazz fit perfectly the description of the dog I had told her I was looking for (minus the behavior issues), so when Dazz was returned, she emailed me.
We took him on a two-week trial basis, but we knew right off that this rambunctious rascal was going to be ours. So bad were his manners that, for the first six months, I had him drag a leash around the house whenever we were home. Gradually his penchant for throwing himself at the end of the leash with total abandon was tamed. What a wonderful dog he turned out to be! We called him the “party dog” because he loved everyone and greeted both friends and strangers as if they were long lost family members. He often went with me to my clients so I could use him for demonstrations and as a distraction. I told him he was the world’s handsomest dog.
A couple of weeks ago Dazz went off his food and seemed listless. I thought maybe he had a tick- borne illness and took him to our vet the next day. It turns out he had an auto-immune disorder called hemolytic anemia. He did not respond to treatment and in a period of four days he aged four years. Given the prognoses, we had to put him down. We miss him a lot.
People sometimes ask me what is the best way to handle the grief that comes with losing a dog. I think the best you can do is to think of his or her time with you the way you would of a really wonderful vacation. Reminisce and bask in the blessing of the time you had together, and be thankful.
Remember too that if there is a particular breed of dog that you like and you’re willing to invest some time and money in training, you might look into breed-specific rescue organizations. Somebody else’s problem might become a great source of joy to you.
Well, it’s late March. Tomorrow is the first day of spring and it’s sleeting out so I guess we’re all feeling a little cranky. I know I am, so why not just go with it? Perhaps there are people out there who are getting bored with their own crankiness so as a public service I’m going to share mine. Maybe it will help someone else’s mood to know that they’re not alone in their crankiness.
Today’s pet peeve is called the dog socialization imperative. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy watching dogs play together as much as the next guy. As a dog trainer however, I frequently work with dog-aggressive dogs and their owners in public. A problem can arise when a well intentioned but somewhat oblivious third person let’s their dog tow them over to the dog I’m working with while cheerily asking if it’s okay if they say “Hi.” If they asked first while still at a distance this would give me a chance to say, “NO.” Certain individuals however, have decided that asking if it’s okay to say “Hi” is just a meaningless social nicety. They just assume the answer is going to be “Of course!” In this case however, not waiting for an answer can result in a real live dog fight and injured dogs.
Truth be told, I get a little annoyed even if the client’s dog isn’t dog aggressive because such an approach often sets up the poor student dog for an unnecessary failure. You see, when using distractions, we try to be sure that the student dog has a least a fifty percent chance of success. For example, when leaving a dog on a sit stay, I try to make sure that the dog is far enough away from the distraction that he has a good chance of successfully holding it to completion. Only a very, very well trained dog can hold a sit stay while another dog is trying to engage him in the canine version of “Hi, how are you.”
Part of what bothers me about this is that people who consistently let their dogs pull them over to greet other dogs instill in those dogs the expectation that they “ought” to be allowed to do this. Consequently their dogs often become increasingly strong and willful. After awhile the owner simply cannot control the dog in certain situations. If this sounds like your dog, we can help. We can teach you to train your dog to pass another dog who’s obviously trying to concentrate on behaving himself (or even one who isn’t) without getting your arm pulled out of its socket, which should make Spring all the more enjoyable when it finally gets here.
You may be familiar with Dr. Nicholas Dodman’s book The Dog Who Loved Too Much, which is full of interesting and entertaining stories of Dr. Dodman’s work with behavior problems in dogs. The title story is about a dog whose separation anxiety is exacerbated by her owner’s over-the-top sympathy.
This post is about a similar dynamic but one that manifests itself quite differently: namely that the dog starts thinking that he rules the household. By the time I get a phone call, the situation has often deteriorated into the dog being aggressive toward a family member or someone else. A woman who called me recently had been bitten twice quite seriously by her dog. When they first rescued their dog, he was jumpy and nervous and a dog that, at age two years had never been housebroken. Given his background all this was understandable, but over the ensuing month and a half, the situation deteriorated until finally, in desperation she called me.
Two ingredients seem always be present in these cases: one, a dog that has been abused, neglected or seriously ill and two, a very caring, sensitive owner— usually a woman. As rescuing dogs has become more popular, this problem has become more prevalent. What generally happens is that the owner is so sympathetic with the dog’s plight, that she becomes extremely solicitous of the dog. This then manifests itself in catering to the dog’s every whim and holding the dog responsible for practically nothing. As time goes by, the dog begins to think that he must be king because the people around him treat him as if they were his subjects. The dog will often bark excessively, pee and poop wherever he wants, and menace anyone who displeases him for any reason. I remember once kidding another client that her dog had started using his door bells as a general signal to call for room service, which was pretty much the case.
So what’s the remedy? We set down some basic rules of behavior, teach the dog that aggression will not be tolerated, and do the obedience training to a high standard of reliability. The woman with the bites called soon after our first meeting, elated by the change in her dog in just one day. I wish it were always that dramatic but it does make the point. Wanting to care for and feeling affection for our dogs are, after all, the reasons we have them in our lives. But it’s important that these feelings manifest themselves in a healthy way for the good of everyone involved, especially the dog.
I often tell clients and prospective clients, half kiddingly, that dogs are born knowing how to train people. What I mean is that dogs seem to have a built-in assumption that the things we do affect them and vice-versa: the basic cause/effect relationship. People often marvel that their dogs seem to know when they’re getting ready to go on vacation or even just for a ride in the car. The fact is that dogs can be uncannily good at reading us. If we become tense, tighten our grip on the leash, or even if our breathing changes, a dog will often pick up on our anxiety. Dogs sometimes even read us better than we read ourselves, which is why there are service dogs that can sense when their epileptic owners are about to have a seizure.
In fact, so prevalent is this characteristic of dogs—the innate expectation of a cause-and-effect relationship— that it is a basic assumption behind dog training. But what if that characteristic weren’t there? What if a dog had no expectation of any cogent, predictable relationship with her owner? What then?
About ten years ago I met Martha, who had adopted a three-year-old beagle with a very unusual past. The first years of Tess’s life had been spent as a brood bitch for a company that sells animals to research labs. Her minimal interaction with human beings had to do with her role as a producer of puppies. Her physical needs were attended to but most of her life was lived in a dog crate stacked against a wall with other dog crates and nothing more than a peephole from which to observe the world outside. Twice a week she was put into a somewhat larger area for ten minutes of “exercise.”
When Martha called, neither of us really knew what to do with this trembling canine, but it seemed logical to me that the first thing we needed was to establish (or reestablish) the dormant expectation in Tess that the things we did had a predictable and meaningful effect on her. We started the way I usually do, on a fifteen foot leash walking in a square and stopping briefly at each corner. Of course, every phase of the training took much more time than usual, but little by little Tess began to see that it mattered. As a result of her owner’s faith, patience, and persistence, Tess (now thirteen years old) as Martha says, “Almost passes for normal.” Thank God for the Marthas of this world and that I have had the blessing of working with so many of them.
I’d guess that most every dog owner asks himself or herself that question at some point. The answer depends primarily on your own temperament and on your dog’s temperament. Some people just know they’re going to need help from the start and others do pretty well on their own, unless they have a particularly challenging pet. I quite often get calls from rather frustrated sounding people saying something like, “I’ve had dogs all my life and never had a problem… until now.” I understand. I wasn’t born knowing how to train dogs either and I’m really grateful to Vicki Hearne for teaching me so much of what I know.
There is so much information available on the internet that you’d think you might be able to learn enough to do it yourself, and you might. The problem is, with so much information out there, some of it good and some not, how do you know whose advice to trust? How do you even know what’s possible? This is of key importance because if you’re not confident in what you are doing, you’ll probably be tentative in how you apply it. In turn, your dog will respond with skepticism, which will only make you more tentative. One of the advantages of using a trainer is that you can ask questions and discuss particular problems: problems that can sometimes be fairly unusual. This is something you can’t do with a book or a video. I begin every initial session with a new client by filling out my Information Form much like a doctor would (except of course, my form is way more interesting). By doing this, I get a clear picture of what’s going on with you and your dog, and you get to ask me whatever you want.
Some people (especially guys) feel like they ought to know how to train a dog and are a little sheepish about having to hire a pro but hey, even professional athletes have trainers and for a very good reason; it can be difficult to know when you’re doing something well or not. It’s much easier for someone who’s seen thousands of dogs and handlers and knows what to look for, what’s likely to work, and what isn’t.
Still not sure which way to go? Give me a call at (860) 673-4818 or contact me through this website and let’s talk.