My training stories

Discussion in 'Dog Training Forum' started by CreatureTeacher, Apr 4, 2013.

  1. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    I started writing down some of my favorite training experiences, and thought some folks here would get a kick out of them. :) This is the first.

    First up is Otto, a black standard poodle from 2004 in LaPorte (northwest of Ft. Collins). Otto's mom called me out of concern for his hyper-vigilance; she said he was constantly stressed, agitated, constantly on alert, and becoming destructive. Carol and George lived in a palace; they'd built a beautiful house instead of retiring, and Otto was EATING it. The supports for the house were huge, exposed tree trunks that were basically irreplaceable, and Otto had taken to chewing them.

    I always show up at a new job prepared for the worst. When I'm told a dog is reactive or highly alert, I'm ready for the possibility of getting chewed on a bit. I bring my band-aids and a spare long-sleeved shirt, in case I bleed. But on meeting Otto, I found him to be strikingly normal. -Exceptionally- normal, if there can be such a thing. He was a shelter dog, well-groomed but without the horrible poodle haircut, which told me his parents loved him for his doggy self, rather than as a mobile decoration. He was friendly and polite, just your regular old calm, self-possessed, sweetheart poodle. He'd had some traumatic health problems as a puppy; he'd almost lost an eye to a wire fence, caught giardia which led him to anorexia, and then a bout of bloat as his appetite returned. It was clear that he owed his life to his well-off parents, who provided him with top-notch nutrition and health care. At five years old, he still had a weak tummy, which is normal for a dog lucky enough to survive a bloat incident. But after an hour of chatting with Carol, I saw zero evidence for this "hyper-vigilance" that I was there to address. He greeted me, brought me a toy, we played, and then he went to lay down. Regular poodle.

    So having gotten his background info, I asked about Carol's main concerns. Otto had dug through a good-sized area of the floor, and destroyed a fair chunk of the load-bearing trunk that met the floor in that spot. It wasn't the loss of the wall or floor that was worrying Carol, it was Otto's well-being. She loved him desperately, and she teared up as she described his stress. She said it was as though someone flipped a "crazy switch" in his head, and he went from calm and normal to obsessively destructive in a blink. As Carol spoke, Otto hopped down from the couch and began to pace in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows. When she began to tear up with concern for her pooch, Otto began to bark. Big, loud barks, that reverberated painfully in the cavernous room. "See?" Carol asked. "There he goes again!" Moments later, we were bodily pulling Otto away from the demolished floor, luckily having caught him before his digging bloodied his paws. We spent about ten minutes calming him down again. Then I began to tell Carol what I'd witnessed.

    This was a dog who'd had three life-threatening emergency events before he was two years old, and would have a tender tummy for the rest of his life. From one thing to another, Carol had nursed this sweet puppy back to health over and over. In her eyes, he was basically made of glass at this point. She worried about him constantly; if she was away from the house, she wondered if she would come home to a dead dog. And it was hard to blame her. She had pulled him, covered in blood and screaming in pain, off the wire fence. And she'd driven him to the emergency vet again when his stomach twisted and inflated like a balloon, by her own account begging him not to die the whole way. And now something in his mind was driving him to destroy the house she'd worked for her whole life, tearing his paws and mouth to shreds as he did it. She was an absolute wreck over this dog.

    I told her first that what I saw was hunting behavior. She lived in a rural area in a house made of nesting material. Her palace had mice, definitely under the floor and probably in the walls. I waited while she called an exterminator. (As we learned later, the mice were doing a lot of damage themselves!) That, by itself, took care of Otto's problem. But there was a much bigger problem, and this was all in Carol's head. I told her what I'd seen when I came in: an extremely normal, happy dog. Then I told her what happened when she began to worry about him. He paced, barked, and went for the mice. He clearly adored his mom, and watched her every move. Even when he'd been napping on the couch, his ears moved toward her when she shifted position or laughed. He was keyed into her every activity, every mood, and every emotion. It was simple: she worried, so he worried. When she saw him worrying, she worried more. It was a perpetual cycle of neuroses.

    Carol began to understand how her feelings were manifesting in Otto's behavior, and developed control over her worrying. Once she became aware of her part in his difficulties, she made a complete turnaround. Over the course of two four-hour appointments, I held her hands a dozen times and had her repeat after me, "There's nothing wrong with Otto. Otto is just fine." We did some breathing exercises to reign in her stress, and I sent her to yoga class. A month later, the mice were under control, Carol's attitude had relaxed, and Otto's crazy switch had disappeared. A year later, Carol was still going to yoga three times a week.
     
  2. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    I was hired once to teach a dog not to wag his tail. Lewis was a three-year-old greyhound, rescued by Pam in Fort Collins. He was big for a greyhound, with a beautiful red brindle coat. He looked like a predator that should’ve been out hunting the savannah, but like every greyhound I’ve met, he was just an overgrown couch potato. He could switch from zero to full-on hyperactive play mode instantly, and fell on the goofier side of the play spectrum. Sweet, funny, and happy, he was Pam’s best friend.

    But those who know the breed also know that their skin is like tightly-drawn tissue paper; it’s not unusual to see a puckered scar on a greyhound from some minor injury that had to be stitched. Leaning too hard on an unwieldy material can cause bruising, and sudden contact with that same surface can tear straight through the skin. Lewis’ vet had recently suggested to Pam that it was time to think about docking his tail. Within seconds of my arrival at the house, Lewis’ tail had exploded into a blood sprinkler after contacting the corner of the wall. Pam wearily cleaned the new wound and applied a gauze bandage, just a few inches behind another from the day before. She’d gotten good at this, but in spite of her speedy response the entryway looked like a crime scene. She grabbed a package of disposable wipes from the table just inside the door and we cleaned the floor, walls, and ceiling, while Lewis stood by, grinning and wagging.

    In the kitchen, we drank coffee and used more wipes to clean off our clothes and my training bag. Lewis had broken his tail once and suffered countless cuts, all because he just couldn’t stop wagging. His vet had given up, but Pam hadn’t. She didn’t want Lewis to lose his tail. “He’s just not responsible with it,†she told me. I told her I had some qualms with teaching a dog not to wag; if she had the dock done, he could still wag his stump and come out the other side with all his blood still inside. Pam’s concerns came from her brother, who had lost a hand in an accident. He suffered from a phantom limb, wherein the missing body part seems to still have sensation. It caused him continual pain, and there was very little that could be done. She asked if docking Lewis’ tail could result in a similar condition, and I had to admit that, although I didn’t think we could know for sure, it seemed perfectly possible. I could definitely see her side.

    My first requirement for taking on this job is that Lewis would never be punished for wagging. We could teach him to be responsible with his tail without burying the emotions that made it wag. But we were sure to have some accidents along the way, and we’d have a few more crime scenes to clean up. Pam agreed completely, and was, after all, well practiced in dealing with Lewis’ exploding tail.

    We took the training into the yard, where there was nothing hard for Lewis to strike with his tail. (I immediately noticed the little ash tree with a foam-rubber pad tied around the trunk.) The first thing we did was teach him to dance. We used clickers and praise to get him tapping his toes, front and back. He thought it was great fun, and was soon rocking back and forth on his hind legs like an excited puppy. This would be his replacement for wagging; we wanted him to express his tail through his feet, and he took to it instantly. We played and played with him, saying, “Are you happy? Wanna dance?†and “Are you having fun? Let’s dance!†Pam burst out laughing a few times, saying she wanted -less- limb movement, not more. But this was just step one. He was quite the sight, with all four feet dancing and his bandaged tail flying behind him.

    Next came the difficult part: discouraging the tail without discouraging the attached dog. We worked slowly, relying on the principle that behavior is constantly varying, and rewarding the rare instants that the feet were moving without the tail. It took Lewis a while to figure out what we were after. We waited for his pattern recognition to kick in, first rewarding less tail movement and finally only rewarding none. But the rules said he could dance all he wanted. It is at this point that he earned the nickname “Twinkle Toes,†which I believe remains his nickname to this day.

    Over time, consistent work by Pam ensured that Lewis expressed himself with his feet more, and his tail less. She worked with him in any situation she recognized could pose a wagging danger, keeping her enthusiasm the whole way. Her drive for Lewis to keep his tail made her an admirable trainer. A follow-up visit several months later found Lewis dancing in the entryway, his unbandaged tail barely swishing by his boogying ankles. Thanks to Pam’s dedication, there was no bloody sprinkler, and not a package of disposable wipes in sight.
     
  3. Tazwell

    Tazwell New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2007
    Messages:
    1,083
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I rather enjoyed that! Great detective work with Otto, and good problem solving with Lewis :)
     
  4. Brattina88

    Brattina88 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2004
    Messages:
    12,953
    Likes Received:
    5
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    OH
    I enjoyed them also! You could write a book, I'd read it! ;)
     
  5. Snark

    Snark Mutts to you

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Messages:
    4,023
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    3 dogs, 9 housecats, 2 horses
    Location:
    Midwest
    ^ I agree! ^
     
  6. Hillside

    Hillside Original Twin

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2007
    Messages:
    3,048
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    2 dogs
    Location:
    Des Moines, IA
    We want MORE!!!
     
  7. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Thanks, everyone! I'm finding it surprisingly cathartic writing them out. They've been in my head so long, it didn't occur to me to write about them until my hubby suggested it. I've got loads more. I'll keep them coming.
     
  8. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Sammy the German Shepherd was a neurotic mess. His solution to his problems was to circle the dining room table. Always counter-clockwise, always to his left, always in the same path. He had literally worn a hole in the carpet around the table. The claws on his left legs were notably shorter than those on the right. Gabby and Scott had three jobs and five children between them. I counted three TVs on the ground floor, all of them on. Gabby’s sister was working on dinner in the kitchen. I had trouble remembering which of the kids racing through the house and yard were theirs, and which were friends and neighbors’ kids. At any given moment, there were between four and fifteen people in the house. Amid this chaos, Sammy circled. He circled for an estimated nine or ten hours a day, stopping only to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom, and these under duress.

    Dogs are sensitive animals. We engineered them that way. GSDs have the potential to even more sensitive than most, and Sammy was the most sensitive I’d ever seen. When I interrupted his circling to examine his mangled claws, he dutifully sat and let me handle him. He didn’t try to give me an obliging lick, or wag, or even look at me. He was looking at his circle.
    This is the closest I’ve ever come to bursting into tears in front of a client. Gabby and Scott weren’t really doing anything wrong. They loved Sammy, and their kids loved him. All his physical needs were well met. They had gone so far as to get him a set of dog booties to protect his worn claws, but he’d worn them out as well. They were now supplementing his diet with glucosamine—at five years old, he was showing signs of arthritis. He had lost his mind, and his body was ready to follow.

    We turned off the TVs (all of them), and shooed the kids outside. I asked Gabby to block off the dining room, so we could be with Sammy while he circled. Then I had the hardest talk I’ve ever had with a client. I told Gabby and Scott that Sammy was very sick. He was terminal. (If they hadn’t shown me his rabies tag, I would have believed he had that horrible disease.) Their way of life was not compatible with Sammy’s needs, and he was slowly dying. Their home might have been perfectly fine for 95% of dogs, but not Sammy. His only comfort was in this obsession, and because I knew they loved him, they knew he could not live this way. They had two choices. First, they could radically change their household. They could throw out all but one TV and leave it off for all but an hour a day, keep the neighbor kids out, stop the slamming doors, and institute a rock-solid indoor voices rule. Second, we could find Sammy a new home.

    Gabby and Scott slept on it. The next day, they called the kids in for a family meeting. They called me that afternoon and said Sammy needed a new place to live. I told them that I know it was very hard for them to make that decision, but I knew they’d done it for Sammy. I spent a week looking for the perfect home. I wanted someone compassionate and tolerant, wealthy enough to take care of him, and overall a quiet environment. Along came Lisa, the friend of another client. She lived alone in a quiet neighborhood, worked from home, and had no other pets. She had a slow, stable schedule. She had recently lost her own GSD, and was missing him sorely. She also didn’t have a dining room, or a table to put in it.

    Lisa met me at Gabby and Scott’s home. We took her to the dining room to meet Sammy. She got down on her knees and said hello. She got no response, as Sammy continued to circle. She held out a hand for him. He saw it, but didn’t go for a sniff. When she stood up, Lisa had a huge smile on her face. “He’s so beautiful!†she said. It didn’t matter that he’d all but ignored her. It was love at first sight.

    The couple got to know Lisa over coffee. They were visibly upset, but they held it together. When Lisa excused herself to the bathroom, Scott confided that Lisa was perfect. I asked if they wanted her back for another visit, but they decided to send Sammy home with her that day. Lisa was overjoyed, and gave hugs all around. She reassured one of the children that his dog was going to be very happy, and told him he could come visit Sammy whenever he wanted. Sammy was led to her station wagon and loaded in, and they were gone.

    I was prepared for a difficult transition. I knew that even though Sammy’s situation was too much for him to handle, it was familiar. His single source of comfort, that worn track in the carpet, would be gone. I warned Lisa that it might be a long time before Sammy warmed up to her. He could become angry, depressed, or destructive. He might need a new source of comfort, and that could manifest in any number of negative ways. But I wanted her to go on with her normal routine, and we’d work with Sammy together three times a week. And we’d get him through it.

    The next day, I called Lisa to see how things were going. “Great!†she bubbled. “Sammy slept in my bed with me last night, then we got up and had breakfast and went for a walk. He’s fine!†We kept our appointment for two days later. When I arrived at the house, I wasn’t expecting much. I was steeling myself for destroyed furniture, stories of aggressive behavior, or—the worst possible outcome—a dog who was nearly catatonic with depression. I knocked on the door and heard a hesitant woof. He woofed! He was engaging in his surroundings! I must’ve broken out in a huge smile, because Lisa answered the door and said, “Did you hear that?â€

    Sammy sniffed my hand as I came in, but quickly retreated to a dog bed in the corner of the living room. I noticed the new toys and doggy items scattered around the room. Lisa had gone all out to make her new roommate feel at home. But no destroyed furniture didn’t mean we didn’t have some major emotional work ahead of us. I put Sammy on a strict diet. I wanted to limit his intake of grains (which produce sugars in a dog’s colon), and make sure he got plenty of old-fashioned meat and bones. Lisa was way ahead of me. She’d been supplementing a high quality kibble with a variety of fresh foods. She had also been showing him his toys, and had gotten him to watch with interest when she rolled a tennis ball on the floor. She was asking him to engage with her if he was comfortable, which was a pretty sharp instinct on her part. She didn't push him to interact with her.

    I asked how he’d ended up in her bed the first night. She said she’d left him in the living room on his new dog bed, but he’d come in a few minutes after she had settled in to read. She said hi and patted the bed, inviting him up. He’d left the room, and she laid back down. Again, though, he came back. She invited him up again and he’d slowly crawled up, staying as far away from her as he could. Lisa had gone back to her book, and over the course of about fifteen minutes, Sammy had weaseled his way closer to her. By the time she turned off the lamp, he was curled up with his head on her feet, watching her.

    Sammy got better and better. He adopted the bed in the living room as his “spotâ€, but he hadn’t torn a hole in it. The swelling in his joints began to subside, and Lisa started taking him for easy jogs. She said he always favored the healthier right side, but he thoroughly enjoyed their outings. We worked to engage him with games and training, keeping everything low-key and fun, but never mandatory. We let him choose what he wanted to do, and encouraged him. If he wanted to watch us roll the ball back and forth, that was fine. If he just wanted to be alone, that was fine too. He never developed a great love for crowds or children, but he grew obviously fond of Lisa. He learned to relax with her, and enjoy her attention. He was never what I would describe as 'normal', but Lisa would happily ask me, "What is normal, anyway?"

    The last time I saw Sammy was about three months after his adoption. He never had been much for wagging, but he did lay his head on my leg and allowed me to scratch his ears. I call it a win.
     
  9. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    When I first spoke to Caroline on the phone, I knew we had a problem on our hands. Two problems, to be precise, named Delilah and Bodhi. I could hear perpetual barking in the background. Even though it was early spring and chilly, Caroline explained that she had gone into the backyard to call me. What I heard was the sound of the dogs inside, filtered through the sliding-glass door.

    Before I met Caroline and her partner Allie, I freely admit I had no idea what “problem barking†really was. Caroline and Allie met me in front of their little house. After our initial greeting, I asked them to show me the problem, even though I could hear it clearly from where I stood. Hand to god, Caroline offered me earplugs before we went inside. I declined.

    Delilah was a three year old West Highland Terrier. Bodhi was five, and part mini Schanuzer. (The other parts were anyone’s guess.) They were both very cute, and both indescribably loud. I had never encountered barking like this, and never have since. It was unending. Caroline and Allie had had no guests over since about a month after they’d adopted Delilah. If they needed to use the phone, they went outside. They used headphones if they wanted to watch a movie. Their lives had been structured around accommodating their dogs’ barking for two and a half years. They hadn’t known what to do, so they’d done nothing.

    Once we were inside, I was unable to communicate to Caroline and Allie what I needed to do, so I just did it. I helped myself to a bathroom in the hall, grabbing up the rug, hairbrushes, a blowdryer, and trash can, and moving them into the hall. I grabbed the dogs’ water bowl, switched on the light and fan, and hustled Delilah in for her first ever time out. I found a guest room across from the bathroom, and similarly cleared out some breakables for Bodhi, cracked the window, and popped him in. Caroline and Allie watched with interest.

    Somehow, even behind closed doors, the barking was even louder. We humans found our way to the living room on the opposite end of the house to talk. I told them honestly that I’d never seen anything like this, and that I had significant admiration for their willingness to put up with it. Lesser people would have resorted to surgeries, or simply have gotten rid of these dogs. And barking like that in a humane society was a sure way to get passed over for adoption. Their inaction had saved these dogs’ lives.

    I’d been exposed to the noise for maybe fifteen minutes, and I had no idea how they had lived with it for as long as they had. Allie briefly tried to assure me that it wasn’t always this bad, but Caroline cut her off: yes it was. Always. There was quiet only when the dogs were sleeping or eating. I was astounded that their voices didn’t simply give out. Allie told me that Delilah would occasionally go a bit hoarse, but Bodhi could apparently go all day. I asked them to estimate a frequency for how often the dogs barked when they were going about a normal day. The conclusion was about two times a minute from Delilah, and maybe four a minute from Bodhi. All day. And any event—dinner time, the doorbell, a ringing phone, a kid passing on a bike—resulted in nonstop barking from both of them, for several minutes. During this conversation, the dogs continued to bark behind their respective doors. The two-minute timer I’d set had run out. I was listening and counting for three seconds of silence from either of them. Now it was up to them when their time outs ended. I explained what I was doing to Caroline and Allie. There were some other issues here, like diet and obedience, but we could do nothing until we got this compulsive barking under control.

    Delilah made it to three seconds first. I opened the bathroom door. She took two steps out, looked up at me, and began barking. Back in she went.

    We went over the rules of time out, in between moving the dogs in and out of their respective rooms. The dogs needed fresh water, light, and air circulation. Anything they could tear up needed to be removed, or we needed to be ready to sacrifice it to the cause. Because once they were in time out, there was nothing they could do to be let out before their time was up, or before we got those sweet three seconds of silence. They would get no reward for exiting time out, and likewise they were no longer in trouble; life simply resumed. This was to be the routine from now on. One bark equaled one time out. The next time, we’d insist on four seconds of silence before ending the time out. Then five. Then seven. By withdrawing their family’s attention in the bluntest possible way, we would communicate to the dogs that what they were doing was unacceptable. Consistency was the key: quiet dogs got to enjoy time with the family, loud dogs got to go to time out.
    Caroline and Allie were wonderfully resolute. They had been given the power to do something about the noise for the first time in years. Over the course of an hour, we had successfully gotten ten seconds of silence from each dog. They were improving already. We just had to keep it going.

    Our next appointment came a week later. I knocked on the door, heard barking, and waited for Delilah and Bodhi to be put in their time out spots before Allie greeted me. Caroline hovered diligently near the doors, waiting for silence. “What are we up to?†I asked. “A minute!†she said, meaning a minute of silence before the time out would end. I gave her a thumbs up, and sat down with Allie to discuss nutrition and manners.

    It was then that I learned why the dogs had gotten to this point. I had noticed on my first visit that neither dog wore a collar, and I asked why. Allie told me that before Delilah had come along, Bodhi had had a big sister, another Westie called Maggie. She and Caroline had gone out to a nice dinner for their anniversary, and returned home to find Maggie strangled by her collar on the arm of a rocking chair. They rushed her to the emergency vet, giving rescue breathing, but she had died long before they found her. She sobbed as she spoke. Caroline joined us, with two quiet little dogs in tow, and asked if we were talking about Maggie. She became choked up as well. I pointed to the dogs quietly sniffing my jeans, and both women smiled and laughed.

    I told them how sorry I was that they’d experienced such a horrific accident. I couldn’t imagine the guilt they must’ve felt, no matter how misplaced. I was sorry I couldn’t meet Maggie too. And I understood now how and why discipline had fallen by the wayside, and why they had twisted their lived into knots in order to cater to their dogs. I said, “I don’t know how many times you must’ve told yourselves this, but what happened was not your fault. Sometimes you need to hear it from someone else.â€

    Caroline fetched a photo album, and we looked at pictures of Maggie and Bodhi for quite some time, all of us alternately laughing and crying. These women had no one in their lives who understood how they felt about Maggie, and what had happened. Allie’s mom had the attitude of, “It’s just a dog.†They were embarrassed to tell anyone how they felt. They only had each other to dig through a mountain of guilt and sorrow. And two happy little dogs, whose barking would be suffered gratefully simply because they were alive.

    We switched Bodhi and Delilah’s diet to limit the sugars in their system. We worked on some basic obedience, all the while keeping a strict time out rule. The dogs learned quickly, and by the time a month had passed, it was well under control. At our last session, Allie and Caroline gave me a Polaroid photo of Maggie. The photo is holding up well, considering I keep it with me in my training bag. At the end of that year, I got a Christmas card from them, with a photo of Bodhi and Delilah onSanta’s lap. Inside, Allie had written, “Thank you for everything. Love from Caroline, Allie, Bodhi, and Delilah.â€
     
  10. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Annie weighed less than a pineapple. Her parents, Steph and Robert, threw her a “birthday†party when she reached two pounds, and that was the weight she kept. She was a yorkie-maltese mix, and remains to this day the smallest dog I’ve ever trained. We were doing a straight obedience program; Steph and Robert wanted Annie to sit, stay, come, and heel. I’m always encouraged by owners of small dogs who want obedience training. Sure, you can just pick up a dog that size and move her, but teaching her to use her head and follow directions does wonders for her attitude. The best way to be sure your little dog ends up with a foul temper is to treat her like a little dog. Annie relied on her own legs to get around, so I knew her parents were doing well from the start.

    Although she was a delight to train, Annie’s size presented a few challenges. We trained on our knees on the floor, so she could see what was happening. She could work for about ten minutes before she needed a nap; she was simply too small to maintain a productive energy level. And treats, that good old fallback that we trainers use to quickly buy our way into a dog’s attention, were out of the question. I normally break training treats into the size of large peas, and these were way too big for Annie. I’d give her one, and she’d chew for the next minute. It was a meal for her, and after two treats, they were no longer motivational because she was simply full. I tried cat food…still too big. When we motivated her with play, she tired even faster, cutting our sessions that much shorter. We were working on a very tight energy budget and the only motivation at our disposal was praise, which bored her quickly.

    Robert and Steph were getting frustrated. Training was fun for Annie, but only for very limited sessions. And without varied rewards, she was thinking of other things she’d rather do. We tall people sat down to brainstorm.

    Treats were no good. Play was no good. Praise and petting were hit or miss. We had to come up with a way to tell Annie she was doing well, without boring her to tears. My next go-to was toys; Annie had lots of toys, mostly designed for cats. But none of them had the simple brevity of rewarding a lab with a tennis ball. They were just too big, and playing with them required some major work on Annie’s part.

    I finally asked, “What did she chew up when she was a puppy?†Every puppy chews something. Perhaps we could turn an old shoe into our quick reward—a brief game of tug, then back to work. Steph’s eyes lit up. “My adding machine!†she exclaimed. She balanced the family’s accounts on an adding machine, and caught Annie chewing the tape several times before placing a basket on the desk to collect it. She hadn’t thought of it since. Steph fetched some blank adding machine tape, and off we went. Annie later passed her basic obedience test with flying colors and an adding machine tape parade.
     
  11. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Trixy and Peaches were litter-mates, prim little maltese-poodle mixes with cream-colored fur and big brown eyes. They were cute as buttons. Andy and Lila were chiropractors, well-off and very busy. They had gotten tired of listening to Trixy and Peaches’ barking. When I arrived, it was immediately apparent that the dogs suffered from Small Dog Syndrome; they had gotten away with doing what they wanted whenever they wanted to do it since they were puppies. When I sat down, Peaches was in my lap instantly, trying to lick the roof of my mouth. Trixy settled on Lila’s lap, and growled when Andy sat beside her. When he paid her no attention, she snarled and lunged at him. He told her to knock it off, and put her on the floor. There were clearly some problems here, but strangely barking wasn’t one of them. I’d heard exactly three barks when I came to the door, and not a peep since.

    “They bark ALL THE TIME,†Lila explained. “Did you hear them when you came in?â€
    “…yes?†I answered. I’m sure I looked confused, and said I’d only heard three barks.
    “Isn’t that a little out of control?†Andy and Lila weren’t weirdos. These were their first dogs, and yes, they had piercing maltese voices, but they were well restrained about using them.

    Having reassured them that there was nothing unusual about a dog barking at a knock on the door, I duly put their concerns on my list of what we were working on. In my notes, it says, “Barking (???)â€. Then we moved on to the big problems. I told them I knew they’d called me for the barking, and we would work on that. But I pointed out the snapping incident, in which Trixy decided that Andy shouldn’t be sharing either her couch or her mom. And I said that, while she was being very friendly about it, Peaches had stuck her tongue in my mouth. I asked them, “If these dogs were ninety pound rottweilers, would you be letting them get away with this?â€
    “No, of course not!†Andy exclaimed. A look of realization dawned on both humans’ faces.
    “Why not?â€
    “Well, they could hurt someone,†was Lila’s answer. Andy said, “It’s rude. Embarrassing.â€

    Bingo! From this moment forward, I told them, they now had two ninety pound rottweilers. This was to dictate the way they behaved toward the dogs from now on. The dogs would no longer have their own chairs at the kitchen table(!), they would be eating on the floor. They weren’t to treat their parents’ midsections as bouncy castles. They would ask permission before they jumped onto the couches, and sometimes their request would be denied. They would not be supplied with table scraps when they put their sweet lil’ feet on dad’s leg while he ate. And they most certainly would not snap at him when he sat down on HIS couch next to HIS wife.

    We discussed time outs, and made a list of what constituted a time out-able offense. Digging in the bathroom trash was high on the list. While explaining how to properly implement time outs, I told them what would happen: Peaches would be playing with used Kleenex, and she would be promptly put into time out. When her time was up, they would let her out, and she would go directly back to the trash. It would be her first move. She would be testing, I explained, to see if that’s really what got her in trouble. By the second session, Andy and Lila had decided I was psychic. Apparently, events had unfolded just as I said they would. I told them it was just experience, and explained to them exactly why it happened. Dog behavior is, to an extent, pretty predictable. I had seen dozens of dogs do that exact thing. It wasn’t psychic powers, I said, just pattern recognition. There is no such thing as magical dog psychics, or miracle trainers. I told them in no uncertain terms that there was nothing special or supernatural about understanding dogs. It just takes patience and practice, and they could do it too.

    We instituted the attitude change, and then we started on obedience. Andy and Lila picked out the tricks; I didn’t care what we were teaching, but I did care that these parents earned the respect of their pups. We worked on sit, down, stay, come, and heel. The dogs tested mom and dad’s resolve continually. They would suddenly refuse to do what was asked, hoping they might still get a treat. Lila would issue a command, watch her dog pointely not follow it, and turn to me. “Just wait, she’ll do it,†I’d tell her. After a moment, the dog would obey. It wasn’t worth losing her treat over! Then Lila would turn to me, eyes wide with astonishment. “Definitely psychic!†she’d say.

    We took a walk around the block to work on heel. The rules here were easy: when the leash was loose, the dogs could walk along. When they were taut, mom and dad made like a tree and froze until they got some slack back. If the dogs were pulling, they got nowhere. When they walked nicely, they got to go on. Lila and Peaches were lagging behind me, Andy, and Trixy. I would go back and forth between them, encouraging their progress. At one point, Trixy pulled her leash tight, and Andy froze.

    “Perfect!†I said.
    We waited for Trixy to make the right decision. After about thirty seconds, Andy asked, “What do I do?â€
    “Count to five,†I said.

    Right about five seconds later, Trixy let her leash go slack. Andy was absolutely gobsmacked. After that, there was no convincing them that I wasn’t psychic.

    After that first day, I never heard Trixy or Peaches make another noise.
     
  12. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Training dogs has taught me a lot about myself. I never counted patience among my virtues, but I have discovered a boundless patience for dogs, and an ability to extend it to those humans who love them. I have found that I fall desperately in love with my clients’ dogs more often than not, and their success is bittersweet when I know I’m no longer needed. I don’t mind taking the cuts and bruises that come with enthusiastic work with young or undereducated dogs. I’m a worrier, and will keep myself up nights with concern for a dog I’ve never met. I’ve seen how beautiful and rewarding a relationship with a dog can be, and I genuinely believe every human and every dog should have the chance to experience it.

    Oskar taught me something I had never expected to learn.

    Two trainers before me had recommended euthanasia. I’ve worked with several dogs who were declared ‘hopeless’ by other trainers, and have never agreed. I’ve made progress where they gave up, and I had let it go to my head. As Oskar’s third trainer, I knew I was contacted out of desperation. I knew he didn’t have many chances left.

    Oskar lived with Mary and her three little girls. The youngest girl was three and the oldest nine. Mary’s boyfriend David was there for our appointment, and as I entered the home, he held Oskar back with some difficulty. Oskar wore a heavy-duty harness and a muzzle. He was a striking German Shepherd, and reminded me instantly of a photo from a breed book. Except the photos were not roaring, snarling, and straining at the muscles of a large, full-grown man. A dog in full, serious attack is an awesome and terrifying sight. Oskar showed no restraint, no hesitation, and no control. Had David released him, he would not have backed down.

    He had bitten three people: David, one prior trainer, and Mary’s oldest child. After removing the muzzle and placing Oskar in the yard—where he proceeded to slam his body against the back door—David showed me his scar. It was on the back of his left calf, about three inches above the ankle. Mary’s daughter’s scar was on her shoulder, where Oskar had grabbed and shaken her before David had torn the dog away. Both bites had required stitches. The trainer had been bitten in the arm, but the family believed the damage hadn’t been severe. It was notable that the bites on David and the little girl had happened from behind. Oskar wasn’t defending himself, or overreacting to intimidating human behavior. We would see bites to hands that had reached to pet him, or the face of a child who had gotten too close. David had been walking through the kitchen, when Oskar came from an adjoining room and grabbed his leg. The little girl had been playing on the floor while Oskar lounged on the couch with Mary and David, when Oskar leapt down onto her. There was nothing in his upbringing or medical history to explain it.

    People tend to believe their dogs lash out with no warning. In reality there is ample warning, many people just don’t recognize it for what it is. Humans and dogs speak different languages, and we are masters at misinterpreting or ignoring them. They tend to forgive us, but occasionally a miscommunication results in the dog using a signal he knows we can’t ignore. In these instances, everyone needs education. We humans must learn to recognize these warnings, and remember that our best friends have mouths full of the biological equivalent of carpet knives. The dogs, for their part, may need help with fear, anxiety, or reactivity. And all parties need to reestablish trust.
    Nervous or fearful dogs may react badly when I enter their homes, and I certainly don’t blame them for it. I’d never been bitten, because I made it very clear to these dogs that I understood and respected their communications, and asked them to give me the tiniest benefit of the doubt. That slight hesitation, coming from the part of their brains that was programmed to respond to humans, was all I needed to work with. I wouldn’t overstep their boundaries, and they would keep their teeth to themselves. I allowed them to dictate the pace at which our relationship developed, so that I might earn their trust. I’ve done this many times.

    With Oskar, that tiny sliver of doubt and hesitation was nonexistent. It made no difference to him whether I was willing to listen or not. It didn’t matter that he was muzzled, or that David held him back. At the first opportunity, he would come for me teeth-first.

    I spent about an hour talking with Mary and her family, while David held Oskar and the girls played on the rug. I continued to silently send Oskar all the signals I could: I’m not a threat, I’m not here to hurt anyone, I respect your space. Finally, I told David to let him go. I had to see if my messages had been received. Maybe Oskar was reacting to the restraint itself, a behavioral phenomenon called barrier frustration. Once he was released, it was possible that he would charge and threaten me, but precisely because there was nothing stopping him, he might not bite. Then again, he might, but I had to determine whether he was capable of feeling that tiny misgiving about his decision. I was willing to take a bite to find out if the sliver was there.

    There was no hesitation. Oskar took one step away from David and launched himself at my face. I raised my right arm to protect myself, and Oskar obligingly grabbed that instead. He gave me one firm shake before David was on him, pulling him back. In his frantic state, Oskar turned on David, latching onto his arm. This was displaced aggression; Oskar wasn’t ‘out to get’ David, but his frustration at being denied his intended prey had caused him to lash out. David wrestled the muzzle back onto Oskar and led him to the backyard. David got away with scratches. I was bleeding badly.

    The speed and ferocity of the attack were astounding. I excused myself to my car, where I keep a first aid kit and an extra shirt, just in case. Oskar had penetrated my zip-up hoodie sleeve and the sleeve of a long-sleeved tee-shirt to leave three large punctures on the outside of my right wrist. I cleaned and bandaged myself, traded out shirts, and returned to the house.
    Mary was beside herself. I assured her that I was fine, that it had been my choice, and explained my reasoning. I told her I believed we would need some major work here. It was going to be extremely difficult to get Oskar to give us just that sliver of hesitation. We were looking at daily work, and a huge time commitment. And I didn’t know if it would ever be safe to leave Oskar with her children. There had been too many accidents already. We couldn’t afford another one.

    If we went ahead with our training, it was going to start right now. We would have to be on the same page at all times, and I would be counting on her to stay consistent when I was not around. I didn’t tell her that Oskar was ‘dangerous’ or ‘aggressive’, because those words are heavily burdened with incorrect connotation in the training world. I did tell her that he was very ill; he did not behave like a dog. There might be something physically wrong with him, or it might be entirely mental or emotional. We needed to get him to the vet and get a clean bill of health, and then we needed to start training in earnest.

    Mary didn’t know if she was able to devote the time needed to work with Oskar herself, so I offered her the card of a colleague. John bred and trained GSDs for schutzhund work, a dog sport which famously involves protection work. I told Mary that John’s dogs were some of the best trained animals I’d ever seen. They demonstrated incredible control, attention, and respect. His training methods weren’t cruel, they were just extremely strict. I knew that in special cases, he would accept a troubled dog for several months of training at his facility. John was also about six-foot-eight, and maybe two hundred fifty pounds. He could take a bite, if need be. But he was pricey.
    I had given her two options: an investment of her time with me, or an investment of her money with John. She was a single mother of three—she had very little of either. I did not give her the third option, because I knew she knew what it was. I doubted medication would be enough to normalize him. Oskar wouldn’t survive a shelter, nor a rescue. They couldn’t give him to another family, and they couldn’t keep him.

    Before I left, I contacted John and told him to expect Mary’s call. He was cheerful as always, and thanked me for the head’s up. I called him again when I got back to the car, and explained the situation. He said he would see what he could do.

    I spoke to John several months later at an event for behaviorists. He told me that he’d spoken to Mary for some time, and helped her to make the decision we all knew had to be made. As far as he knew, Oskar had been put to sleep. When I got home, I cried for a long time. Not long after, I took a long hiatus from training.

    The scar on my arm is a continual reminder that, even though there was nothing I could have done, I failed Oskar. Between my lack of a kenneling facility, John’s economic demands, and Mary’s lack of time and money, we had all let him down. None of us had done anything wrong. Oskar’s circumstances had killed him, through no fault of his own. To this day, I believe Oskar had a severe chemical imbalance, probably genetic in origin. Unbalanced German Shepherds have unfortunately become more and more common. But I think of him often. I work harder every day (on a sliding scale or, in certain cases, for free) because I couldn’t help Oskar. He was a beautiful dog, and he deserved better. Oskar taught me persistence. He taught me that I have an obligation. I owe it to him to make a difference in as many lives as I can.
     
  13. Snark

    Snark Mutts to you

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Messages:
    4,023
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    3 dogs, 9 housecats, 2 horses
    Location:
    Midwest
    You really, really should consider putting these stories into a book! I would buy it!!
     
  14. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    I don't know if I have quite enough for a book. Maybe in another few years!
     
  15. Hillside

    Hillside Original Twin

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2007
    Messages:
    3,048
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    2 dogs
    Location:
    Des Moines, IA
    ^THIS

    You are VERY VERY VERY good at writing these stories out. I was super disappointed there weren't more!:rofl1:
     
  16. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2005
    Messages:
    1,445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Occupation:
    5
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    There's more yet! Had to actually train today, so I didn't have much time for writing about it. :)
     

Share This Page