If you ask most professional trainers why they became trainers in the first place the answers generally aren’t usually too varied; “I owned a dog with behavioural issues” … No surprise I’m one of those trainers. I ‘fell’ into the industry through trying to find help and support for a dog I had rescued.
‘Bingo’ was a Rottweiler x Australian Cattle Dog and was a trained guard dog for a local business. I was the owner of a dog washing business and he was one of my more ‘challenging’ clients as he was not tactile … at all! Over the year I was bathing him we developed a mutual understanding and grew very fond of each other. He progressed from needing me to wash him at a distance to allowing me not only to completely bath him but would also greet me with enthusiasm and happy excitement. Bingo came to live with me when his owners had a terrible marriage breakup and Bingo was due to be put to sleep. Bingo ended up living a long and happy life with me until my first daughter began to run. He simply could not cope with her and try as I might no trainer could help me improve that relationship. I used all the tools they gave me (thank goodness methods have evolved since then!); I squeezed his ear, held his mouth shut, alpha rolled him, corrected him as hard as I could… but things got worse, not better! Bingo was not re-homeable. I tried to find him a home, but he simply would not accept anyone else. I sent him to Rainbow Bridge… he was 12.
It was not long after that I started to read and research different methods of training. Back in those days, it was mostly punishment based. We used correction collars and lots of verbal correction… basically, we spent our time telling the poor dog what it was doing wrong, but rarely telling it what was right! This just didn’t sit right with me, so I explored further, studied, found a wonderful fear free trainer who mentored me and behold, many years later and many behaviourally challenging dogs later, here I am … however if you expect after all these years to see me with perfectly behaved dogs then keep looking, as I am only human after all, and my dogs are still just dogs. I have not yet mastered the skill of brain transplanting, so my dogs still have their own personalities, which include individual likes and dislikes.
I had to remind myself of this recently following an event that initially devastated me on both a personal and professional level … during an agility training session my dog charged another dog and made contact with it. My dog did not listen or respond to me for a period of about 5 seconds whilst he was bouncing around the other dog and yelling profanities at the top of his lungs! I used all my tools; his name followed by “come” and “leave it”. I used “sit” and “down” … yet nothing! My dog did not respond to a single bloody word that came out of my mouth! I stopped the interaction by grabbing him.
To say I was gutted is probably the understatement of the year. I left the training session doubting not only my skill as a trainer but also my relationship with my dog. I knew he has space issues with both dogs and unfamiliar people and had spent years working through it with no incidents.
So why now? Why???
It took my rational brain a little while, and a few ciders whilst walking along a quiet beach with a sane partner 🙂 to break the incident down for what it was and to look at the positives, obviously not excusing the behaviour that occurred; that will need further work and environmental management.
The biggest positive – he did not bite! His bite was inhibited!!! Yes, he yelled, yes he slobbered on the other dog, but he did not bite. After a thorough check over the other dog returned to its training session. *
Now this may sound trivial to some, however teaching a dog who’s first reaction is to bite to inhibit its bite is no mean feat!
So I guess the moral of the story is that if you are looking for a trainer who has dogs that appear to be remotely controlled then don’t come and see me, but if you want to see a trainer who not only talks the talk but also walks the walk… you know where I am!
*Although physical trauma was not present an ongoing assessment for psychological trauma must also be made. I know the other owner of the other dog well so the other dog will be assessed regularly.