It’s the painful events in life that have the biggest impact. Those experiences shape us into who we become. I had several that shaped my dog training career.
As a Child, I taught our family dog all kinds of tricks and behaviors using treats. There wasn’t any internet or youtube to help me. I worked with her from my heart. I was also the kid that seemed to find every loose dog or injured animal. I once found a baby robin and nursed her back to health in my bedroom. It was a family project. I had a warming light on her and my dad asked the zoo director what to feed her, how much and how often. Darn that baby bird could eat 16’ of worms a day. We dug them up and bought them daily! I painted her nails red so I could “recognize” her when it came time to let her go. I was heartbroken when it was time to let her fledge.
I have a vague memory of being bitten by a dog while at a country store. My father asked what I did! I said I tried to pat him. My dad looked over at the dog who was casually chewing on a bone! That’s when I learned the valuable lesson to leave dogs alone who have a bone. I still believe this. Dogs are dogs, not people and they aren’t all hard wired to share their food or bones.
After college I moved to Breckenridge Colorado to ski. I also bought my first dog, a Samoyed I named Neige, which means snow in French. I was clueless. I think he was four – five months old when I walked him one morning without his leash. Honestly, what was I thinking…not much at 23 years old. Shockingly, I couldn’t get him to come back to me. He was playing with another neighbor dog. I know now that he was in a developmental stage called Flight Instinct Period, meaning I was no longer the most interesting thing to him, and he wasn’t magically coming back to me. AND I also know now that a Samoyeds were bred to be independent thinkers, to love the cold and he had genes dating back thousands of years making him a Natural dog. I went to work and left him out. (I know, I know, I can hardly write this!) Later that day, he was hit by a car and killed. It was a hell of a lesson to learn. When I moved back East, I enrolled in obedience classes with my new Samoyed, Alex. We went on to compete in AKC obedience and I became an obedience instructor.
Fast Forward, Im married with three daughters, Twenty+ years ago, I adopted a puppy from the shelter where I worked. Puppies are blank slates, right? I had dreams of him being a therapy dog as well as a great ambassador showcasing the results of training and socialization.
Puppies are NOT blank slates. And Love isn’t always enough.
He was well trained. He was well socialized. I had three-school aged
daughters to help, and their friends.
He went everywhere with me including work.
At age 2 +/- his behavior started to change. Two is social sexual development in dogs. They become an adult. And problematic behaviors that had been bubbling under the surface unnoticed rose to the top.
He started guarding things; the dishwasher, me, bags of food, and anywhere he slept. He started light and shadow chasing. He attacked the windshield wipers.
He terrorized the children’s friends and had to be carefully crated in the master bathroom with both the doors closed.
And still I worried.
Biting someone was a real possibility and biting a child seemed even more probable.
Then early one morning he charged at a young child on a tricycle. Thank God the mother picked up the child before our dog got him.
How could this be happening? I adopted him as a puppy. He was a blank
slate, never abused, well trained and well socialized.
I knew I wasn’t to blame. I DID everything right! Yet here I was.
I began to wonder how other dog owners feel when their dog shows
You blame yourself.
You feel responsible
You feel frustrated and confused.
You love your dog and you do not want to give up on him.
Thus, my dog training journey took a sharp turn towards aggression, types of aggression, causes, training, genetics of the dog, and how to help the dog and you, the owner.