Cathie and Maverick were students in a Canine Good Citizen class at McKinney Community Center in 2009. Cathie has written a delightful account of thier experiences, which I’m happy to share with you! (I hope we’ll be able to add a photo of Cathie and Maverick to this post later!)
I was scared: my neighbor accused my dog, Maverick, of biting him and trying to kill his dog. I hadn’t seen what happened, but my husband’s version of it was:
“Maverick just ran down the driveway. He said Mav bit him and his dog, and he’s calling the police.”
My husband is a big man who’s never been afraid of anything. He could not understand why our neighbor was so upset about our 150lb dog galloping up to him to play with his 18lb dog. And my husband was quite sure Mav didn’t bite anyone.
I understood my neighbor’s fear. And I know Texas state law requires that a dog accused of biting be quarantined for 10 days to observe for rabies. We visited Maverick in quarantine, and some days found him loose in the kennel—the staff hated to keep him kenneled all day and definitely didn’t consider him dangerous.
Maverick isn’t dangerous, but he looks it. A huge Great Dane, his front legs look like fence posts. I wouldn’t want him running up to me if I didn’t know him.
The evening after the incident, I went to my neighbor to express my concern. I told him I was very sorry there had been a problem. I was surprised when he showed me his “bite,” since I was certain he didn’t have one. What he showed me was a tiny red spot on the back of his hand. No big puncture, no stitches, no band-aid. Not surprisingly, his little pooch didn’t have any injuries at all.
I said again how sorry I was about what had happened. My neighbor asked if I would get rid of my dog. I said no. I said, “I’ll take him to obedience school and promise you he will not be loose in the yard again.”
I had to find a way to allay this man’s fear of my dog because if I didn’t, I was sure he’d accuse Maverick of another bad act. I needed to get Maverick under verbal control—no more loping down the driveway to greet passersby. Maverick needed better manners. I had to find a good obedience instructor to help me get Maverick in line.
I have the good fortune to live near the very best boarding facility: Pet Paradise in Melissa. One of Pet Paradise’s owners, Hazel, had been a professional dog handler with top awards to her credit, so I called Pet Paradise for a referral to a trainer. The receptionist said Hazel recommended only one: Jane Davidson.
I contacted Jane and was enrolled in a Canine Good Citizen class that would run for seven weeks.
Maverick was quicker to catch on to commands than I thought he would be. He has an aloof/dopey look on his big mug most of the time. He’s a rescue Dane, purebred but not a particularly fine specimen. He has a pointy head and floppy ears. He just doesn’t look smart. Scary? Yes. Smart? Not so much. But Maverick is smart, and he associated commands to actions quickly. He learned sit, down, come, stay, heel, and off within a couple workouts. When he heard my command, he would do it.
Most of the time…
A foot or ten off the mark.
Sometimes he ignored me altogether, and that’s why I needed the trainer. I know the commands and how to teach them. I’ve done it before, even competed in obedience events with my other dogs. But no one can properly train her dog by herself. I needed Jane to watch and guide us in order to get Mav to obey commands immediately, every time, on the mark. I could not see what I was doing wrong with my commands, body language, and attitude. But Jane could.
By the end of our seven weeks, I had learned to stand tall and state commands in a manner that Maverick hears every time. Jane was able to show me when what I said, how I moved, or my posture or tone confused rather than commanded Maverick. Jane would gently point out that I was using words in casual chatter that had specific meaning for Maverick. She’d tell me when I wasn’t being Maverick’s “pack leader.” Dogs always read your mood and ‘tude, and if it isn’t masterful, they’ll know it. Which is to say, Maverick learned everything he needed to know in the first two weeks. The last five weeks of class were for training me.
The Success and Joy
Maverick and I work out every day. He sits while I get his breakfast, he comes whenever I call him, he stays where he’s told even if his favorite toy is three feet away. Our favorite days are when we go on long walks with other dogs and kids and bikes and big people because that’s when he gets to show me and everyone else what an obedient, gentle dog he is.
He is not perfect. No dog gets his butt on the ground slower than Maverick does when he hears, “Sit!” When I say, “Maverick, come!” he runs right to me and sits… somewhere. Try as I might, I haven’t yet gotten him to sit directly in front of me on recall. Not perfect, but Maverick now has his AKC issued CGC (Canine Good Citizen Certificate). He passed the test on his first try.
That would not have happened without Jane Davidson and Eureka! There were too many things I was doing wrong, inconsistently, and over-anxiously for Maverick to have been successful working with me alone. I simply could not see or hear the words, tone, and movements I was using that were confusing to the dog. Jane’s directions and corrections were always clear and delivered with kindness and good humor. Had she been a domineering trainer, or an apologetic, nervous trainer (I’ve worked with both kinds) Maverick would not have earned his CGC. There is a right way to train dogs, and it’s unique to each dog and owner. Jane knows this, studies it, and acts on it.
I now have a giant dog I am proud to take with me everywhere. I know exactly how he will behave, and he knows exactly what I want him to do whenever I ask him to do it. But we’re not done: I want Maverick to become a therapy dog for struggling readers. Reading to a big goofy dog improves your reading quickly because dogs never criticize. In fact, you become a perfect reader in the only way a human is ever perfect: in the eyes of her dog.
As for my neighbor, he hasn’t come walking with us yet, but he hasn’t accused Mav of any new transgressions, either.
And he won’t.
Coffee was rescued from the streets, and then spent a couple of years in a shelter. By the time he came to a home, he had developed fears of many things – people, storms, ceiling fans, you name it, he was scared of it! In June of this year, he finally found himself in a home with just two other dogs, and he started to come out of his well-constructed shell.
When I first met Coffee, he would not let me come close to him. He would pace about ten to fifteen feet away, watching carefully. He was actively scared of everyone he met, especially men. He did not have good social skills with other dogs either – he did not play, and he had been attacked by other dogs in the past (and he is missing part of an ear as a result). He was terrified of all the things that frighten many dogs, including thunderstorms, but he also looked with fear at ceiling fans (moving or still). He became very distressed being bathed or having his nails clipped.
Now that he has a home with only two other dogs (both female) he has started to be more comfortable with them. He continues to be less than friendly with some visiting male dogs. Interestingly, he bonded with Tuffy, the Tough Dog in case study 3. They apparently found they had some things in common. Both of them had lived rough for a while, and both of them are fearful of men.
We worked on integrating Coffee into the household. In this household, that means siting and waiting for his food bowl to go down and starting to eat only when he is given permission. It also means participating in the daily “Cookie Time” ritual, where the dogs do a couple of obedience commands and get rewarded with dog cookies. This was a challenge for Coffee on two levels. Firstly, because he still did not like to approach me too closely, and secondly because he did not want to compete with the other dogs for food, or to lie down next to them. Over the weeks he has become comfortable with doing a Sit and a Down beside the other dogs, and he now trots happily to the kitchen when he hears “Cookie Time”. He still hangs back when we play hide and seek; the other dogs run through the house trying to find where I have hidden, but Coffee waits until I come out before coming for his treat.
One of Coffee’s most obvious fears was of thunderstorms. He would pace, go outside, come inside, could not find anywhere he felt safe. He started to come to my room in the middle of the night to let me know there was a thunderstorm going on. To my amazement, one night he was so scared that he overcame his residual fear of me, and jumped on to the bed beside me, and lay shaking with fear. He is not allowed on the bed, but his distress was so obvious that I did not turn him away. I gave him some drops of Rescue Remedy to calm him, and turned on a light so the lightning would be less dramatic. I resisted the urge to comfort him, and instead spoke in a calm, happy voice, and settled down to sleep. I could feel him shuddering as I drifted off to sleep. At some stage he must have fallen asleep, and in the morning he jumped off the bed as soon as I stirred.
This procedure repeated itself about three more times. I started to keep the Rescue Remedy and a flashlight by my bed, so I was ready for Coffee’s late night visits. If the weather was good, he would spend the night as usual in my office, but as the storm started up, he would come to my bedroom. He would wake me, I would turn on the light (or the flashlight, if the pwoer was out), speak cheerfully to him and give him a few drops of the Rescue Remedy. If the storm continued to get worse, he would jump on the bed and hide from it behind me, shaking with fear. I might pat him briefly on the back or neck, as I would normally, but I would not cuddle him, baby talk him, or stroke him to calm him. I would tell him he was being foolish, then go back to sleep.
Then the night came when all he needed was the light and the Rescue Remedy. The storms were beginning to lose their power over him. Last time we had a storm, I woke up and realized he was not in my room. I went to the office, and he was lying calmly under the desk. Coffee was officially not afraid of storms any more!
Coffee still has many challenges to overcome, but it is exciting to see him grow. He keeps reaching new milestones – he has stayed calm while his nails were clipped, he has been on walks in the park where there were lots of other dogs and people, he has had his first real bath in a bathtub. This weekend, he approached a stranger (to him) and took a treat from her.
The key factors in helping Coffee have been a small, stable household where he could develop relationships with each of the other members (human and canine), not indulging his fears but showing leadership in being calm and confident, and having him participate in activities a little outside his comfort zone.
Dan English has been working with Eureka! Canine Behavior Specialists for the last few months. He has a 2 year old American Bulldog, Tex, and has a long history of training dogs of all sizes. His skills are particularly impressive with the larger, more assertive breeds. From time to time, he will be writing blog entries on various aspects of dog training. Here is his first.
I was assisting Jane during a Canine Good Citizen class with my 2 year old American Bulldog, Tex. Tex had reacted with some tension around an unaltered male so I was closely monitoring their interaction. At one point I had to walk past the dog on the left so I put Tex on my right side. I began walking him on my right side instead of my left when he was young while we were at parks to avoid the zooming bicycle riders and joggers and other dogs. Initially Tex would try to cross over to the left side and I extended the hand with the leash out to the right (no jerking, just a little pressure on the c0llar) and gave the command of “Don’t cross that trail.”
So as we walked past the dog Tex showed interest, I moved the leash slightly and gave him the command. The dog’s owner walked up to me and asked me how I trained him to do that.
I really did not have a clear answer for her. But as I started to ponder how I should have answered that question it all came down to one thing. I was Tex’s leader. There had been no “don’t cross the trail” training sessions. I did not teach him to not cross the trail like I had taught him to sit, down and stay. Those skills were accomplished in sessions using treats and commands in a repetitive way. The command for Tex not to cross the trail was on the job training but it became possible because I am his leader.
People come to us with a variety of dog behavior issues and they ask our help to bring about the behavior they want to see out of their dog. Different training techniques are required for different situations but one thing stays constant. Leadership.
How do I stop my dog from barking? Be their leader.
How do I stop my dog from pulling on the leash? Be their leader.
The basic commands of sit, stay and down can be accomplished by formal training and rewards. They learn pretty quickly that if they perform a certain trick they will be rewarded with a tasty treat. But in order to change unwanted behavior or to teach a dog more abstract skills you must be unquestionably the dog’s leader.
In the dog world there are only two positions. Leader and follower. If you are not one, you are the other. And with almost every dog behavior problem I see the problem is that the dog does not recognize the owner as a leader. This can be because of the youth and inexperience of the dog or it can just be a learned behavior of not taking the owner seriously.
So how do we become our dog’s leader? It begins when the alarm clock rings in the morning. Canines in the wild never stop posturing and they never allow a breach of etiquette. Rules like “No Free Lunch” and the controlling of food and the high ground put us in position to lead. You can spot a dog with a strong leader pretty easily. They are a pair that seem to have a vibe going on. Almost like the dog can read the owner’s mind. The truth is the dog has learned to pay close attention to their leader and has grown accustomed to their mannerisms.
Exercises like “Watch Me” and “Leave It” focus the dog on the owner. Giving the dog clear physical boundaries that they can understand like the tile in the kitchen or around the entrance way to the front door puts the owner in the leadership position.
No matter how domesticated your dog is they still react with instincts. What we as owners need to learn are the skills to tap in to those canine pack instincts to bring about the behaviors we want. One of the most important instincts is that the pack must have a leader. And if we do not take that position and maintain that position every day, the dog will attempt to take it.
The good news is that it is not impossible to be a dog’s leader. In fact most dogs want us to lead; freeing them up to just be a dog and exist in the world in a carefree state. They will relax knowing that you are there to handle whatever situation comes up.
So find the skills you need to become your dog’s pack leader and use them every day. Do not practice them, use them. You will see your dog look to you for guidance and reassurance in every situation.
Dazy was a great dog. She was a catahoula / pit bull mix, and she was full of life and energy. Unfortunately, she was also a challenging dog to control, and had a history of reactiveness/aggression towards other dogs. Our friend David loved Dazy, but he also has multiple children. The other day, Dazy snapped in the face of one of his children to tell him to back off. The shelters are full because of the economic conditions, and Dazy was a pit mix, and would have to be labeled unsuitable for homes with children. David knew that if he gave her to a shelter, she would spend a period of time confused and unhappy living in a cell, and then probably be euthanized. He made the best decision for her by taking her to be euthanized rather than handing her over to strangers. A very hard decision to make, but fairer to Dazy. Here is the poem he wrote afterwards.
Run, Dazy, Run
Run, Dazy, run.
Pant in the heat of the Texas sun.
Stretch your legs of sinew and follow your heart,
Do not stop!
Run until the chase is done.
Then run, again, once more.
Run, Dazy, run.
Even though you sleep, your mind cast adrift,
I know of what you dream.
Smooth strides, a thunderous locomotive at full steam,
No hurdle too large;
No creek too wide;
No grass too long; as you move swiftly through the fields,
Magnificent, like a Cardinal’s song.
Run, Dazy, run.
Alas, you will run no more.
Your heart has stopped,
Your handsome head, dropped.
Hypnotic eyes of green, blue and brown, no longer shine,
For you now sleep and are no longer mine.
Legs, once taut as steel rope, now rest with your last breath,
And you will run, no more.
Run, Dazy, run.
As you stride, magnificently, towards the last horizon,
You will not escape me; my mind is already burned with your memory.
A permanent fixture in my heart,
A heart that is sore and hollow with you gone,
For you, were the only one.
Jan Gordon headed back to Vermont at the start of June, to avoid the Texas summer! She arrived there on Friday June 5th, and did her first consultation as Eureka! North on Sunday June 7th. We’ve added a page to the website so people in Vermont (especially around Stowe and Burlington) can find us.
Meanwhile, business continues to grow in the DFW area. We have Canine Good Citizen classes on Saturday mornings at the McKinney Community Center, and a fun introduction to agility at our location near McKinney on Sunday mornings, as well as providing in home consultations and training. Of course, we are also proud to be local distributors for The Honest Kitchen nutritious dog foods and treats (featured recently in the Food Network’s “Will Work for Food“).
Jan of course is greatly missed but continues to provide advice and support from the frozen north. However, to help meet growing demand in Texas, we have started working with Dan, and he is assisting with classes and on some consultations. He also works independently with clients who need assistance with dog walking or “walking dates” for their dogs.
Times are hard for many people, and animals are suffering as a result. Last October, we heard about a sweet young dog, Blue, who was trying to find a new home. We offered a free training session to whoever adopted her, and the foster home passed that information to the adopter. They also offered to refund the money and take Blue back if it did not work out. A single mother adopted the dog, and she and her boyfriend came out with Blue and we gave them some tips on how to keep control and walk her properly, and teach her basic commands.
A few days ago, we heard from the foster home. They had been contacted by an animal shelter in May, as Blue’s microchip had been traced back to them. Blue had been abandoned, and the property owner had asked the shelter to come and pick her up. The shelter did not find the chip when they scanned her, but they kept her for 2 weeks. Then she became sick and they decided to euthanize her. They did a final scan, and this time they found the chip.
The foster mother went to the shelter, and in her words “I went and picked her up and was shocked at her appearance. She was skin and bones and had a horrible head cold with kennel cough. We have decided to keep her because she had been through enough hell in her short life…I would like to sue [the adopter], not for the money but as an example. There was absolutely no reason for her to let this happen. I even told her that I’d give her money back if it didn’t work out with Blue.”
If you take a dog into your home, you have responsibilities. There are many circumstances where it is not possible to keep the dog yourself. Your responsibility is to find a new home for that dog. In this case, there was a place they could have taken the dog, but they chose not to do so. Dogs left to fend for themselves do not usually do well. They end up abused or killed, either by wild animals or by people, or simply in accidents. They become sick and often starve to death. People who abandon a dog simply lack the moral courage to take action. If the dog lives with you, you can find a shelter to take him or her. Even if it is not a no-kill shelter, the dog will be given food and safety and a chance at adoption – they will not end their lives in fear and misery.
Some people simply leave their dog in the house when they go away. Typically, those dogs starve to death before they are found and can be rescued. Other people seem to think their dog will survive if abandoned in a rural area. Perhaps they have some fantasy about returning a domestic dog to the wild. Around here, there are coyotes, wildcats, snakes, and other abandoned dogs, among many other hazards. You do not do your dog a favor by leaving him or her to try and survive in a hostile environment.
Blue is a very lucky dog. She still needs training, but she has been rescued by people who care. If you are running into difficulties and there is a possibility that you will not be able to continue to provide a home for your pet, DO SOMETHING. There is no reason to make a family pet suffer and die. Start looking at the options available in the worst case scenario. Abandoning a dog is cowardly and unnecessary.