I’ve never raised a child, but I have witnessed the miracle of birth when I whelped three litters of puppies.
This is Brandy and her 9-day old puppies. Their eyes have not yet opened, and their ears are not fully developed. But, they have learned to use their nose to find mom and their source of food. They have learned to use “touch” to find one another after a satisfying meal and to stay warm by snuggling together.
This is Mother Nature, or instinct at it’s best. Brandy is not teaching them anything here. She is calm and relaxed and not micro-managing her pups.
However, she is communicating with the puppies with her body language. She is standing up so she doesn’t crush the puppy beneath her. She is not dotting over the other two pups to stay close to her.
She is letting them learn through trial and error. This is a training session.
The pups are now 4-weeks old. They have full use of all their senses, and they are developing their coordination skills. They have distinct personalities and are learning how to act and function in a pack structure. They are also learning how to work out their differences.
The pup on the left is playing rough and he’s growling. He is a little too full of himself and he’s escalated his energy to borderline bully behavior.
The one on the right let out a little “hey, that hurt” kind of yelp. The pup on the right started to move forward so the “aggressive” pup stood up to prove it is bigger and stronger and more dominant.
Well, Brandy didn’t like that!
“Uh oh! Momma is gonna whip me now.”
As soon as Brandy approached, she began to discipline the exuberant pup. She hovered over her child in a very Dominant position. The pup is on his back in a very Submissive position.
Brandy is not using excessive force. She is not barking (yelling) or showing any out of control/frustrated behavior. She is simply using her calm and relaxed body language to communicate to the over-excited pup, “Settle down.”
Brandy is showing Pack Leader qualities.
This whole series of events lasted about 20 seconds. That was a training session!
Brandy didn’t let undesirable behavior go uncorrected. She didn’t use the excuse, “He’s just a puppy; he’ll grow out of it.” She didn’t try to distract him with a cookie or praise. She delivered a swift correction with just enough discipline to get her point across. She wasn’t heavy-handed.
She was confident, calm, and most of all: FAIR. And the pup understood!
Which brings me to this picture.
This is a 5-month old pup. After leaving the comforts of her pack at 8-weeks old, she also left behind a life of structure, rules, and discipline.
What happens without a Pack Leader to continue teaching a puppy? The puppy begins to make its own decisions which are often undesirable by their human families, such as jumping, biting, and demanding attention.
This picture demonstrates how I am mimicking the action of her mother. I am calm, relaxed, and most of all: FAIR.
I’m not driving the puppy into the floor with force. My right hand (extended index finger) is simply preventing her from tucking her tail between her legs in fear. She doesn’t need to be afraid. I’m not going to hurt her.
My left hand is lightly resting on her neck. Notice how her hind leg is up in the air – looks just like the puppy’s leg in the picture above, who is being disciplined by Brandy.
It’s a sign of submission. “Yup, I got it. I’m waving the white flag.”
Am I asserting my dominance? Yes. Is the puppy being submissive? Yes.
Is this cruel or harsh treatment of a 5-month old puppy? Not at all. Is she too young to understand what I am teaching her? Nope.
Does this form of training make sense to her. You better believe it.
And, living in a household with rules, structure, and fair discipline is going to make her a happy, well-behaved puppy, and a much-loved dog for many years to come.
So, it is NEVER too early (or too late) to train your dog. Your dog will thank you for it 🙂
Teaching People and Helping Dogs.
A boy and his dog, Luigi
I was recently asked by a client, “Is dog training just common sense for you because you make it look so easy?”
After a contemplating pause I answered, “Yes and no. It is now, but only because I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. It didn’t come naturally; I made a lot of mistakes early on, but I learned from them.”
Over the past few months I’ve had one of the most challenging “cases” of my career. It’s also been one of the most rewarding!
Big dog? Little dog? Aggressive? Fearful? Rescue?
None of the above. You see, it’s not the varied issues Luigi has that cause me to ask myself, “Am I really making a difference?”
My mission for The Problem Pooch is: Teaching People and Helping Dogs. I am always confident that, at least for a few minutes, I was able to Help The Dog. However, I am never sure if I was effective in Teaching The People.
Did I explain it so it makes sense to them? Were they listening? Will they follow through? Are they going to give up? Is it too much work for them? These are examples of the questions that race through my mind after EVERY appointment with EVERY client – not just the difficult ones.
If you are a regular Facebook follower of The Problem Pooch you are somewhat familiar with Luigi’s plight to find a permanent home. Luigi is a male Anatolian shepherd who is nearing his first birthday, and has not had an easy time of life. To be brief, he is a complicated and misunderstood dog.
Now, I hope you will stay with me here. I have felt a strong spiritual connection to Luigi. It’s beyond my comprehension; I just trust my proverbial gut instinct to do all I can for this boy.
So when I received a text message from his owner that his euthanasia appointment had been made, I was crushed! “Am I really making a difference?” I felt like I had failed Luigi. I lost sleep, but our spiritual connection called to me, “You can do more, Peter.”
I don’t have an answer. I can’t save every dog. I’m so sorry, Luigi. You don’t deserve to die. I’m sorry.
My wife pushed me to dig deeper and try harder than I thought could give Luigi. It worked because a potential resolution came to me: I reached out to a past client, whom I had helped before with their female Anatolian, Maggie.
Her family agreed to take Luigi. His life was spared. He was given a third, maybe a fourth chance to live.
I spent many un-billed hours helping Luigi adjust to life with his new family. It was the least I could do for the family, in gratitude for saving his life. Luigi began to thrive and began transforming into a different dog – he was happier. But remember, Luigi is a complicated and misunderstood dog.
After several weeks, his new family wanted and needed to re-home him.
Dammit! I failed again. Am I really making a difference?
Once again, Spirit spoke to me. “Stop being a dog trainer. Live your motto: Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant. Peter, just be a friend.”
I stopped instructing. I stopped teaching. I stopped being a business owner. Rather, I asked questions and I listened intently. I held late-night text conversations with Luigi’s owner. I didn’t make suggestions; I offered ideas.
I was simply the person my parents raised me to be, and not a dog trainer.
The end result: Luigi’s family is implementing a new strategy and giving him another chance to be a loved and welcome part of their family.
I saw a Facebook post this morning from Luigi’s mom which had the 2 pictures I’ve included in this post.
I received the answer to my question, “Am I making a difference?”
Pardon the cliche, but a picture of a child’s smile is worth a thousand words (and all I need.)
Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant.
Note: photos used with permission.
A girl and her dog, Maggie.
When I first started The Problem Pooch in 2006 I believed that I needed someone else to validate my self-worth as a trainer.
I maintained my membership in the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association (IMATA), I joined and became a certified member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), I subscribed to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and there may be some others that I am forgetting.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the people (and dogs) I was helping didn’t care about any of those organizations. I chose instead to abide by my own code of conduct, by-laws, and adhered to my own mission statement.
I exercised my value system of integrity, compassion, and patience; a value system that was taught to me by the most important governing body: my parents.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That was, and still is, my modus operandi.
Word-of-mouth is my work credentialing badge. A satisfied client refers me to someone else who could use my help. I have a great deal of pride in my work of Teaching People & Helping Dogs. I balance it with a lot of humility when a family invites me into their home.
For every single appointment I have, being a decent human being is more significant than my experience in understanding and modifying a dog’s behavior. For example, I am not a dog trainer when I allow a toddler to crawl on me and hug me because she misses the affection of her father, who has been out to sea for 5 months. I am not a dog trainer when I help a grandson overcome a long-standing fear of dogs, thereby producing tears of joy in his grandmother.
I didn’t learn those skills by attending a canine school, or by reading an article in a quarterly magazine of the APDT, or attending a two-day seminar.
I don’t teach group classes. I don’t teach agility or fly-ball or tricks and games. I don’t hold the title of Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. I am not “certified” (by the way, there are no federal or state regulations that require licensure.) I don’t train dogs how to be a good: bird-hunter, seeing-eye dog, bomb-sniffer, sheep-herder, etc. Those are not my specialties.
There are dog training options available that operate with a different business model and are less expensive than my fee. However, I believe I provide more-than-fair value for my service as a dog trainer and a giver of peace-of-mind. Earning a family’s trust is more important to me than the bottom line on an income statement.
I may not be the best option for someone who is seeking a dog trainer. And I’m okay with that. I understand the “different strokes for different folks” mentality. For those who have placed their trust in me, I am honored that you chose to work with me. For those who have referred me to others, I am grateful. For those who thought about or are thinking of working with me, thank you for your consideration.
Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant.