A child’s smile is all I need

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.







Tips For Finding A Lost Dog


Get Help From Your Community

  • Call your local Animal Control Facility.
  • Notify your neighbors. Put your ego aside and knock on their door!
  • Use social media. Create a Facebook page so people can easily communicate with one another and you.
  • Make a HIGHLY VISIBLE & EASY TO READ poster to put on telephone poles, trees, and local businesses. People driving in their cars can’t read small print.
  • Notify all nearby veterinarians (even if it is not your vet.) Someone may pick up your dog, and bring it to the closest vet.
  • Click on this link

A Dog’s Nose Knows

  • Dogs “view” the world through their nose, ears, then eyes.
  • Grab all dog blankets, towels, and beds and put them outside.
  • Put a dirty shirt, sweat pants, socks or something that smells like YOU, outside.
  • If you have another dog or a cat, rub them down with a towel and put it outside.
  • The goal is to bring the familiar smells of “home” outside to give them a landmark.
  • If you have another dog, bring your dog with you when searching for lost dog.


  • Dogs on the run are going to eat quickly. They don’t know when they will eat again.
  • Dogs will also eat and run. They will always want an easy escape route if trouble comes.
  • Therefore, putting food in a stranger’s back yard is a better idea than putting it on the back deck of their home.
  • Dogs are creatures of habit and love routines. They will return to where they found food before.
  • Keep putting food out. You want to reduce the distance they will travel to find food. Create a routine.
  • They will likely develop a territory and not stray very far from it (within a couple of miles.)

Using Instincts

  • We can’t hope to understand why a dog took off, or why it won’t come back.
  • Don’t waste time beating yourself up trying to figure out “why?”
  • As time passes, your dog’s natural instincts will kick in. It may begin to lose its domestic habits. The friendliest dog may  growl and act aggressive towards strangers. It may turn and run away from you.
  • It may be in survival mode. It may behave with pure instinct, where everything is a competitor and a potential predator.

When Spotted

  • Do not look directly at dog (eye contact can be threatening.)
  • Do not take a direct approach toward the dog (predators take a straight line.)
  • Drop your head and shoulders – a sign of peace (predators keep their heads up and forward with confidence)
  • Do not talk to the dog or encourage it to come to you. Your excited, high pitch voice will show nervous/excited/and anxious energy.
  • A scared and hungry dog will NOT trust you. It will run the other way.
  • Turn your body perpindicular to theirs. (Dog language – I mean no harm.)
  • Drop down to the ground if you have too, even lay on ground. (I am no threat. Humans don’t usually lie on ground. It may invite curiosity.)
  • If it comes close, be slow and deliberate in your actions. Quick, snatching type behavior will fail. Dogs are faster than we are and they will run.

Building Trust (with food)

  • You may not have an opportunity to get the dog to come to you at first.
  • Be patient. Keep following these directions.
  • You want the dog to trust you, not fear you.
  • I like to use pepperoni slices to help lure a dog. It is a high value reward that most dogs (even if fed table scraps) don’t often get. They are also small enough to keep a dog’s interest without making it full.
  • Toss a slice towards the dog. Again, do NOT look at it or encourage it. Just give it food.
  • It may not take it right away as it is fearful. Give it time.
  • Toss another piece and another. Let the dog think. Let the smell wander up to its nose. Let it eat quietly.
  • Toss more pieces, however, make the distance shorter, making it come closer to you.
  • Take your time and be patient if the dog is eating. Don’t break the trust by moving too fast.

Final Thoughts:

  • Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t stop trying.
  • I have experienced the joy of bringing 2 dogs “home” that were not my own.
  • The dogs were on the run for 6 weeks and 3 weeks, before they were ready to come home.
  • It is emotionally difficult. There are highs of a sighting, and lows with no sightings.
  • You may need to use a Save-A-Heart trap (similar to those for raccoons and other critters.)
  • I don’t care what your religious beliefs are, but have faith in something bigger to help bring your family member home.
  • Be grateful and thankful to the volunteers and strangers who are helping you. A simple thank you can go a very long way to having an entire community help you.
  • Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or concerns. I will do the best I can to help.

Contact Me

  • If you have questions or need me to clarify a direction, please feel free to contact me.

Shadow was on the run for 6-weeks, during a brutal Fall in Connecticut. I was fortunate to have rescued him and reunited him with his family shortly after this picture was taken.