Our Best Friend landed in our laps in March 2009, and by May we realized that keeping a dog without proper vaccinations was probably a stupid thing to do. So even though it was coming out of our pocket, I hauled him into the vet for shots, a weigh-in, heartworm tests, etc. I explained his origins and told the vet we most likely weren’t keeping him because of his behavioural issues. The vet sympathized, and handed me the card of a trainer the clinic recommended. I took it, but was quite determined that I wasn’t pouring money I didn’t have into a dog I didn’t plan to keep. Paying for the vet was plenty.
Instead, Marisa connected us to Jared, but those two walks were the only sessions we managed to get with him. (The Spouse didn’t want to take advantage, and Jared was busy working; in life, you get what you pay for, and Jared was free.) Finally, as summer wore on, we slowly came to realize that Our Best Friend wasn’t going anywhere fast. His attachment to us was growing daily; although he still growled when he felt threatened, The Spouse had lost all fear of him, and would get right in his face. OBF would immediately whimper, lick his lips, and dart his eyes around. He wanted love more than he wanted to be in control.
With Jared no longer available, but Our Best Friend still beset by issues, we brought in Paul, the vet’s trainer.
The first question we asked Paul was, “Would you feel safe letting your children play with Our Best Friend?” Our biggest fear was that Our Best Friend, in a fit of anxiety and panic, might bite someone, or worse, bite a child. But Paul answered with an immediate, “Absolutely!” Somehow, he knew right away that Our Best Friend had no true aggression in him; his growling and snarling came from fear and self-defense. And to be fair, 99% of his aggression was directed at me or the Spouse. He only growled (gently) at the kids if they stepped on him, and he had never, ever snarled or snapped at them. From day one he was their friend and protector.
Paul explained that Our Best Friend obeyed the children when they said “Sit!” out of a desire to play and please, not out of obedience. In other words, he only obeyed when it made him, not us, happy. That’s why he wouldn’t always come when called. Paul told us not to release or reward him so quickly after he obeyed a command, and that he should never, ever jump on us unless explicitly invited to. As OBF seldom jumped, that was easy to stop.
The first thing Paul did was snap a cheap fabric leash on OBF’s collar. Unlike Jared, he didn’t believe in the Cesar Millan method of flipping dogs on their backs when they tried to bite. “I used to do that,” he said, “and I got bitten many times. Now I never get bitten.” When OBF went for his feet, Paul simply pulled him away with the leash. And it worked. After a few rounds up and down the entryway, Paul had perfect control.
Paul spent the first session showing us how to control OBF with the leash inside the house. A simple tug (or two) on the leash, and OBF learned to sit, a command he still obeys. Paul told us not to expect to walk him outside with good control until we practiced walking him indoors for a while. “Fifteen minutes a day,” he said. “In a week, two weeks, you’ll be able to walk him outside.”
The Spouse nodded. “I work from home. I can take a fifteen-minute break and do this, no problem.”
He never did it once. Our Best Friend still pulls on the leash and has broken two Haltis, but that’s the subject for another post.
Paul came back about two weeks later for a second visit. That time he taught Our Best Friend “stay,” a useful command which we did practice and which he still obeys (not perfectly, but acceptably).
We liked Paul, but only had him come twice for four reasons. First, he spent most of the hour talking to us rather than training the dog. He was quite verbose, and not in a useful way. Two, his English was terrible and we had a serious communication barrier. Third, if we weren’t going to practice what the trainer preached, why spend the money? Finally, even after the vet visits, even after two different trainers, even though we’d de-listed him from Petfinder…. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to keep this hyper, anxious, unpredictable, and unfixed dog. If he wasn’t staying, let training be someone else’s issue and expense.
So even though Our Best Friend had successfully learned to stay, in my mind, he still wasn’t staying for good….