I got to thinking last week after a woman telephoned me about her dog. As our conversation developed, Mary told me about how Fido had been biting her unpredictably. Here are some of the answers that I received to my questions: no, Fido does not bring the stick back when playing fetch; yet the dog is allowed on the furniture; yes, Fido growls at her around the food dish. Mary and Fido came a few days later for a private behavior consultation that was conducted by myself and Patti Brown, who works with me at Canine Potentials.
Here is some of the information that was gathered during that session. Fido is 18 months old and has been growling at Mary since she brought him home at 8 weeks. Mary picked him from his litter because he was the friendliest. When Fido was 12 weeks old, he was chewing on a pig’s ear in the hallway and as Mary tried to leave the bathroom, Fido would not let her walk past. Mary ended up climbing out of the bathroom window.
The first time Mary and Fido went to obedience classes was when Fido was 4 months old. The obedience training progressed and positive methods were used. According to Mary, this helped diminish some of the growling and bossy behavior around the house. Mary then moved across the country where the problems gradually escalated. Mary had Fido neutered and signed up for another obedience class; this time the instructor used compulsion as the means of training the dog. Since Fido is a big healthy dog and Mary is an average-sized woman, it wasn’t long before Mary and Fido were at odds with each other and the growling and biting continued.
I am the third obedience instructor that Mary has been to. From my point of view, Mary has a lot of work ahead of her to straighten out her relationship with Fido. Mary is a committed owner, and in some cases that is half the battle. Mary is gradually implementing the changes necessary and is determined to give it her best shot. This is not a success story (yet) but a thought-provoking tale. My thoughts have been leaning towards: how could this have been prevented in the first place, and what could the first instructor have done to have turned the tables for Mary and Fido before the problems kept building.
It should be part of our job description as dog obedience instructors to help dog owners understand their dogs. One of the sources of frustration for owners is a lack of knowledge as it relates to canine behavior. This knowledge can be obtained in a variety of ways which I will touch upon in this article.
The initial contact on the telephone is the beginning. On the phone you will be explaining your obedience program and the cost. You will most likely explain that it is the owner who will be teaching the dog and you will be teaching the owner. It is a good time to mention that it takes only about 15 minutes a day for the owner to see good results at the end of the session. Most owners are surprised it takes so little practice for them to see results.
Once class has started, you can educate owners on the subject of canine behavior through the use of auxiliary handouts. The handouts can include subjects like: what it means to a dog to be allowed to sleep on the owner’s bed or to be on the furniture, why dogs jump on people, the importance of the people in the household being the “alpha,” understanding canine body language, and how our body language speaks to your dog. If you don’t already have handouts on these subjects, the information can be found in books about dog behavior or by attending seminars.
As the weeks roll by, it is up to you to observe what is going on during class time. If an owner is having a hard time getting her dog to down, if a dog is still barking at its owner during week three of class, or maybe the owner can not get their dog’s attention, you may need to investigate to find out what else is going on in his/her relationship. Find the time after class to talk to the owner or give them a phone call in between classes to see how things are actually going around the house.
I wonder if Mary received handouts that first time around. If she had, were they given out in a neat package? Was she able to refer to them at a later date, when the problems recurred? I used to give a few auxiliary handouts for my classes each week, expecting the owner to put them in the manila envelope that I gave them the first week. I am currently switching so all the handouts are given out at once in one neat booklet. Next month I will share with you the creation of the Canine Potentials comb-bound booklet.
©1997 Carol Cronan (Gannaway)