How My (In)experience As a Dog Owner Made Me a Better Dog Trainer

Lucy, at the young age of 3

While recently digging through some really (really) old emails, I happened upon a letter I’d sent to a dog trainer years ago when Lucy was just entering my life. I was a dog enthusiast and a dedicated shelter volunteer back then, but not yet a trainer. I loved dogs, but was completely clueless on the subject of dog behavior. What I knew came from television and what people told me. Most of this information was based on myths.

Finding this email correspondence made me smile, breathe a sigh of relief, and humbled me. It was a joy to unearth such an interesting description of my dog that I myself had apparently written and it delighted me that she isn’t such the troubled dog I made her out to be. It humbled me because it showed me that I once walked in my clients’ shoes and it reminded me that I’m in no position to judge anyone who reaches out to me for help with their dog.

I will, as much as I hate to, admit that I once rubbed Lucy’s face in her poop, used the word “dominance” which I now refer to as “the dirty D word”, and felt yelling louder allowed me to take better control of her. When someone calls me these days and tells me they’ve done these exact same or similar things, I understand them more than ever… and I try to concentrate my efforts on helping them achieve a better, more peaceful relationship with their dog.

I’m thankful for the guidance I received at the beginning when I adopted Lucy. It saved one of the most special relationships I’ve ever had. I hope I can do the same for everyone who comes my way.

Here’s the email that prompted this blog post. I’ve changed the names of people to protect the innocent:

Dear Amy,

My name is Jenny Chun and I work with Michael as a volunteer at the shelter. My boyfriend, Peter, and I have been fostering a 3.5-year-old pit mix named Lucy. She’s been with us for almost a week and we’ve noticed that she’s exhibiting some behavior problems. Michael suggested I contact you. Lucy, for the most part, is a joy to be around. She loves people. However, some of the things that she’s doing have us a bit concerned:

–       Lunging at anything with wheels: When Lucy sees things with wheels on the street (bicycles, strollers, postal men with their carts, luggage bags, etc.) she wants to go after them. I think she goes after bikes most of the time, especially if they are moving at great speed. She seems to ignore those that don’t move very fast. I’ve seen her startle a good number of delivery men on their bikes and some small children going by in their strollers. She doesn’t bark at them, she just lunges. I’ve been trying to correct this behavior by pulling her back and giving her a stern “no”.

–       Going to the bathroom in MY bathroom: When I first started walking Lucy, I thought it was strange that she never went to the bathroom on the street… ever. At the shelter, she seemed to do all her business while in the indoor dog play area. The first day we started fostering her, we noticed that after long walks on the street, she would come home, run into our bathroom, cower in a corner and pee. The first day I left her by herself, she did all her business in my bathroom during my absence. Then the other day, we discovered she goes to the bathroom only on one particular block near a dog daycare where all the dogs get walked. Since then, we’ve been treating her to bologna every time she relieves herself on the street. She’s made a lot of progress. This morning she peed on my block. I’ve since locked her out of my bathroom and it appears that she has no desire to do her business in my living room.

–       Aggression towards small dogs: Lucy does not like small dogs. She pulls after them and if she gets close enough to sniff them, she tries to nip.

–       Aggression towards bigger dogs: Lucy seems to get along with other big dogs while at the shelter’s dog play area. On the street, she can sniff them for a good amount of time. If she’s around them for a prolonged period, she starts to growl.

–       Growling and barking: Lucy likes to growl in our apartment, especially when she hears other dogs in the building. She’ll be lying there all calm, and then suddenly she’ll let out these low rumbling growls. She’s never really barked in our presence, but yesterday I noticed she was barking at the voices of people in my hallway.

–       Standing on me: Lucy has only done this once. I was laying in bed and she came up to me, put her front paws on my chest and stared right at me as she stood over me. I wasn’t sure if she was sniffing or trying to dominate.

I want to thank you in advance for all your help. Lucy is truly a sweet dog. We’d love to help her correct the problems that she has.

Kindest Regards,
Jenny Chun

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