I experience a good deal of highs and lows in my line of work. There are many days where despite the physical toll of riding the subway from lesson to lesson, I come home psyched from that day’s sessions. There is no greater joy than knowing I helped someone have a better understanding of and relationship with their dog. I never get tired of teaching an owner how to train their dog to do something as simple as sitting on cue even though I’ve done it thousands of times before. Almost all owners light up with delight when they realize how easy it can be – and that they can do it all without coercion. That’s my reward for doing my job.
Then, there are the lows. They happen less frequently, but they do happen just like with any other job. There are certainly non-compliant owners who expect a dog trainer to have a magic wand. In the past I’ve also had to deal with those who thought a problem could be solved by throwing money at it and nothing else. There are also those difficult cases, so many of those difficult cases that make me want to turn my brain inside out in search of solutions for super tricky behavior problems. My brain, it hurts sometimes. (Grin.)
It’s those rare (but they do exist) times when I find myself on the verge of turning completely cynical that my clients surprise me and really prove to me what awesome changes can be made in a dog’s behavior if they dedicated themselves to helping their pups. I know that in many cases owner commitment alone is not enough to “fix” a dog’s problem if other factors like an inappropriate environment or genetics come into play, but without dedication resolution is almost always unattainable. How can a dog be helped if those closest to him won’t try? I love those clients who try and try hard.
Recently I had one case that had me concerned from the get go, but turned into a situation where the dog made amazing progress because of the owners’ efforts. Books, a 4 month old dachshund who moved to Brooklyn to live with his owners, Jessica and Vinay, at the tail end of his critical socialization period would growl and air snap at anyone who showed an ounce of interest in him. He had trouble walking down the busy streets of Brooklyn. I was quite concerned that I would have to break my clients’ hearts by telling them that Books would not thrive in the city where living amongst strangers is the norm. We quickly went to work, saying we would evaluate his progress in a month’s time. I introduced to them various behavior modification techniques, primarily Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT), management techniques, and a number of calming products such as DAP. Jessica and Vinay committed themselves 100% to helping Books gain the social skills he desperately needed to become a well-adjusted dog living in New York. During that month, Books received many visitors in the home who were instructed on the appropriate ways to interact with him. His owners were doing their homework and they were serious about doing it well. They even got upset with friends who violated the rules of how to behave around a scared Books. A month came and went and at the end there was no question that Books was going to stay. There was much work still to be done to continue modifying his behavior as well as maintaining what skills he’d learned thus far, but the transformation I saw within such a short period was just absolutely rewarding.
Ultimately, I suspect that Books was not genetically predisposed to be fearful, as his biological mom is a therapy dog. However, he was definitely under socialized and arriving to New York after 8 weeks of age didn’t help his situation. He quickly learned that growling and air snapping were very effective strategies to keep people out of his space. Thanks to his dedicated owners, he’s learned other healthier ways of coping and to even enjoy the company of humans.
A few weeks ago, I received some photos of Books interacting with one of Jessica and Vinay’s friends and a lovely note to update me on his progress:
Books has been making lots of new friends – dogs and PEOPLE! He’s doing much better in the apartment when people come over – he actually gets excited and wags his tail when the doorbell rings and will run out in the hallway to greet the friends when we open the door. Here’s a few photos of him playing fetch and snuggling with my friend Tieneke.
Jenny Chun, CPDT-KA, PMCT-2 is a dog trainer in Brooklyn and Manhattan, NYC specializing in helping newly adopted dogs integrate into their new homes.
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