We all have to walk the walk sometimes
Today we want to talk about ‘walking the talk’.
Whenever I see an animal in need of a home I sidle up to Doug and sweetly flutter my eyelashes at him and beg – ‘but he’s so cute’, or ‘no one else will take her, we have to.’I Give Doug a ton of credit; he has turned me down on a daily basis for almost 25 years.But from the size of our menagerie he has also said ‘yes’ more times than he would like to admit.
Last May when I was looking for a dog for a client at the local shelter I spied a young (2.5 yr) male Rottie.He wasn’t the right dog for the client, and he looked sick and was very skinny. But he had a special spark in his eye and we have missed having a Rottie in our lives for the last 7 years.I asked to take him out into the yard where he exhibited tons of energy (despite his pointy ribs) and didn’t seem too thrilled about the dogs that were walking past.He was full of himself to say the least – go figure, he hadn’t been trained, socialized or neutered – what would you expect?The staff at the shelter were intimidated by him and didn’t quite know how to handle him.I immediately started to engage him and took charge of his attitude, and right away he paid attention and stopped acting like such a twit.Within minutes he was walking beside me on a loose leash.Long story short, the shelter basically said “if you don’t take this dog we don’t know what‘s going to happen to him”.Well, that was it; I called Doug and had him come right down to meet him.He agreed and we brought him home.
Tsavo (his new name), came home to a pack of dogs, a pride of cats, a flock of birds and a small herd (okay 2) of horses.He was thrilled to be here and we were thrilled to have him.Things went beautifully – he was easy to crate train, it took some effort but we got the vomiting and diarrhea to stop, he started to put on weight, he was great with all of the animals and his new best friend was our littlest Pomeranian.They are too cute to watch play together – the Pom kicks his butt!
About 5 months went by and we thought all was well.But in a short matter of days he attacked 2 of our dogs four times.If we had not pulled him off I don’t know what would have happened.He left them with multiple deep punctures on the neck, and one dog had a huge hematoma on the shoulders that took weeks to go down.Doug felt terrible that we had brought trouble into our home and caused pain to our beloved dogs.He looked at me and asked “Do we really want to keep him?It’s not fair to our other dogs and he is too powerful to take a risk with.What do you want to do?”I felt terrible too but I knew that if WE couldn’t deal with him who could?We are the trainers, we are the ones people come to for help in these situations, and we are other people’s answer to euthanizing their own aggressive dogs.We had to be our own answer too.
We could not take his good attitude for granted anymore.Doug did a lot of work taking him for long walks to stimulate him mentally and physically, but he is always so busy training other people’s dogs that I knew I had to step up to the plate as I had never done before.Because I had begged Doug for this dog – essentially I had brought the trouble home – I committed to making him my project. Our life together was going to be very different; Tsavo was going to be attached to me a lot of the time – working his mind and controlling his emotions.It is always about balancing out a dog’s mental, emotional and physical well being in order to create a well balanced dog.We had to get him to think before he acted, to learn to calm down, to be patient, to learn to back away when he was feeling tense, to learn to check in with us before he made any moves, to remind him that it was not his place to discipline the other dogs, and to help the other dogs regain their trust in him.It had to work – there was too much at stake.
Now that we are on the other side of things I can say it has worked.Most importantly the other dogs are comfortable with him again. He can hold a down stay for hours if needed- even with chaos all around, he does nothing without looking to us for permission, he plays well, he can sit in a line of dogs all crammed against each other as I feed each one raw meat.He is happy again and we are too.Oh, and we use him for our trainings as a distraction, a companion or for introductions.
This was truly a lesson in doing the very work we require of our clients.When your life is all about animals and you are lecturing everyone else on doing a better job it was like holding a mirror up and taking a long look.Our household is chaotic merely for the fact that we have so many different species living together.But in fact (despite the loud parrots) it is actually our own harmonious slice of heaven.We exist in veritable bliss surround by the fur, feathers and four-leggeds we adore.Each new addition can send a ripple effect into the harmony as the family re-adjusts itself to the new member.So work must be done to ensure that the ripple effect is short and not too noticeable.Tsavo brought a tsunami into the house.We had to work fast and hard to cover from its effects.We had to walk the walk we always tell others to walk.
Elizabeth Simpson and her husband Doug have been running Tenderfoot Training in Boulder Colorado for over 30 years. They offer private training, do telephone consults and have an excellent DVD on their training method and technique.