Yesterday I had a young woman come in asking me to help her with her dog. Her dog had bitten one person and also struggled with some leash reactivity towards others dogs and people. As we dove into a good long chat, a few things quickly became obvious. This young woman had a lot that she was working threw and she had a relationship with her dog that was in need of some intervention.
The owner had acquired her dog at a young age, an age to which the puppy should have been with his mother. The owner got this puppy just after her mother passed away, and he’s proven his worth in her lifetime and time again. She struggles with anxiety, and at times is crippled by it, all the while there he is content to sleep away the day if her mental health is requiring rest for the day. What a dog, a true companion.
She was willing to tell me that she believes her dog to have saved her life in those critical months after her mother’s passing.
This dog is a good dog, who needs a lot of direction. He’s a sensitive dog, who reacts out of fear and ambiguity. His owner walks him 12km a day to ensure that he’s tired out, and it’s good for both of them. Outside in the fresh air, movement, kinship with nature is key.
She loves this dog like he’s a savior, and rightfully so. I can see why.
We chatted for 2 hours before I dropped the bomb.
“So the thing is, he needs direction and he’s going to need you to step up to the plate and take control so that he doesn’t have to, are you ready to do that?”
She knew it was coming and she gladly accepted the invitation. She had already told herself that she owed it to him. She couldn’t hide from it.
I told her how I would train her how to train her savior, and she was in. Chomping at the bit, she was ready to change her life, and if we had time we would get to her dog. (joking)
Most dog trainers refuse to work with clients like her, and if they do, they suggest that the dog has to do a board and train program away from its owner. After mentoring hundreds of these trainers around the world who still act this way, I know how big of an issue this is for people. I don’t take the dog, I train them with the owner. Period.
DOG TRAINERS: These dogs need your help. These people need your help. And sure these people tend to take a little longer to train because of the other issues that they are navigating. These people do not want you to take their dogs away from them for a month, they need them. If you give these dog owners the benefit of the doubt, they will be some of the most consistent people you will ever meet. Such quantities of diamonds in the rough everywhere I look.
This week I GET to start training with a dog and a human who are more motivated than the majority of the people I have met in my life. A woman who is trying to save her dog’s life. The life of her savior is at stake. How can she not step up to the plate for him? Sending her my books to read and videos to watch she’s devoured them as she prepares to start training that will change not only her life but her dog’s life.
These two were destined to have issues. She’s a first-time dog owner. Her dog was taken from the litter too early. She struggles to find balance in her life. (and don’t we all) He is the spitting image of her. He struggles to default to good, safe behaviors when he’s stressed. Had she been paired with an incredibly confident dog, these issues would likely never have manifested.
Like in any relationship, one of the members needs to be the rock or else things fall apart. I’m confident that she will learn the ways required to step up and be her dog’s rock.
If you feel like a crappy leader, it’s ok. Breath. It’s not your fault. Stop beating yourself up. Self-loathing will not make your relationship better.
I take issue with dog trainers who blame owners who are doing the best with what they know. There is a massive difference between commission and omission. When given the knowledge and a step by step game plan to follow, most of these folks turn into superheroes for their dogs.
I respect your pain and it’s not the end of the story, just the beginning.