We met Abby and her family when they were looking for a pet sitter last year (2014). We were hired to come visit and take care of Abby during the day while they were traveling. It was obvious that Abby was very friendly and very smart, but had some issues in the doggie good manners department, to say the least.
The whole time we sat down to talk, Abby was running the show. Barking, jumping, getting up on people’s faces and begging for attention. I couldn’t help but notice several pieces of furniture that appeared to have been chewed up or ripped and I quickly figured out who the suspect was. The list of issues went on and on.
Little did we know that Abby would test our own patience a few days later. We come to let Abby out in the fenced backyard, so she could run and play for a while. Abby would come to the back door and bark. No sooner we opened the back door to let her in, she’d take off running as if she was saying “c’mon, try to catch me!”. I know better not to play catch with a dog, but she had the upper hand on this game, since there was no way to get her to come in. This went on for about an hour, and I swear this dog was having a blast trying to get us to chase her. Saying that Abby wouldn’t come when we called was an understatement.
We finally had enough and were able to catch her by the collar with a ninja-fast move when she was distracted. Game over. It wasn’t surprising that Abby’s family was getting frustrated with her behavior and the children did not have a good relationship with her. But I knew Abby was just a very smart dog who needed the right mental stimulation to develop her full potential to be a great family dog.
A few weeks later, I get a phone call. Abby’s family has had enough – they are ready to start training. They show me a picture of Abby with her head stuck in the trash can along with a rap sheet of complaints about her. Abby was coming to spend two weeks with me for training.
During that time, I witness a bratty dog turn into a fine, working-line Golden Retriever for the first time. She looked at me almost happy that she was given a job – following commands, holding stays, and controlling herself. And boy did she ace every lesson. She was one of few dogs that acted like this was all already in her, all this potential and smarts, just ready to come out. And come out she did – Abby just needed someone to speak her language.
Abby first learned the basics – walking without pulling, no jumping, no barking. Then simple commands like sit, down, go to place. And I would make sure she would come when called – of course. When she had that part down, we moved on to working without a leash on, then using what we learned to stop Abby from behaving poorly.
Abby learned to sit and wait every time she goes through a doorway with her owner. Or when she is getting ready to cross the street. She learned to go to her “place” and stay there while her family sat down for dinner or opened the door for guests. She would sit to be petted by someone. The children were able to take her for walks again, and started enjoying being around her more than ever.
The key to working with a dog like Abby is to first teach her to follow basic commands, and help her understand what is an acceptable behavior and what is not O.K. for her to do. Then we must transfer that new found understanding into daily life situations – because let’s face it, most behavior issues do not happen at the obedience class when someone’s holding on to the leash. It happens when you come back home. This is where many obedience programs fail.
A dog will not stop barking, jumping and running away if you cannot get him/her to perform a simple sit/stay command – or any command – consistently and under any circumstance. Coming back when you call or interrupting a behavior when you say “no” must happen every time, and not just sometimes or “when I’m holding a treat”. It’s like trying to learn a foreign language like Chinese or Japanese without first learning the alphabet. You must learn the alphabet first.
Abby learned those commands, and her family learned how to use them in their daily routine to curb Abby’s poor behavior and to give her a job to do. And that is exactly what Abby needed.
This happened over a year ago. I had the pleasure of getting a visit from Abby and her owner a few weeks ago, and that brought me great joy. Abby and her family have a much better relationship, they have fun together, go for walks and hear strangers complimenting Abby’s good behavior all the time. Their dog is no longer a “problem”, but the well-behaved friend and playmate they hoped for in the first place. And I knew Abby had all of this in her to begin with – our training just helped her true colors shine through.