A Page from the Dog Trainer’s Diary

As seen in The Patch April 17, 2011

What happened on a recent visit to train a canine version of Bonnie and Clyde.

Next week, I will address getting a dog or puppy to match your lifestyle.  Pure breed or rescue?  Young puppy or older dog?  How much does the breed influence the temperament?  Male or female?  Please forward me your questions to help me shape my article! Meanwhile, here’s a page from my Dog Trainer’s Dairy.

Meet Rocky, a Cane Corso, with a boxer’s name and attitude. He’s big. He’s bold. He barks with authority. And he’s only 14 weeks old. Uh-0h.

Rocky is alert, watchful and already pulling away from his human family, bonding instead with Francesca, the family’s 4-year old Akita. Slightly panicked, his family corrects him inconsistently, frightening and confusing this large but still immature pup and driving him further into Francesca’s world.

Francesca is a bit of a bad girl, an older woman with a few bad habits of her own. She’s territorial and over-protective—barking, blocking, growling and snapping. Rocky watches her, starstruck. No matter what the humans do, they can’t compete with the brassy Ms. Francesca. Her bossy attitude, her throaty snarl—she’s irresistible to the impressionable Rocky, and he wants to be just like her.

Can these relationships be saved? Can the humans regain control of this canine Bonnie and Clyde? Although I was called in to train Rocky, it’s Francesca who needs most of the attention on our first day. She’s setting an example for Rocky and if I don’t win her over, the battle will be lost. Training Francesca will relieve her confusion and lead Rocky towards the light: when people communicate to dogs, everyone is happier!

Francesca believes she needs to protect her family. She barks at the windows, blocks the door when visitors arrive and suspiciously eyes active children. This is not a job she chose; she simply acquired it by default. It is her breed’s nature to protect and if no one else seems to be getting the job done, she is required by hundreds of years of selective breeding to step up – whether she wants to or not.

Within minutes of handling Francesca, I discovered a closet Cavalier King Charles Spaniel hidden in an Akita’s body; a dog who’d be happier showing affection rather than displaying aggression. My instructions for a quick rehabilitation included the following steps:

Practice 10 minute walk-abouts—in front of Rocky, reinforcing the commands to “Follow” (aka as Heel), Sit-Stay, Back and Wait.

Readjust her bedding away from the window and block her lookout.

Teach her the command “Get Back” at the door and hold her on a short hand leash until the visitors have integrated into the household.

When young cousins come, keep her tethered to her bed on a station lead or held to someone on leash. 

As I handled Francesca, Rocky looked on with a fascinated stare. Francesca, light-hearted? What gives? When I turned my attentions to him, he grabbed a dishtowel and danced out of reach, daring me to give chase. Engaging him would play right into Rocky’s large paws so I reached for a treat cup and fed a few to a willing Francesca. Angling my hip to Rocky’s head to avoid his indignant, straight-on glare, I talked softly and knelt to pet both of them. Rocky’s big tail swished and he dropped the towel to take a treat. Even the toughest tough guy needs a treat and a pat now and then.

Rocky will benefit from some some simple treat cup and leash lessons to start his training journey and he’s signed up for group Puppy Kindergarten. Both dogs will need a few private studio visits to improve their social skills.

Life with dogs is long and far far better when you can talk and socialize with them!