Elsie was a poster child for Dog Training. I adopted my 8 year old dog, Elsie, about 7 months ago. I took her on because her previous owner couldn’t accommodate her needs any longer. I will admit, she is a difficult one. She’s been known to be a great escape artist, a digger, reactive to any noise she thinks is a door knock/bell and barks at anyone outside the house, even if they’re down the street. She’s afraid of people, alert barking at anyone that dares come too close and she doesn’t like most dogs. She’s been in a couple of serious fights and has bitten a neighbor’s dog. The costly amount of damage that she did over the years is astonishing; truly, the list of tests goes on and on. I guess I’m just crazy enough to have accepted this challenge.
I’d had her a couple of months before we took our first dog training class together. We were still very new to each other and didn’t have a strong connection, yet. I went there believing I’d be working to “fix” all of these things about her. I remember when one of DogBoy’s dog trainers, Lydia, asked us on day one why we’d signed up, that my response was, “To work on all the behavioral challenges she’s come to me with”. I suppose in a sense it was true, but not in the way I thought. I didn’t grasp that there were root problems that had caused these issues. I didn’t realize that an idle mind could manifest into the many “behaviors” I was seeing. My 8 year old dog had spent much of her life secluded from the outside world with no previous dog training and very little socialization with people or dogs. She didn’t know what a puzzle toy was, what dog treats were, she just existed. Coming to participate in a class where there were 5 to 6 other people and 4 other dogs was a mind blowing experience for her.
Our first dog training class at DogBoy’s was an 8-week Foundations course. We worked on the basic manners like sits, downs and leash walking. My dog got to eat out of a food puzzle for the first time and learned to “wait” for the treats and praise. We were introduced to agility training, “clicker” training and some fun tricks, like “shake”. One of the most important tools/tricks we learned was “Touch”. For a dog that is very uncomfortable with the idea of interacting with people, this new way of getting to go up quickly to check in with a person other than myself and then getting to retreat, has become a phenomenal asset.
This was my first real exposure to professional dog training, as well. My execution of asking for the things I wanted from my dog wasn’t perfect. It was a constant reminder that my girl shouldn’t be expected to master these tasks right away, either. We were in this together, learning and perfecting our actions little by little each week. When it came to clicker training, I learned that my hand-eye coordination was rather lacking. I was actually advised to go home and practice my clicker training skills by “clicking” to the television rather than to my dog. (The homework they give at DogBoy’s isn’t just for the dogs!) I recognized the progress we were making, however, and it was so exciting to watch her work. She was always alert and very conscious of the people moving around her, but when it was time to work together, she did a great job of focusing on the task at hand. I left with a very tired dog after every class. She began smiling, just with one side of her mouth, but it’s still there all the same.
On our last day of class, after we’d completed our last task of the 8-weeks, my classmates, their dogs and our dog trainers stood around talking. Right there in the midst of it all, Elsie laid down! Relaxing is not this dog’s forte. She can run around the fence lines when she is at doggy daycare for 8 hours without stopping due to her anxiety. Whether it was a new level of comfort or just sheer exhaustion, I guess I’ll never know. What I do know, is laying down surrounded by people and dogs was momentous for her. Lydia posed a new question to us as the night drew to a close. “What was the most important thing that you learned in class?” It dawned on me in that moment that what I hadn’t recognized as class went by was the level of trust that Elsie had developed in me, that my dog and I had built a relationship, and a true bond had been created. That was my answer.
What I’ve learned is that taking classes isn’t only about training my dog, it’s about training me too. We are now on our third class and I don’t foresee a time when we will stop taking them. There will always be something new to be learned or taken away from the experience for the two of us. The amount of progress she has made is remarkable. I have a dog that has begun to build relationships with other people, slowly but surely. I have a dog that has calmed down at home and isn’t as reactive to every sound. I have a dog that needs her nails cut for the first time in her life because she’s stopped the neurotic digging. Elsie will always need special attention and management, but I now have the tools to keep her mind active and to make her life as happy as I can.
To find out more about DogBoy’s Foundations, Agility, Clicker Training or other great training classes, click the link to speak to our Training Team.
Blog post by Ferrell Jackson, DogBoy’s Receptionist
Photo: Ferrell’s Dog, Elsie