This year marks my 20th as a full-time dog trainer. My total immersion began when I worked with a talented couple in Chicago. After just two weeks, I was already working with the growlers, snappers, and biters. Pit bulls? German Shepherds? Dobermans? Nope. The toughest was a Portuguese water dog, ala ‘Bo’ the white house dog.
Jim Morgan, the head trainer, was a charismatic and intimidating guy. He would storm through the kennel in his full cammos and boots and glower at his underlings through thick eyebrows. His classes consisted of 10 to 12 mostly female participants, raptly awaiting his next instruction, which was often given at full volume. “Forward!”, he’d bellow. “Right turn!” Feet shuffled and leashes snapped. “Left turn!” Any dyslexic tendencies were immediately exposed. “YOUR LEFT, YOUR MILITARY LEFT!” Frantic adjustments by the dog owners. The dogs adored him and saw right through his bluster. When class ended, instead of slinking off to their cars after the verbal lashing they had received, the women would gather around him and seek his further counsel while their husbands kept a respectful distance.
I worked with Elana Morgan often, a talented trainer and businesswoman in her own right. She wore clean white jeans every day and they were just as clean and white at 6PM, despite working with dogs of all sizes throughout the day. No dog even considered jumping up on this petite and pretty blonde; she gave off that much Alpha vibe. Elana was a pioneer in feeding natural foods, and using Chinese herbs and homeopathic remedies.
These two people gave me a great start and kept on helping me after I opened my own place in 1991. One late afternoon, a client dropped off two tiny Yorkshire terriers to board with me. I had not trained these two and had not seen them before their appointment. The owner left hurriedly in a cloud of perfume, and I bent to say ‘hello’ to my little charges, thinking, ‘how easy is this?’ Both dogs came at me in a rush, teeth clicking and saliva flying. I was surprised but not afraid; remember I had worked with the tough ones at the Morgan’s place. I merely picked up the leashes and said, “Let’s go!” and started to walk out to the yard with them. The smaller of the two slipped right out of the collar and ran into a corner. I rolled my eyes, after all this was a mere annoyance for a lion tamer like myself. I put the other dog in a large crate and went back for the itsy-bitsy one. The dog began to bounce up and down in the corner and barked so much she threw up bile. I felt bad for her and wanted to get her settled ASAP so she could relax. I tried throwing a light leash over her like a lasso, (slipped out like she was buttered) tossing a towel over her and scooping her up, (ouch, little teeth leave big holes) and even tried to herd her into a cardboard box like an escaped gerbil (no go, this thing was quick). I finally had to do it. I had to call my mentors for help, just five days into my independence. They assured me over the phone that it was no trouble, completely understandable, and that Yorkie bites could be very, very bad.
I felt better after hanging up and waited for their arrival. The small
menace in the corner glared at me while her friend in the crate yelped her displeasure. Minutes later there was a knock. I opened the door and could not decide whether to laugh, cry or crawl in a hole. There stood Elana and Jim, both in full cammo, Elana in a pith helmet (white) and carrying a snare pole like those used at zoos on reluctant lions. Jim wore hockey gloves so thick he could not have scratched his own nose without knocking himself out.
“Where is the little @#!%!” he roared. Elana crept slowly around, snare-em pole at the ready. The Yorkie in the corner was very, very quiet.
“OK, guys, I deserve this,” I laughed. Jim walked up to the dog, looked down at it for just a second or two, and the little monster wagged her tail and rolled onto one side. Jim scooped her up and snapped the leash back on, and then did some walking exercises with her as she bounced along happily at his side. From that day on, I used confidence as a training tool. Dogs are such good readers of body language and attitude, and they do want to follow a leader. I also instituted a new policy. Any new dogs had to come by for a brief visit before staying to board. And, I ordered a snare pole.