Like many trainers, my progress to working professionally was: a) take many classes and work with my own dogs, b) assist in classes and c) launch your own classes. When I first launched my own classes, I was very lucky in that my mentor stuck around to observe, help, and give me feedback to help me improve my teaching and management skills.
The first night, a woman brought her puppy in. This puppy, an “All American Mixed Breed” had been rescued with her littermates from a garbage dump. She was an exceptionally fearful puppy – she would not walk down the stairs into our facility. She hid under the chair on which her handler sat. If approached, she would growl, snarl, snap, and sometimes, pee. She’d bitten the male owner a number of times and these were not your “run of the mill” puppy nipping incidents – she was biting him to tell him to “BACK OFF!”
This puppy’s name was Leila.
Now, years later, Leila is an amazing dog and her owners, Nicole and Rob, are counted amongst my best friends. We’ve even used Leila to demo, off-lead at a local mall’s rush hour, clicker training for a local news show. Leila is friendly, social, and confident. She likes dogs, people, food, and destuffing any toy she can get her paws (and then teeth) on. I guess I’m sort of like Leila’s “godmother” and Nicole is to my dogs as well – we dog sit for each other, give feedback on training, schedule play dates, etc. Leila’s like Lomonaco Dog v. 2.5.
Nicole and I spend a lot of time at parks and in the community with the dogs. Many times, Nicole is approached by people wanting to pet Leila. “Can I pet her? She’s such a cute and sweet dog!” More often than not, Nicole allows these friendly strangers to pet her dog and Leila smiles, as big as she possibly can, while receiving her much-needed and hard won butt scritches. On a number of these occasions, people comment, “What a lovely dog! She has such a nice natural temperament!” Nicole and I usually glance at each other, out of the corners of our eyes, and try not to laugh.
Leila didn’t arrive at Nicole and Rob’s house perfect, socially gregarious, curious, and confident. She arrived a mess of a puppy – one that likely would not have survived in a less committed household. Without appropriate and extensive training, Leila would be a danger to others or herself at this point. “Good dogs” are usually made, not born. Even dogs with great “natural” temperaments and socialization histories continue to need training, exercise, and lifetime enrichment and socialization throughout their lives; behavior is malleable and in a constant state of flux.
Leila started out with two strikes – unknown breeding/genetic temperament tendencies and a really awful start to life. Today, she could easily do therapy work, has been a demonstration dog at innumerable orientations, has functioned as a stimulus dog for reactivity clients, and often is my “go-to” dog for convincing a shy dog to come out of his/her shell and learn to play. She learns new things all the time – last year, she learned to swim. This year, she learned to fetch enthusiastically, where she was once afraid of toys, especially if they were thrown. This dramatic turnaround was not fate, chance, or good luck, it is the culmination of years of dedication, commitment, and training from two of the best dog parents I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, personally or professionally.
Nicole, Rob, and Leila, a big click and jackpot to you!