Dogs Eye View: Change your thoughts; change your actions
June 15, 2017
I heard this saying from a favorite horse trainer a long time ago, and it came to mind when I was talking to a friend about whom I have written in this column. She has a male yellow Labrador retriever weighing 80 to 90 pounds that she raised from puppyhood. His name is Riggins, and he's seven years old. He's the first dog she raised by herself, and, to her credit, when his rambunctious, mouthy, chewing behavior almost took her down, she determined instead to fight for him by attending training classes. She attended multiple classes, sometimes twice, and she learned right along with him. She's an exceptional student.
Not only did my friend persevere and bring to fruition a wonderful companion dog that is absolutely woven into the fabric of her life, she has continued to pursue his education (and hers) by now enjoying the sport of K9 Nose Work. This fast growing sport of scent work for companion dogs has proven to be just the ticket for Riggins. He has already earned his Nosework 1 and 2 titles, and this human/dog team is training for more advanced skills.
My friend can take her dog with her anywhere. He travels well in his crate in the car. He walks well on leash. He greets people with all four feet on the floor and will go to his target resting mat when visitors come over. Riggins earned his AKC Puppy STAR title, AKC Canine Good Citizens title and his B.A. with the Canine Life and Social Skills program. He has learned tricks and, basically, is just an all-around great dog.
One of Riggins' early challenges was barking and lunging at dogs and cats that were loose in the neighborhood. My friend has worked diligently to teach Riggins what to do in face of these daily distractions. He can look at a dog, then return his attention to walking calmly with his partner. A discussion about how well he's doing now is the impetus for this article.
Many of us are faced with the loose dog problem we have written about so often. Everyone knows, "Don't worry. He's friendly." In addition to that scenario is dogs that are just running loose without an owner. It's summer now, doors are opened more easily and more people are out with their pets.
My friend and I were talking about the amount of responsibility and work entailed in training our own dog to stay engaged with us in these situations. She said, "It's tempting to just be angry with people who let their dogs run right up to my dog." Then, she said a very insightful and wise thing. She said, "It's clear that people may not know how, or, for whatever reason, choose to not change their own behavior. It's not going to stop." She just decided to stop being upset every time she was faced with loose dogs and instead train her dog better than any dog on the street. This, she has done.
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I often counsel owners of certain "bully" breeds, such as pit bulls or bull terriers, that their dog needs to be better trained than all others, because, if there's an incident, their dog will likely be looked at more critically because of his breed type. My friend has taken this concept a step further. I appreciate how this once novice dog owner has thought through a difficult, yet common situation and, with grace, has changed her own life and mine, too.
She's the winner who walks confidently and cheerfully with her dog. She changed her thoughts and actions. She's a savvy, educated and responsible dog owner from whom we can all learn.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.