I was recently called to the home of a woman and her teen son. She was having a problem with her “dog aggressive” Boxer/American Bulldog mix. As she explained Zoe’s behavior to me, I said a quick prayer that I may be able to help her. Even after nearly twenty years in this business, I have yet to meet a dog I haven’t been able to help, yet was concerned this one may be hopeless.
The biggest concern the woman had was tied to the fact that she had taken her dog to a local Colorado Springs dog trainer who used a stuffed dog on a leash and approached cautiously while holding the stuffed animal out in front of him. Using a toy in that manner can change the mindset of the dog. Obviously, when walking towards any dog cautiously sets them on alert. As expected, Zoe went ballistic and attacked the stuffed animal with so much force and energy, it set her human mom into a frenzy.
I’m still not sure why the Colorado Springs dog trainer set Zoe up to fail and to cause the mom to panic. A good dog trainer knows training is all about energy, tone of voice and confidence. None of this was possible with this “stuffed animal technique”.
What else is going on?
Because of Zoe’s “dog aggressive” nature towards other dogs (they couldn’t even take Zoe on a normal walk in the neighborhood because she would go after them), I brought my dog Coal to the appointment. Coal is an 11 year old black Lab who is naturally good with other dogs and his super cool temperament transcends the situation to help calm the other dog down.
I got to her Colorado Springs home and met Zoe, who was a very happy, excitable dog. She had an enormous amount of excess energy. Ideally, I would have liked to get on a bike and ride it with Zoe on a leash next to me, but instead, I took her on a simple walk.
Zoe pulled a few times but didn’t respond when neighbor dogs were barking in their backyards. From there, I had my assistant walk Coal while I walked Zoe towards each other a few times. As soon as Zoe looked at Coal, I gave her a quick, but gentle, tug-release on the leash. This is designed to snap her out of her focus on the other dog and change her attention back to me. We did this a few times and then I walked Zoe and Coal together.
We then had the owners come out to interact with Zoe. The teenage boy did phenomenally well and Zoe listened intently to him.
Dog aggressive? Try to take a deep breath
Mom was very nervous and it was evident. I explained that she needed to clear herself with a deep breath and she needed to be confident or Zoe would respond to her anxiety. As soon as she started walking Zoe and the dog responded to her positively, you could see the tension in her shoulders relax. It was a great experience for her, her son, and Zoe.
The moral of the story is this… Get references of the dog trainer you intend to work with. Just because someone says they are a trainer doesn’t make them one you’d want working your dog. If you are uncomfortable with your Colorado Springs dog trainer, either talk to him/her before they start working with your dog or simply leave. A dog trainer has to have solid methodology, experience, and positive references. After all, you are trusting them with your dog, who is likely looked at, and treated as a family member.
Incidentally, Zoe wasn’t “dog-aggressive,” she was merely overly-assertive and had lots of excess energy. If you hire a trainer to help you with a case like this and they mis-label your dog, they could end up being euthanized because someone used the wrong label and didn’t know what they were doing. In the Greater Colorado Springs area? Call me instead. I can help.