The first violence I suffered from a dog was the morning of my high school graduation 30 plus years ago. I was out exercising the family dog, when a large, black, curly dog shot like a bolt from a yard we were passing, bowling my feet out from under me and leaving the palm of my hand looking like hamburger from being drug across the pavement. All while it’s owners called it from their driveway. It was a “nice dog” who “never hurt anybody.”
Ever since then, I get a tidal wave adrenaline rush when I come across a loose dog, owner or not. This seems to signal to most of the dogs that I am fresh meat. Whether it be a lone dog on a neighborhood walking path in Idaho or a pack of feral dogs in Taipei, they know. Not only that, but I seem to emit a signal that attracts dogs. They find me, threaten me, then disappear without menacing anyone else. So why would I want a dog?
I’m not completely sure. But it was something that one of my daughters and I talked about her helping me with before she died. Then, at the age of 13, she bequeathed me her meager stash of money when she succumbed to leukemia, with a note that it was for my future pet. I began shopping.
Three years into my search, a 4 month old stray female puppy showed up at a friend’s house and we couldn’t find the owners. I thought I was ready to give this dog-thing a try and the puppy needed a home. I quelled the tremors of fear, regularly reminding myself that she was little. I named her “Kiwi” and my therapy was off to a good start.
Being a stay-at-home mom, I was able to have Kiwi with me a lot. She wasn’t the kids’ dog, she was mine, so even though they helped some, she was usually attached via a leash to my ankle in the house. We didn’t have a fenced yard, so even outside, she was always right with someone. When she wasn’t with someone, she was in the kennel that I had purchased with my inheritance.
Kiwi and I bonded and I began reading books on dog training. I discovered right away that her fear of strangers and other dogs rivaled my fear of dogs, so I needed a plan. For a short time, I forgot everything I knew about training my children and tried positive reinforcement methods for the dog. Unfortunately, many things proved more attractive to her than a doggy treat. I finally happened upon a superb book by the man known for training Disney animals for movies, such as Homeward Bound (1993).
The Koehler Method of Dog Training, by William R. Koehler, promised me the skills and methods for training my dog with a reliability that nothing else could. I read it through and began to apply what I learned. (It is still available as a used book through amazon.com)
Soon, I found a local dog trainer who held classes using this method. April Stoppel, of Scotch Pines Dog Training (http://scotchpinesdogtraining.com) , met with me to discuss my concerns about being in a class filled with other dogs. She told me that this was not an uncommon concern. Her confidence and knowledge in explaining the training process made me willing to give it a try.
Ten weeks of classes, and consistent practice at home, brought great results. Six years later I can still run or walk with Kiwi on a leash without her pulling me or lunging at other dogs (in places like D&B Supply). If she does get distracted, I know exactly what to do to correct her and get obedient behavior. She will stay put 99% of the time until given a release command, even when we are doing things like unloading groceries from the car and piling them around her. She comes when called, although she is frequently suspicious of why we are calling her. She goes to her kennel on command, thinking of it as a place of safety. She rings the cow bell hanging on the door when she wants out or needs food or water.
I’m still afraid of most other dogs, but working with Kiwi has given me some ability to get through my encounters with less stress. Those other dogs may not know the commands, but I have some insight into dog behavior. And it’s fun to be able to say that I have a dog trained Disney style.