Saturday, January 8, 2011

Color Me Impressed!

A few months ago we had a new client come in with a large (100 lb) dog that she had just adopted from a shelter. This was a young dog but no longer a puppy age wise. She didn't have any real history on this dog, but it was clear that he lacked any socialization skills, and possibly had been in an institution type setting for some time.
This dog was one huge ball of reaction. We are equipped to deal with out of control dogs, but when they are very large, it's nothing short of a train wreck. Before she left, I gave her some pointers about the equipment she was using (she had small dog stuff) and suggested working with a trainer. Then I put the office back together and hoped that the dog would have a long run of good health, or at least not be booked to come in on my shift.
Today, she had to bring him back in for some ear problems. I was extremely impressed with what I saw. He'd been through an obedience course. He was still obviously very stressed, especially since we were slammed and there were a ton of dogs in the office, and she did put his muzzle on for the exam, but he was much, much better.
The root of misbehavior in most dogs is fear, and lack of direction and reinforcement on how to behave. The vet's office is a high stress situation for any dog. My own dogs don't like coming to work with me, even if they aren't getting a procedure. Training and reinforcement give the dog the tools to deal with stressful situations, whether it be encountering other animals or going to the vet's office.
I think that training should be a part of the expenses set aside when getting a new dog. There's something available for every budget. The key to successful training is lots of repetition and practice, it does no good to take the dog to the weekly classes if follow up isn't done at home. I've seen my share of aggressive and vicious dogs come in. These are not trained guard dogs, but dogs who have been so starved for socialization that they have become a liability to their owners, who are afraid to deal with them. What I don't understand is why. Why take in an animal that is supposed to be your friend and companion, then not give it the necessary attention to truly enjoy the friendship? Why spend years tiptoeing around a vicious animal when the shelters are full of friendly ones needing a home?
Sure, there are truly vicious dogs that are not trainable, and should be put down. But there are many who, had they been given some training and proper reinforcement, would have never had reached the point where they were unmanageable. When I first saw this dog, he was on the on the border and going in the wrong direction. Thanks to the past (and future) hard work of his owners, his life is truly turning around. They have, in the purest sense of the word, saved him.

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