I watch a number of reality TV shows… business rescue shows, for example… The Profit, Bar Rescue, Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back. I also watch Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles and New York. Plus, Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef and Masterchef Junior. There are parallels between what you see in those TV shows and what I see in dog training…
The most important parallel is how personal problems in the home affect the behavior of the dogs in the home. I have had to wear two hats at times during training, that of the trainer, as well as that of the family counsellor. It wasn’t enough to just train the dog, I also have to often address challenges in the family environment, such as:
** The retiree who got a puppy, who wasn’t really prepared or committed to dealing with the energy of getting a young dog. The frustrations result in reactions by the owner, including hitting the dog. I’ve seen many pups that were now submissive urinators, or had become dangerously aggressive, as a result.
** The couple on the verge of divorce. The dogs can’t handle the strife and stress. Sometimes, the dogs start fighting in the home. In other cases, one spouse is abusing the dog, or the kids are now abusing the dog. This also is similar to having the goofy boyfriend/ girlfriend who manipulates the entire relationship, and the dog becomes the target of their dysfunctional problems.
** The child with autism or Asperger’s, who needs the dog to be calm and well mannered. I have to work with the adults to get the dog trained so the child feels safe and happy around the dog. I have had great success in these circumstances if the parents will get in there and work with the dog and child to completion.
** The student with PTSD, who often has so much going on inside that the dog can’t figure them out, or feels very threatened and unfairly treated. The drugs the person is on also makes them inconsistent with all of the training. Many times I have seen dogs get very aggressive towards them. In some cases, the dog has to be rehomed.
** The “too busy” family, who let’s the dog get out of control because they are not investing enough into the dog to make it happy, trained, and well mannered. This is also like the lazy owner, same results.
** There is a substance abuser in the home, the dog has either been exposed to the drugs, or the dog has become overly protective of the owner, or the dog is completely unsupervised. In some cases, people have been severely bitten by these dogs.
** The ultra wealthy owner who sees the dogs as property, not pets. These are never happy dogs.
And I can give countless other examples. Now, the dog isn’t just a hassle for the owners, the dog is now a problem for the extended family, guests, neighbors and the community. Those in-home problems are now everyone’s problem.
When I see a family issue, I have to address what is going on. I have to devise a rescue plan for the dog, because the dog is in a dire situation. And I have to counsel and coax the owners to take life changing steps to save themselves.
I am generally very patient with people, however, there are times that I have confronted students, and they were not happy about it. I’m in their home telling them how to live their lives and to stop neglecting or abusing their dogs. Some just don’t want to hear it. Most, however, are good people inside and they take the steps forward. Just like you see in reality TV shows. Many turnarounds work out. Some start out well, but after the “show” is over, they revert back to what they were originally doing. And some are destined to choose to fail.
I like, and don’t like, this part of the job. I like helping dogs. I like helping people, that is what good guys do. But, it can be exasperating with the failures, when you know that the dog’s life could be so much better if the owners would just stick with the program. You can’t always get through to people to do the right thing. Sometimes they even blame me, telling others what a horrible wretch I must be, as if I can magically turn a dog around even if they continue to neglect the dog, or even worse, abuse the dog. I won’t put up with fakery, but I also am not here to get into fights with people. Sometimes I just have to look away.
I am here to help. I have lots of resources at hand to help your situation, but you have to be willing to do your part. Happy outcomes are better than failure. You want a happy outcome, right?