Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Positive Pet Training Inspiration: Barley's Guardian Angel

The theme for this month's Positive Pet Training blog hop is a training mentor or inspiration. When I saw this theme, I was equal parts excited and overwhelmed. We've been working with trainers, who have become mentors and friends, for over 5 years now. To write a post about just one feels like I'm accepting an Oscar and leaving out some of the most important thank yous in my acceptance speech.

We love you all, really, we do.

If you've been following our journey over the past month--from Barley and Rye's first introduction to their recent play sessions--it's pretty obvious our agility trainer, who came to our house to help us out, is one of our biggest mentors. But for this post, we're going to go all the way back to May 19, 2011, which is the day I first emailed the general inquiries email address for our current training center.

I'd had Barley for about 4.5 months by that point, but I can't remember exactly what prompted me to send the email then. I vaguely remember posting something on Facebook along the lines of "why does my dog act like she wants to eat every dog we pass on our walks?!" and a college friend I hadn't seen in years, but who had a dog rescued from a fighting ring making some comment about working with a trainer--but I can't remember if those things happened around the same time or not. All I know is that by that point I'd realized Barley was a lot more than I'd bargained for when we drove away from the APL a few months earlier.

I remember being nervous because I didn't want to tell someone that my dog didn't like other dogs. I'd  never heard of a reactive dog then and it was scary to tell someone that my dog snarled and lunged when we saw other dogs. I remember thinking, "What if they tell me she's too dangerous to keep?" I sent the email early in the morning--way before business hours--because I was scared of what kind of response I might get, so I wanted to be sure I didn't get one immediately.

I inquired about the pricing of private lessons and scheduling and then went on to say: "I adopted a one-year-old border collie mix in January. She behaves beautifully around people; she can sit, shake, and lay down. But now that it's getting warmer and we're spending more time outside, I've noticed that she is very aggressive around other dogs. When we go on walks and she sees another dog, she'll twist and yip and growl.  She's spent a little time with my parents' dog and over time has gotten more comfortable with her, but she can't be left unsupervised with their dog. I've heard this can be improved by working with a trainer, but I'm afraid to enroll her in a group class because I think she'd be a distraction to the rest of the group."


I never dreamed that a year later, she'd have her Canine Good Citizen certificate.

The response I got back later that day gave me so much hope: "My specialty is retraining and rehabilitating shelter and rescue dogs. There are many ways to approach the issues you are dealing with. We use reward based training methods. Private lessons are $30.00 per 1/2 hour. What days and times work best for you?"

That email exchange introduced me to the world of positive reinforcement and reactive dog training and my life hasn't been the same since. While lots of people love my Barley girl, our first trainer is the only person who loves her like I do (and is the only non-family person I will leave Barley with when I travel). She's taught me how to manage Barley's reactivity so that we can live a mostly normal life. These skills also gave me a strong foundation for training Rye to be the best dog she can be.

This is Barley's best friend, my sister-dog Maz.

She's also taught me to stand up for my dog. One day, we were in a group class--I can't remember which one, maybe agility for fun or tricks and games? It was one of our first group classes. We did a good job keeping our distance from other classmates, but I hadn't perfected my "I'm Beth and this is Barley and we need space" introduction speech for new classmates yet. One day, one of our less considerate and observant classmates let her dog--something fluffy, but I can't remember what--get close to Barley; there was no contact, but Barley corrected the dog by snapping at her. Our trainer (who is a tiny woman) stopped class, walked up to the woman, put her chest against the other woman's chest, and said do you like this? The woman said no. Our trainer said, "Barley doesn't like that, either. Keep your dog in her own space." The woman was obviously upset--and I don't think she ever came back to class--but I learned how important it is to stand up for my dog regardless of whether that makes people uncomfortable. Someone being embarrassed or uncomfortable is a lot better than putting my dog in a situation where she feels like her only option is to bite someone or something. For someone who doesn't like conflict, that was a hard, but important lesson to learn.

Thanks to our trainer teaching us positive training methods and giving us a strong foundation, Barley has gone on to walk 1000+ miles a year with me for several years now, has taken agility classes for 5+ years, has taken noseworks classes, and has accepted her little sister (for the most part). I can't imagine what our life would be without the support we've gotten from this wonderful woman.


Thanks to our hosts Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days for giving us a chance to give our trainer a shout out as well as read about everyone else's training inspirations and mentors (or general positive training posts). The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop beings the first Monday of every month and runs all week long. Be sure to read all of the other great blogs participating this month!

21 comments:

  1. That. Is. Awesome. I love how your trainer made the point to your classmate. So often everyone blames the snarly dog! (and the snarly dog's mom feels shamed). I'm so happy you found the right trainer at the right time. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She was definitely my hero that day! We've gotten very lucky since then with classmates who are excellent at respecting Barley's space and acknowledging when they've done something that causes her to react, too.

      Delete
  2. Great post!

    And thanks so much for your note on our book post, and for letting us know about your dog-book posts. :)

    Wag on,
    Tootsie & Renee

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Any time! I love dog books, so I'm looking forward to seeing which ones you discover this year!

      Delete
  3. I remember thinking after reading one of your recent posts, about how great and supportive your trainer has been for you in helping with Rye. I'd say that you are especially lucky (and so is Barley!) to have found more than one trainer who has turned out to be a friend and mentor. I love this post, especially reading just how far Barley has really come.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We definitely feel lucky to have found such a supportive training group--of mentors and classmates! Since the blog didn't start until we'd been training over a year, I don't think everyone knows just how far Bar has come--when we first started working with our trainer, we couldn't go for a walk without a meltdown. It was really stressful, but also seems like an entire lifetime ago!

      Delete
  4. Glad you have someone looking out for your girl! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Replies
    1. Yes! We can't imagine what life would be like if we hadn't found her!

      Delete
  6. That is an absolutely wonderful story. Your trainer is amazing!!!!

    I had a similar situation with my very fearful dog, Shyla. And I had a trainer teach us so very much about teaching her how to cope and how to manage her interactions with the world.

    Thanks for this wonderful tale!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad that you and Shyla found the right trainer for you, too! I love seeing all of the adventures she goes on and how happy she looks exploring her world now!

      Delete
  7. Your trainer sounds wonderful and I am envious! I quit doing classes with Mr. N because the trainers weren't doing anything about him repeatedly being charged by an off-leash dog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't blame you! All of our trainers have been so good at adjusting to Barley's needs and supporting us when we ask our classmates for space (and with the exception of that one lady, all of our classmates have been the most wonderful people).

      Delete
  8. My mom say every dog brings in new challenges. Sometimes when you feel there is no hope, something pops up to help you solve your problems. A positive, winning attitude is half the battle, as is the will to make it work. You do a great job!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Barley definitely brought new challenges--but she also prepared me for the ones that Rye came with :)

      Delete
  9. Oh what a great post - I also live with two dogs that are reactive on leash and we do a lot of nosework. My NW trainer is amazing and always reminds folks that between "dogs" (all dogs run separately and wait for their turns in their crates) folks like me/Shermie need space. When you have a trainer (like yours) that is am advocate for your reactive dog you feel like you finally have someone on your side!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is such a great feeling to find a trainer that advocates for your dog! I'm glad you have one, too. Our trainer also taught the noseworks classes we did, so Barley got to really enjoy those classes without worrying about the other dogs.

      Delete
  10. I just love your line: my life hasn't been the same since! That's exactly what happened with me and my reactive dog, Lucas. Once you love a reactive dog, nothing can ever be the same! I remember the first time I sought a trainer for him. I felt so ashamed of his behavior, like he was the only dog who acted like that on leash, and could he even be fixed? I wish there had been dog blogs like this way back then! I wouldn't have felt so alone. Thanks for sharing your story and experience!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad that Lucas found you! I totally understand feeling ashamed by reactive behavior--my new puppy has moments of reactivity on leash and most of the time, she follows Barley's cues and will sit and take treats nicely while bikers or joggers or other dogs go by, but then there are the times when she jerks around at the end of her leash and makes ungodly sounds and I feel so embarrassed even knowing everything I do about needing time and training and patience from working with Barley. It is nice to know that we're not alone!

      Delete