I've been passionate about animals - all shapes, sizes, and descriptions - all my life, but my adventure into Canine Training and Behaviour started Christmas day 2012.
Our dog bit our neighbour that day. That experience, the bite, my dog, family, friends, acquaintances, and especially the reactions from our neighbours on that day and the days following the incident - changed my life forever!
My husband was outside puttering with his truck while I was inside starting to prepare for our family Christmas dinner. The ever faithful Raines, our 3 year old German Shepherd Dog, was outside with my husband playing the role of mechanic's assistant. While they were out our neighbour stopped by for a little visit.
I heard barking and carrying on, which I thought was a bit odd, so I went out to see what was happening. For some reason, Raines was behaving quite aggressively toward our neighbour; a neighbour he'd known all his life. He acted up once toward her, and she backed away. She came back on the property, he acted up again, and she backed away again. I had my hand about a centimeter from grabbing his collar, and she came back on the property again. This time he deeked my attempt to grab him, rushed her, and nailed her in the leg with quite a bad bite.
In all fairness to Raines, he warned her TWICE that he didn't like what was going on. When she didn't listen to him for the third time, he felt like he had to be more intentional with his communication. That's the thing with some people, they don't listen to what the dog is trying to tell them, many don't know how to, or they feel they are superior and the dog must submiss to them. I've never met a dog that I'm faster than, and the best bet, in every case where you feel uncertain, is to move away from the dog - put more space between it and you! This graphic of the Ladder of Aggression is a good way to learn some valuable dog language.
It was the crowning glory to cap off a few very rough years in our lives. Our neighbour came unglued and demanded that we send Raines 'to the farm' or have him put to sleep. His sage advice to me was, "Once a dog bites, he'll do it again - it's PROVEN!" He came to our home three times demanding that I do something about my dog, all the while getting louder and louder, and more and more demanding each and every time he arrived.
I'm not sure what he expected me to do on a Christmas day - everything under the sun was closed - but he seemed to believe that I should be packing up my dog and taking him somewhere, anywhere, as long as it was out of our neighbourhood and far away from his wife and children.
Having heard horror stories about what happens to dogs that bite, I packed up my dog and went to stay in a motel in a town close to us - at 2 in the morning Christmas night! I needed time to think, and I needed somewhere to feel safe for a while! I stayed at that motel for 4 days before I was able to bring myself, and my dog, home again. I had come unglued.
That year we'd lost my husband's father in May, we had a horrible flood in June (which I understand to be one of the worst in Canadian history) forcing us to abandon our home for a week, and my mom had a debilitating stroke in July. She passed away in early August, after a long and highly emotional (for me) battle with her life. The previous year, the day before Christmas, a friend who was only a couple of months older than me passed away suddenly. A couple of years earlier, we lost our business and came close to losing our home. It had been a rough couple of years!
Needless to say, emotions were already high on that Christmas day, the first Christmas we were to celebrate without my mom and my husband's father, and now this man and his family were demanding that I kill my dog who had been my best friend and companion through all the grief we had gone through the previous few years!
As soon as the world was 'open for business' again, I called the company where I had been taking Raines to daycare and we set up an appointment for someone to come out and assess him. Then I called our Vet and set up an appointment for a full physical exam and blood work to make sure nothing was wrong with his health.
It turns out Raines was not a vicious killer after all! According to the assessment, he was a bit on the fearful side, but still friendly and well behaved, and the vet reported that he was in great shape health-wise.
What on earth could have brought on such a huge change in his behaviour? He knew our neighbours, we met and chatted on our driveway many times over the years.
He was always a good dog with no behaviour issues!
Or was he?
After a whole lot of questions, a whole lot of discussion, and a whole lot of tears, it was brought to the forefront that, because we had been using (unwittingly) a shock collar invisible fence system with Raines, the behaviour changes were likely due to that. The woman doing our assessment explained what the invisible fence and shock collar can do to an animal psyche. She asked that I surrender the collar to her - which I willingly did after she explained it all to me - and we started a new life without a PetSafe Wireless Pet Containment System on our property. Here is an article about using shock collar invisible fences and there are more on my Learning Resources page.
Needless to say - it was a harrowing, and highly stressful time! In the townsite we live in we're not allowed to build enclosed fences on our properties. My mind was FILLED with visions of Raines getting out the door and attacking anything and everything in sight!!!*
As luck would have it (and it was pure luck because I knew next to nothing about 'behaviour' at the time), the daycare and dog training company we consulted offered an apprenticeship in canine training and behaviour. They are against the use of force, pain, or coercion to train a dog, and the owner is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and one of the first four in Canada to achieve Certified Behavior Consultant Canine (CBCC-KA).
Because I knew so little about all this behaviour stuff back then, things could very easily have gone the other way! I could just as easily have found an organization that used force, pain, and punishment, and if I had, I doubt very much Raines would still be with us today!
I started an apprenticeship program to become a Certified Behaviour Consultant (DCBC) on February 28, 2014, and completed all but the practical portion of teaching group classes in September 2015 with a final grade of 85%.
Having experienced - first hand - the fear and anxiety that can come with having a fearful and reactive dog, especially a German Shepherd Dog whose breed is laden with misconceptions and preconceived notions, my goal is to help anyone and everyone I can to embrace the force and fear free world - the world of patience, kindness, and respect - in handling their pets and managing their behaviour.
I found out - first hand - that you do not need to use force or coercion to get an animal to learn what you want it to do. It's been a long haul, and I won't pretend it's easy to help an animal learn to view the world differently, and to feel safe again, but we've kept at it for close to 5 years now, and he is the best behaved he's ever been! We have a BOND. He WILLINGLY does what I ask of him!
He's still a sensitive dog, but that will get better and better with time, patience, kindness, and practicing the principles of canine behaviour modification established within the sciences of behaviourism and modern dog training!
Free of force, fear, pain, punishment, or electrical shock!