“I must have the worst dog in the world!” bemoaned the voice on the other end of the line.
“I’ve had 7 trainers and none of them have fixed him!!”.
I was devastated! I knew that voice. I’d worked with that voice and his dog, Banjo. Banjo was a fearful and reactive border collie x who would bark as soon as he had the slightest hint that there was a dog ANYWHERE. And Banjo responded so fabulously in the first lesson that I did something with him that I hadn’t done with any dog before – I took him (and his people) to a busy park environment on his second lesson. In an entire hour of walking past and amongst strange dogs he did just two low-level growls at one dog. Not a single bark, no lunging, very little tension on the leash, if at all…What Happened!!
Phrases from phone conversations and emails drifted through my mind – “Hi Maria, Genius, your advice worked” and “Now with walking, took Banjo on a walk today he did well remained calm. We went for 30-40 minutes it was like he transformed into a different dog where he stayed besides me.” And yet here I am hearing how, less than a month later, Banjo had reverted to that fearful and reactive dog. WHAT HAPPENED!!!
Let’s digress for a minute while I explain the basis of dog behaviour modification (the Mutts with Manners way, at any rate). Our premise is that all dogs need a leader – someone to look to for guidance. Now let’s be clear here – leadership is NOT dominance and it certainly isn’t aggression - don’t you even THINK of going there with your dog!! Leadership (or ‘status’), as we teach it, is quite a complex little thing and although not difficult to understand or apply, “the devil is in the detail”, as the saying goes. Consistency is key and, as we stress with ALL of our clients – status ebbs and flows. You’re only as good as your last engagement with your ‘pack’. Have a think about our political environment – regardless which country you’re in or which party you favour. Have a think about how you feel when your political leaders do and say things that you’re comfortable with as opposed to when they do or say things that you’re not comfortable with. How does that effect YOUR stress levels, YOUR confidence?
Now imagine that you got up one morning (or got to work one day) and there was no-one running the show. The leader of the country or your boss – they were still THERE – they just didn’t give you any guidance. They don’t even look or behave like the well-presented, confident person that we expect to see at the helm. When there’s a problem, you look to them and they simply don’t deal with it; they don’t tell you how to handle it or what to do, or maybe what they tell you to do doesn’t work or makes things worse! Now that might be ok if it happened once or twice but imagine if this happened time after time, day after day! How much confidence will you have in them then? And if, every now and then, they actually DID guide you, how confident would you be in them?
This is what happened with Banjo. His boss just quit.
There’s no point in buying pain-killers and then complaining about the pain whilst the packet of pain-killers sits unopened on the counter. Everyone has to take responsibility for their own relationship with their dog – he’s not a piece of machinery where we come to you, tighten a couple of screws and leave you with a problem free buddy. All we can ever do is give you the skills – it’s up to you to then apply and maintain the effort so that you (and your dog) can continue to enjoy the results.
At one of the busiest dog parks in Sydney's Inner West, between 9 and 10 am on a Saturday morning, Banjo leaves his worries behind :-)