Now and Then: A Reflection

Everything Changes With Time

I have spent nearly 15 years professionally dog training and it has changed just as much as I have. Why do I say “professionally training”? I say it because I think there is a difference. I was “training” as long as I have had dogs, which is as long as I can remember, which puts me up to 30+ years training. My training at 6, 10, or even 15 years old is substantially different than my years leading up to professional training. Like kids, it’s fun and you do it but you don’t understand the behavioral component and complete consequences to the training you are doing. As you get older you begin to educate yourself and learn as much as you can. Before I started my professional career I raised 3 dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. During the period in which I was involved they did things differently than they do now. The organization used the traditional methods of choke chain collars and modeling or molding the dog into positions by placing their hands on the dog and forcing them into position, such as sit or down. When I was a kid, this was the way to train a dog. I will say our dogs had lots of acreage and freedom to roam so these traditional methods weren’t really implemented much in the realm of leash work. Even as a kid I preferred to use food to train tricks with my dogs. I spent a large part of my early training career as a college student with what seems like endless amount of time to dedicate to my dog. I worked at Green Acres Kennel where my dog, Scout, came to work with me daily. Scout was our “fur baby”. He went with me and my now husband, Brock, everywhere. Instead of kids, everyone had dogs or were dog friendly. Scout was well socialized, well trained and a great young dog. He practically received 24/7 training which resulted in a well rounded, confident dog (mostly), trained dog.

Then There Was Three

Now fast forward 11 years and he is rusty on his training, older, and pushy. We have since added two more Labradors to our mix. Scout, Henry (7 years), and Tripp (2 years) and TWO kids, 3.5 year old, Fiona, and 1 year old, Delaney. To say dog’s personality and temperament is a huge factor in training can’t be emphasized enough. Henry is a great indoor dog. He is essentially a teddy bear dog who doesn’t really do anything but lay around, snuggle and eat. He doesn’t move fast, doesn’t jump and is the dog everyone says they want when they meet our dog posse. He was a rescue at 2 days old and I didn’t really invest much energy into training him because of how calm and relaxed he was. We did a few training classes here and there but because of his mellow yellow demeanor the only behavior that we really worked on was leave it. He had a bit of a pica issue. I blame his congenital defect, cleft palate. He was around a couple years old before the first child appeared in the picture.

After about 6 months to a year, Scout’s behaviors started to crumble. There was no follow through or rewards to reinforce his existing behavior so the “go to your beds” and “leave its” fell apart. It isn’t until now that I reflect back and say that my Post Partum hormones really effected my relationship with the dogs for a period of time. They couldn’t breath, clean themselves or walk across the floor without my blood boiling! Often as dog trainers we put so much emphasis on preparing the dog for when the baby comes that we, as trainers, can forget to focus on what it will do to the relationship between the new parents and the dogs. I was prepared at the time for my dogs to welcome our baby. They were well socialized with children of all ages, infant, toddler, kids, pre-teen, I had no concerns. I was completely shocked and bothered by the fact that for a period of time, I didn’t like my dogs, like at all, they could do nothing right. We survived and recovered all in one piece. But it gave me an eye opening experience as to how and why so many dogs get rehomed after the baby comes.

Left to Right: Henry, Scout, Tripp

Left to Right: Henry, Scout, Tripp


Then I rescued another lab, Tripp, 2 years or so later. It wasn’t long after getting Tripp I learned I was pregnant with my second child, 4 weeks later to be exact. Tripp was an incredibly exuberant puppy who was in to everything, he was ALL PUPPY! I thought for sure my relationship with my dogs was going to spiral downward again like the last time. I mentally prepared myself this time for the possibility that I would dislike my dogs again. I worked on refreshing a few staple behaviors and was pleasantly surprised to find that there wasn’t much change after coming home from the hospital. There are some people that are mentally strong, physically organized, and capable human beings that can do puppies and infants/toddlers at the same time and make it look like a breeze. I have learned in my training, even before I experienced it myself, that these people are very few and far between.

Finding The Balance

When forced to choose between your dog or your child it is usually the training of the dog that suffers. Your energy and the time goes into molding and training your new, little, human being. It is why you often see dogs in the shelter at such young ages, around 6 months to a year. It is the most challenging time to have a dog. They are in the full swing of “adolescence”. When I found myself in the situation where I had a baby and a very young dog I found ways to make it work. I utilized, but didn’t abuse, the crate training I did with my dogs, especially Tripp, so that I could maintain my sanity. There were times, actually many times, when Tripp was in his adolescence that I threatened to rehome him, give him to my in-laws or anyone that really seemed to want him. If anyone took my bait, however, I found my insides backtracking fast and knew it wasn’t something I really could do. Once I had that realization, I set forth to invest more time and energy into my dogs. A year and a half and I almost feel like a capable human being/trainer within my own home again. I didn’t hire a nanny and my mother took ill shortly after having my second child . She was struct with a very, very serious illness which took up the majority of a year. She’d often be my outlet for “breaks” while Brock worked long hours. We pioneered through. Now, as I write this, I listen to Fiona laughing and giggling as she plays with Tripp and Scout, using the training cues she has heard me use countless times.

Left: Pre-kids, Scout and Henry and visitor dog, Shirley  Right: Scout, Henry, Tripp and daughters Fiona and Delaney accompanying me on a walk while working on recalls.

Left: Pre-kids, Scout and Henry and visitor dog, Shirley

Right: Scout, Henry, Tripp and daughters Fiona and Delaney accompanying me on a walk while working on recalls.

Reflection

I am proud to reflect back and see the journey I have been on as a dog trainer. It’s important to look for a trainer with a training history. One you can relate to. I’ve been through a lot with my dogs. The, my dog is my fur baby stage, to the my dogs take the back burner because I had a kid stage, as well as I can train my dogs while I have kids stage. I’m still work in progress to the train my dogs and kids stage but we’re getting there and I find a lot of times it’s easiest to just include the kids. I don’t have a type A personality. I do feel i can multitask but I am also a person that does self care too and part of my self care is not always spending time training my dogs or being with my kids. You will find some trainers who make it look very easy to balance training their dog and having a toddler and/or infant but for me it was a challenge and not realistic. Moving forward I will learn from my past experiences and therefore making me a better training. Here’s to that was Then and this is my Now!