Rocky the aggressive boxer: one of the first dogs I ever trained professionally

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Rocky was a large male boxer.  Powerful, stubborn, hyper, and completely neurotic.

Rocky’s owners could not take him for a walk.  He was out of control.  He would pull, lunge, bark, leap in the air, snap at all manner of things – up to, and including, people.  He was nervous about everything…wind chimes, people, cars, birds, cats, trees or leaves blowing in the wind, other dogs, and a host of other common, everyday things.

A skilled Rookie

This was my earliest and first official “dog whispering” session at a client’s home.  I say whispering because whenever I deal with problematic dogs and need to help alter behavior naturally (by infusing calmness mixed with normal societal rules that apply to dogs and humans) I would hardly ever choose “training” (no matter how advanced).  Dog training is usually a terrible idea when attempting to prevent, reverse or eliminate poor behavior because dog training in essence is just the addition of obedience and tricks and often in exchange for payment or punishment.  Thus dog training (even done well) does NOT mean it will subtract problematic behavior!!!  (I fully understand this info may be shocking to many of you.  But it’s true nonetheless.  Let’s continue.)

I decided I was going to take Rocky for a walk.  The walk would be an attempt to get him to heel (walk loosely beside or slightly behind me without lunging and attacking anything).   I wanted to get him heeling so he could bond more naturally with me, burn off excess energy, and learn to follow me and then his owners.  The owners wanted to be able to walk him normally without all the insanity and aggression, drama, and without the public embarrassment, the outright danger and liability, and the excessive wasting of the dog’s energy and the frustrated owner’s energy.

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This is not Rocky but he was a big boy

The dance begins

To start I had to somehow get in the door without being bitten as this was also another of Rocky’s many issues.  Rocky was territorial.  He loved his family but was dominating everything he could and doing it out of nervous over-excited energy.  I tried to remain as calm as possible as they greeted me at the door with Rocky right there.  Please keep in mind, Dear Reader, that I did not know nearly as much back then as I do know but was “jumping in the pool” and taking a risk.  As I look back I realize that it was quite a risk I took because this dog was an excitement junkie hooked on fear and aggression.

Learning to Ignore is powerful stuff

He lunged for me as I came in the door but his owner had him on leash and pulled him back.  I went into introductions all the while attempting to ignore the threatening and aggressive body language of the dog.  Ignoring a dog can be a great safety measure when dealing with certain displays of aggression, fear, and escalated energy.  The ignoring is a method learned from watching older dogs and how they handle and raise younger pups.  It is the puppy who acts excited, foolish, and is initially an energy-waster.  That excitable behavior is the total opposite of how a more mature, socially-adept dog would enter a territory or meet another dog or pup.  This statement should instantly bring to your minds the question of how you meet and greet other dogs or puppies that you encounter, and also consider how the trainer you may be considering meets and/or greets your own dog or pup!  This can be quite telling.  Are we acting calmly, like a leader?  Or are we imitating and acting like puppies ourselves?!  Are we pumping up the dog or pups’ energy?!  If so please keep in mind that that is very poor leadership on our part and completely opposite of nature’s way!

Continuing…I was able to come in the door without getting mauled.  We spoke for several minutes on how to calm and lead a dog, mother nature’s way, the differences of dog training and dog whispering (for those readers that don’t know, I can do both methods but dog “whispering” or whatever you want to call naturally communicating calmly through space and energy -if done correctly- is much more natural, calming, and beneficial for the animal and our relationship with it and it always succeeds socially where other forms of training and behavioral mod. do not!) We spoke of other useful info all while Rocky was on leash and close by yet not close enough to bite me.  I was purposefully stalling as I gave all the vital info concerning their dog and this allowed him to calm down and deescalate.

Stepping up to the challenge

Then it was time for me to conquer fear, test my skills, and take the beast outside!  I asked that my clients initially just watch from the porch or stay inside altogether because Rocky was at a high level of aggression.  He would act worse if his owners were around or watching him and he would use them socially as backup for his manipulations and misbehavior against me – basically, he would get more aggressive with me and any others we encountered.  (Dogs are skilled manipulators of their owners and, in particular, their owner’s emotions and eye contact.)

Getting Bloody

I remember when I went to take the leash from the husband, Rocky kept lunging up in the air in a wild attempt to bite my hands and arms!  When I took hold of the leash (and my destiny for the next several years) his claws raked and scratched me as he clutched onto whatever flesh of mine he could find.  He was flailing and attempting to bite me and bite the leash or whatever he could get his teeth or paws on!  This may not sound like much to many of you but I have had scars that have taken close to a year to heal up just from a dog’s gripping claws!

Those babies can do some damage when they’re frantically wrapped around your bare arms!

Today when I look down at my forearms and hands I don’t see any scars from Rocky’s claws.  There is, however, one small scar from his teeth under the fleshy part where my right hand meets the wrist!  I remember my blood was flowing freely on that session.

I continued to let Rocky waste his energy as he attempted to bite, snap, nip, scratch, throw himself on the ground, bite the leash, and twist like a whirling dervish.  Some time later I felt he was calm enough to begin the walk.  This is another point in time where being extremely sensitive to the dog’s body language and energy comes into play.  You have to be super observant and patient yet active and willing to push the envelope.  We need the dog to go beyond the fearful or neurotic comfort zone.  Fortunately for me I’ve been an extreme animal nerd my whole life and have a well developed eye.

Animal nerd 

Growing up I lived in Massachusetts, Florida, Maine, and Maryland. Very different states with different animals.  I was able to catch frogs, toads, mice, lizards, snakes, turtles, and of course we owned several dog breeds over the years, many differing reptiles, some amphibians, a couple cats, and the occasional bird or rabbit.

As a child my first official pet was a box turtle named Speedy.   I got Speedy when I was around five or six years old.   My dad drove me to this run-down home that was converted into a too-cramped pet shop in a small Maine town.   It was jam-packed with creepy crawlies and furry bodies around every tight turn.  I was fascinated.  I remember seeing some python or boa almost bursting the sides of the dirty glass aquarium it was in, a raccoon in a wire cage, a skunk or two, and of course, loads of birds and reptiles.

Looking back, I can now say that Speedy actually had a great effect on the course of my life.  To my curious young mind this animal perhaps was a left over dinosaur that I could handle and study.  I clearly remember feeding him raw hamburger, bananas, strawberries and other salad stuffs.  I picture him walking around our apartment in Maine so many years ago.  I recall misplacing him once and then discovering him later in my clothes closet.  Upon his death we buried him in an empty Girl Scout Cookie box.  I still hold the opinion that his casket was just a bit too small but it was a great memorial service to honor a unique pet.

This imposter will have to suffice. I don’t think I have any pics of the real Speedy.

 

Working for a living

When I got my first job at fourteen it was at a pet store.  Clara’s Tropicals: a small pet shop specializing in tropical creatures in Maryland.  The first thing I ended up bringing home was a juvenile green iguana.  I named him Sam.  A few years later I had acquired another. Sam and Max were kept within a hand-built, custom, six-foot-high cage.  I’d make them a salad everyday.  As the years went by my animal collection and my knowledge grew.  I added a friendly Pac-man frog named Newton.  (Most horned frogs are not friendly.  They are an interesting species of frog that actually bite people and have teeth!  This actually makes them very unique as most amphibians do not.)  Newton was the bane of many a goldfish.

My second job was also at a pet store.  House of pets.  This store was not nearly as nice as Clara’s but I got to mess around with and care for caimans, tegus, monitors, rats, boas and pythons, chameleons, turtles, ferrits, and several other critters.  I was learning a ton about animal husbandry (through self education and intelligent observation) and occasionally handling some serious animals that did not desire to be handled by anyone.  Some of the caimans would snap at you if you weren’t careful and the tegu lizards and the monitors can be down right nasty!  There were some creatures I would only handle with gloves (Tokay gecko and a large green vine snake come readily to mind).

I also had acquired a bearded dragon named Roy.  Roy ate crickets like there was a coming famine.  We supplemented his diet with some salad and the occasional baby mouse.  He was very docile and I will, even to this day, recommend bearded dragons for those of you considering a lizard for a pet.  I know for certain there must be thousands of you out there reading this fine blog and thinking something to the effect of, You know what would really complete my life…if I only had a docile enough lizard sitting on my shoulder right now.  Well, now you know what my pick would be.

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A bearded dragon.

I was going to go further into the other animals and all the differing breeds of dog that my father would bring home for the family (usually free or extremely cheap and found from ads in the newspapers) but several of these pets did not last long in our house.  These intrepid animals would live with us often until they showed a problem or a behavioral issue was discovered and then they soon found themselves back in the paper and or in another home!   We never mistreated them but many certainly didn’t have too long of a stay with us.  Although this is not recommended for the animal  – it did afford me, during my childhood and teenage years, vast exposure to many differing breeds and personalities.  Due to the length of this post let’s just get back to Rocky the aggressive boxer and suffice it to say I was “good with animals” shall we?

A Dangerous Walk

We made quite a pair walking down the street.  After bearing the brunt of Rocky’s claws all over my forearms I was bleeding.  Rocky, after fighting me on leash and twisting like a crocodile going into a death roll, was heavily panting and frothing at the mouth.  I’m pretty sure his tongue had tripled in size.  Somewhere during all his rearing up and flailing, his teeth had snapped forward and cut my wrist.  I determined then and there that I was going to either bleed out or we could strive to have a normal stinking walk.  I would die trying.  We pressed on.

Utilizing good movements to stay away from his snapping maw and scratching claws I would patiently ride out Rocky’s explosive tantrums.  Whenever his energy needed a moment to rebound, we’d be off walking down the sidewalk as if nothing ever happened because I would instantly begin walking again making him heel.  There were several times he threw himself fully on the ground.  That was usually after he launched himself fully into the sky.  (bratty dogs will do this when they are used to controlling  their head and are not getting their way.)  I needed to walk him for his owners and he desperately needed to calm down and learn that the entire world wasn’t in his control and it also wasn’t that scary either.  So whenever he’d have an energy explosion and flop around and struggle like a prize Marlin on a line, I’d make sure he wasn’t able to bite me.  I’d ride out the storm and then, as quick as a jackrabbit on a date, we’d be off once again side by side like old chums out for a casual afternoon constitutional.  (Over the years I zero in on “where the dog is” at the current moment in it’s life and with it’s owners and “where it is” psychologically and then distinguish that from “where it needs to be” to achieve normal or calm balance.  This is necessary in order to achieve great results for both client and dog.  This sort of vision, I believe, is key for leadership in any endeavor or area of life in which one requires real growth.  The ability to move from “where you are” to “where you need to be” must never be undervalued.)

Eventually we were both tired and bleeding and sweaty (dogs do sweat despite what you may have heard.  They sweat from their paw pads).  Rocky had settled down due in large part to an iron will and decent dog-handling and we got through the difficult time all without bribing or beating (no need for positive reinforcement and no need for punitive either)!  He was heeling beautifully when we arrived back to the client’s home.  They were amazed.  I was happy.  Rocky was calm.  He was respectful towards me and now trusted me.  We were able to touch one another much more freely.  I would greatly build on this in future sessions with Rocky.

I then experienced a sort of glow, I suppose.   I’m not sure whether the clients noticed or if this sort of thing even shows from the outside or on my countenance at all, but  I’ve noticed this happens in my life internally whenever I am able to achieve something wonderful.  A burst of renewed energy (maybe joy) wells up within me.  I had done it.  I was a professional trainer, albeit very inexperienced, and had truly helped this dog and the results were plainly there for everyone to see.  It all happened within our first hour together.

Thanks Rocky,

-G

Remember to read my HOT Listed book on dog language and dog and human behaviors, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! by Garrett Stevens

 

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Dog Myths (my training book) is Now available for a Free sampling!

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Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to BITE You!, is now available on Apple iBooks (and everywhere else too)!  And the best news…for a limited time it is on sale for preorder at a crazy price of just $4.99!  Spread the word.  Tell your friends.  Tell your enemies.  Tell your co-workers.  Tell your neighbors -especially the ones with the terribly behaved dogs.  Tell your 2nd and 3rd cousins.  Spread it on your facebooks and your instagrammys too.  Tell your dog for crying out loud!  Dog Myths is here and already we are seeing people take advantage and snap up this precious preorder pricing.  (UPDATE: it is now fully available and the preorder period is over – so you can snag a paperback or two on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble if you want)

What is Dog Myths about, you may be asking?  It is certainly NOT about whether our dogs can see color or something stupid and overdone thing like that.  It is NOT just more white noise and foolhardy dog or puppy training info that falls into the oversimplified and almost cranium-dulling Sit, Stay, Come, type of training book either.  Those are literally a dime a stinkin’ dozen.  It is also NOT one of these overly-scientific yet largely UNhelpful industry jargon-filled giant tomes of a book, written by some terribly nonathletic behaviorist rotting in a lab somewhere wearing his taped up, coke-bottle glasses, a dozen pens crammed inside the pocket protector within his lab coat shirt pocket while he awkwardly nurses yet another nose bleed.  Those types of books are also all over the dog training book market and boring as all get out.  They don’t equip people well.

So what is my book Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to BITE You! about then?  My book details in honest, direct, and logical fashion the many, many behavioral and training myths and false beliefs that people have concerning their dogs, their language, their behavior, and their training and handling.  It is super beneficial for adjusting problematic dogs!  As people we act on what we believe.  These beliefs of ours can literally make us or break us, and they certainly are the first key factor in determining whether our dogs or puppies develop behavioral issues.  We believe so many things that simply are untrue in the dog training and pet industry it is almost psychotic!  Examples…you got it…

Did you know that when a dog or pup rolls over and exposes their belly to us that this is often NOT a submissive gesture?  The belief that when a dog shows us it’s belly is one of the myths we bust wide open and then the reasoning why it is displayed and how to naturally and gently adjust for a healthier relationship.  (A healthy relationship by the way leads to amazing things and certainly prevents and reverses behavioral issues much faster and more efficiently than even advanced training and behavior modification does!  -Insert dramatic Gasp here!- Yes – It’s true but you probably didn’t know that because you believe the age old myth that the addition of obedience training means the subtraction of poor behaviors.  NOPE!  I explain so much more in Dog Myths.  Time to preorder!!)  When a dog flops over in front of a human it is NOT necessarily submission.  Often it is a way to manipulate control of the environment or the owner!  Interesting, right?  Get the book – it’ll blow your minds!

Were you aware that when a dog or puppy licks you that this is NOT the human equivalent of Kissing.  That is another common dog myth, a false belief, that plagues society and contributes to many rescue dogs manipulating the dickens out of their new owners.  And later these same dogs bite people or attack dogs and it all stems from the human’s perception and belief system!  “He’s a real lover” – yeah right!  In true dog language that often translates as “I control what I repeatedly touch” or “If I get the first or last touch on you – I’m in charge.”  Who grooms whom is quite important in the canine language.  Do dogs make out?  NO.  Do our dogs get married and kiss at the alter?  Certainly Not.  Kissing and licking are NOT the same thing, folks.

These are just two very small examples of the many false and unnatural beliefs that are pervasive in the Western world and that actually lead to more misbehavior, more fear, more anxiety, more hyperactivity, and more aggression in our dogs!

For five bucks you could change your dog or pup and alter forever, for the better, the way you perceive dogs, their amazing language, and interspecies communication.  This book, I truly hope, can pave the way of our future interactions with our house dogs for the next 1000 years!  The future has never been brighter!

It’s time we STOP giving our dogs a job to do (because the vast majority of dogs are indeed Semi-Retired) (“Giving a dog a job” is another Huge dog training myth discussed and dissected in my book) and instead give them natural relaxation and more freedom as we move forward together as man and beast.  The shocking thing, is that there is little need for obedience training when the relationship is right and there is smooth efficient communication present!  The bad news is that so many lack this.  Time for a big change.

It’s time to look past all the foolish Positive reinforcement and look past the stupid Negative reinforcement and finally, finally, finally examine the more potent and natural relational rehab that is based on Internal Motivation, calm energy, and family dynamics that every dog on the planet uses when interacting with other dogs.  In Dog Myths, you will be shocked, educated (or maybe I should say re-educated properly by the dogs) equipped, and inspired to take action and think, move, and talk like a dog.  Let’s build a better world together, shall we?

Go to Apple iBooks –  Search “Dog Myths by Garrett Stevens” the book comes up first on the list.  Click on the word Preorder.  (I guarantee you you’ll learn something new and it will indeed benefit your dog or pup.)  It’s only 4.99 for a limited time!

Thanks for all your support everybody.  We will announce more about the coming book signings and whether we make the Bestseller list very soon!

 

Dog Myths: What You Believe about Dogs Can Come Back to Bite You!

For those that order from iBooks and print out their receipt and bring it to one of my book signings I will give you a signed paperback version for an additional $5.00!  (Normally the paperback is $25)

Thanks so, so much and please, seriously, spread the word about Dog Myths!

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Can you control your own energy? Can you influence your dog’s energy?

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Energy is hard to define but vitally important.  Websters defines energy as “the ability to be active.  The physical and mental strength that allows you to do things.  Natural enthusiasm and effort.  Usable power that comes from heat, electricity, etc.” Other definitions of energy include “the strength or vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.  The capacity of power to do work.  The power derived from the utilization of physical or chemical resources, especially to provide light and heat,  or to work machines.”

Synonyms of energy include; vitality, vigor, life, animation, vivacity, spirit, enthusiasm, zest, spark, effervescence, exuberance, buoyancy, strength, stamina, power, drive, fire, passion, ardor, zeal, pep, pizzazz, moxie, mojo and go!

Energy is important.  Energy is real.  Energy is often misunderstood and overlooked particularly when we consider how much, or should I say how little, we know about personal energy and the energy of everything around us.

Today I want to encourage you to learn to read/interpret and then control your own energy and learn to read your dog’s energy.  Be a referee of your dog or pup’s energy!  You can accomplish this by taking charge of your own personal energy first.

Have you considered your own personal senses and all the things assaulting your brain?  I would start there.  Let’s slow down for a second and think about this…

Let’s pick one of your five senses and imagine all the energy in the environment that flows into your mind from that one sense.  Let’s start with hearing.  Please picture with me all the sound energy that your ears take in!  From airplanes passing overhead, to TVs and radios, from little children yelling, laughing, and working on their oratory skills, to birds chirping, traffic noises, neighborhood lawn mowers, ringtones, the quick buzzing of insects, garage doors opening and closing, the footfalls of folks in a hallway or on the steps, to the never ending drone of a computer running our two ears are constantly catching noises and sound energy.  Sometimes our brains block out the cacophony of energy and we barely notice the tidal wave of sounds.   At other times all it takes is an inconsiderate neighbor acting like a clown and blasting his music with extra bass to expose our last nerve!

(For a fun exercise close your eyes now for a minute or three and don’t say a word.  Just listen.  Listen and try to identify how many sounds are around you.)

Now think about how this is just one, only one of our many senses!  It’s amazing to think how much energy is constantly flowing around us, into us, and out of us!

A good ref always takes action before the energy rises to uncontrollable levels!  Note the physical expression and interception by the ref.

The mother and father dog instinctively understand that they have to conserve and save their energy.  Pups don’t know this; that’s one big reason they are more hyperactive than adults.  The mother and father dog also know that there is only so much energy allowed in any environment at one time.  This is critically important for you to understand if you want to be able to calm or control your dog or puppy’s energy levels.  There is only so much energy allowed in any one territory or pack at one time.  If it gets too high there will be an “explosion” or some form of fight or flight!

Here is a very human example I use when helping my clients…

Imagine you are at a party.  Things seem to be going swimmingly until you notice someone is going a bit too far.  Before you know it there’s a spilled drink or some sort of outburst coming from the culprit.  All heads turn toward the sound or sight of the extra energy coming from across the room.  Then everyone turns back so as not to be rude or commit a social faux pas.  You might be one of the ones to turn back a bit slower and even add a disapproving shake of your head or raise your eyes wide as you rejoin the conversation circle you were engaged in before the energy burst from the other side of the room interrupted you.  This is classic non-verbal communication we all know so well.  And an example of how too much of the wrong energy causes chaos in the environment.

If you look real closely…and I mean look really close, with a sharp eye you may be able to tell that the dog featured in this picture is exhibiting low energy.

We all move up and down the energy scale throughout our day.  We wake up and get moving and eat breakfast which then gets turned into fuel for our human “fire” and we have more energy.  If we eat too much lunch we then may find we have less energy to output because our insides are too busy converting the giant meal…our gut hasn’t finished converted the food fuel into usable energy yet and we are sluggish.

Our dogs move up and down the energy scale too. As wise dog owners we should seek to learn more about how to calm or intercept our dog’s energy.  Cultivating calm energy is the only thing that prevents behavioral issues!

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” -Aristotle

Remember, any fool can pump a dog up and excite them; only someone with a deep understanding of body language and energy control can calm them down quickly and effectively.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Energy and Persistence conquer all things.”  Isn’t that good?  I can’t get enough!

I leave you with a few great quotes from some notable folks who really influenced the world around them with an understanding and application of energy.  Now go boldly forward and influence your dog’s energy!

Don’t we ALL need to apply this great quote!

“If you want to define the secrets of the language of dogs think in terms of energy, touch, and how the senses experience the environment.” Garrett Stevens

 

PS.

Be on the lookout for our upcoming book!  It will be very applicable and different from what I’ve seen in dog training and behavioral modification books…it will actually work and work well!  -G