2020 Life Logs, Day 39: People Training, Class #1
Date: Saturday, February 8, 2020
Weather: Mostly Sunny; High 37 degrees, Low 23 degrees F
Location: At Home in The Cottage, East Falmouth, MA
When I was a little girl, we had a dog named Tuffy. I have seen photos of me with Tuffy, but I really have no memory of him as I was so young. We lived up on a hill and anyone making a delivery had to walk up that hill. We had to walk down the hill to the mailbox, but milk and the daily paper were delivered to our front door. And there were salesmen that would walk up the hill to peddle their wares. One afternoon, a man walked up the hill and Tuffy ran at him and bit him on the ankle. Later that evening, my dad took Tuffy in the woods and shot him. He had never been aggressive or threatened anyone before. But that is how dogs that bit were dealt with back then. Even though I really don’t have memories of the dog, I do remember the events of that day. So today when I went to my first class in the People Training For Good Dogs program, this memory was refreshed. Melissa Berryman wrote the book and is the trainer for this program. She spent six years as an animal control officer and saw too many good dogs that had to be put down because they hit bitten someone. In almost every case as an animal control officer, she felt like the bite was the result of people not understanding how to deal with dogs. Often the dogs were like Tuffy. They had been members of the family for years and never had a prior incident, yet they were immediately put down. So, she has made it her life’s work to try to train people how to properly handle dogs. The private class today was two and a half hours and there was a lot to absorb. Shadow was a star student, but I have much practicing to do. Melissa controls dogs with her voice. Very low, gruff sounds or words are used for corrections, instantaneously followed by high pitched, enthusiastically produced positive words when the dog responds. For instance, when Shadow would jump up on her, she quickly responded with a low-pitched and gruff “no” and before Shadow’s front legs were back on the ground, she was saying “yeah, good puppy” and back to a growly “no” if Shadow jumped again. It is easy to say “no”, but it is harder to immediately respond with the positive. And that is absolutely necessary if you expect the puppy to stop the unwanted behavior. They thrive on the positive feedback. Her responses are instant and seemed exaggerated, but they work. Now I just have to try and emulate her verbal responses. Easier said than done. We also did leash work. Shadow was given a new leather leash and I was taught how to properly use the leash. First, I worked with one of Melissa’s training dogs and then with Shadow. Easy to follow the directions with a training dog; not so easy with Shadow. But when I took him for a walk a few hours after the class, he responded beautifully. I still feel awkward with the heavy leather lease handling techniques, but hopefully it will get easier. The goal is to get Shadow to the point where a lease is not necessary. But that requires that Shadow completely respects me as his leader and never questions my authority. I see that it works for Melissa, but she has been doing this for over 20 years. And it requires a completely different view of the people/dog relationship. One of Melissa’s first lessons is that you never extend a hand to a dog. Dogs don’t shake hands and extending a hand to a dog can invite a nip. When you meet a dog for the first time, you need to let the dog decide if it wants a stranger to touch it. What you should do is relax, tap your leg repeatedly, and talk to the dog in a higher pitched voice that tells the dog you are friendly. If it wants to be petted, it will relax and come to you. And it is my job to make sure that when Shadow meets stranger, I let them know the proper way to be friendly. Another no-no is hugging a dog. Again, dogs don’t hug. Often young children grab a dog to hug it and many bites happen this way. You can cuddle your dog without hugging, but this one is going to be hard for me as I often hug Shadow. I might be able to get by with this, but a hug from the wrong person could end up in disaster. According to Melissa, a dog can be “man’s best friend” but only if the dog knows unequivocally that “man” is the boss.
Shadow and I were both exhausted by the time we got home, so we took a late afternoon nap. It was sundown by the time we woke up so our afternoon walk had to be done with a flashlight. But we did it, and he was much more responsive with the new leash. The next lesson with be with Sam, Jonah, and Ollie as soon as we can find a date when we are all available.