|My trainer Jim Beinlich, owner of Cool K9's Dog Training, "playing with the puppies."|
It's up to you, but I have come to one conclusion. If I am going to invest my time, money, thoughts and love into an animal who is bigger than me, the animal deserves the attention of a professional. By bigger than me, I don't mean by size, I mean ability, brain power, or capacity for trouble.
I admit, by nature, I have "trainer brain." Several years ago, I had a client who gave me that label. We were working on her horse, a chronic head tosser, and I had a huge break through with him. He was staying with me and the client came out twice a week for a lesson.
Cisco was a large, burly quarter horse, he had quite a bit of reining training on him by a well known trainer, but he had flunked out of the program. He was too combative and not athletic enough to justify the battles needed to make him conform. By the time I got him, he only rode in a running martingale, along with a tight hand, and wore a tight drop noseband to keep his yawing mouth tied shut. He constantly slung his head and really helped me remember to sit back, since a whack in the nose was a constant possibility.
I had thrown away the noseband and martingale. I put him back in a simple ring snaffle and rode him with a lot of loose rein while I thought things through.
When I discovered the cure for his problem, I was so excited I could hardly stand it. By the time his owner, Tammy, came out to ride, I couldn't wait to walk her through my process. It was huge! It would change the way I approached every horse I threw a leg over.
I rode him first, and she was on her new horse, a snappy little cowhorse she had bought from our barn. I showed her how willingly he was going to his bit, demonstrated the simple, forward drive into a small, active circle I used as a correction and started to explain the mechanics of how and why it was working.
"He's kind of lazy, so if I ask for two or three times the acceleration into the circle, at the same time gather my reins, lift his inside shoulder and drive him hard until he stops tossing his head...." My client was looking off into the horizon, a day dreamy look on her face and obviously not listening to a word I said. "Uh, Tammy? I really need to show you this."
"Hmm?" She slowly came back to what we were doing."Are you getting him fixed?"
"Good, when you've got him done, then let me know and you can show me how to keep him that way. Let's do some slide stops."
I was pretty irritated. I mean, c'mon, this was earth-shattering.
Tammy gave me a sympathetic smile. "Look, you have trainer brain and I don't. That's why I brought you Cisco."
"Trainer brain?" I was confused.
"Yeah, trainer brain. You're fascinated by why a horse does stuff and want to figure it out. I'm not. I like to ride and I like good horses. So, if you fix him, I'll be happy, and as long as you don't hurt him, I don't really care how it gets done."
Now there was a surprise. I had never heard that one before. Tammy was a kick ass rider and really loved her horses. I had assumed she wanted to know this stuff. I put the thought away until later.
One thing was clear though. Tammy had enough sense to get help for her horse. She knew it wasn't Cisco's fault he acted like a butthead, she had confidence in me to sort him out and I knew she would listen if she was creating his problems. It was a lesson I never forgot. If a problem is bigger than me, I get help from someone who knows more than I do. As far as I'm concerned, a trainer who won't get help when it's needed isn't really a trainer, he or she is a control freak.
So let's fast forward about ten years. I'm retired from the horse biz, but I'm still training my own horses and I have been lucky enough to have my big, goofy dog, Brockle, enter my life. Boy howdy, does Brockle need training.
Dogs are so tangled in my life I'm not sure where I stop and the dogs begin. I was a weird little kid, living somewhere between the real and imaginary world. I liked my pretend world much better, which makes for a lonely existence. Dogs fit right in. Dogs will run and play with you wherever your head is at. My dogs were my friends, my brothers and sisters, my cohorts in crime.
It's funny, my trainer brain didn't ever kick in with my dogs. We just hung out. I loved watching my dad work with our hunting dog, Jud, but all I ever taught him was to stand on his hind legs when I shouted "Hi Ho Silver!"
My personal dogs were trained, but I didn't actually train them, if that makes sense. We just adapted to each other's needs and a mutual desire to stay out of the pound.
Then along came Brockle. He's a mystery mix, supposedly GSD and collie. Now it's starting to look like he's collie and border collie, with something kind of spicy thrown in. He's 27 inches at the shoulder, but only weighs 50 pounds or so. His fluffy, white, ticked with orange coat is fine, silky, and easily matted. He has giant ears, a great big head and a really long nose. He looks me straight in the eye and busts his butt trying to understand every word I say.
Brockle came with a few aggression issues, severe separation anxiety and a mischievous streak a mile wide. He is an overachiever and then some, out thinks me most days and is incredibly macho.
In very short order I knew Brockle and I needed help. I just needed to figure out what kind of help.
There's a big difference between riding lessons with the local dude string wrangler and private lessons with a working cow horse trainer. It was definitely in my favor that I already knew this. There's not anything wrong with group lessons at Petsmart, but I highly suspect Brockle and I would be miserable failures at a class like this. We would be thrown out with a dishonorable discharge and a Pomeranian dangling from my boy's jaws.
I asked the dog folks who read this blog some questions, irritated a few, but heard everybody, then wandered off and started watching videos. Yes, I watched them all. I watched lots of Cesar and Victoria, got tired of them, and moved on to some of the trainers recommended by you guys. I started reading books on dog psychology, dog's relationship with humans, the power of doggy love and so forth. Boy howdy, there's a bunch of opinions out there.
I came up with a few goals. I wanted to learn more about this positive reinforcement deal. I couldn't however, go with total positive training. For me, there has to be understood consequence between me and the critters I'm working with, we might be best friends, we might be companions, but I am the boss. Period.
I can't stand kids raised with only positive reinforcement. The ones I know have grown up to be unhappy, self-serving adults. Many are under achievers, and spend an awful lot of time waiting for someone to treat them the way they know (think) they deserve. I get that dogs aren't children, but I still want them to be accepted members of society.
My other goal was to find a job for Brockle. My ranch dogs were always the better for having a job beyond being a good house pet. I had a feeling Brockle would need steady employment or he would create his own. Like becoming a one-dog fighting ring, or a house renovator, a backyard excavator, a survivalist with a shotgun and land mines...
I watched a few dog/owner activities, both on line and in person. First off I looked at Agility, which I think Brockle would love. There's a little to much wild enthusiasm involved for my taste though and there was a heavy smell of politics in the air.
Dog dancing? Can't do it, I'd be worrying to much about my fat poking out of my sequined T-shirt to stay focused.
Sheep herding. Yeah baby, I could do that, Brockle would really get into it...but it takes sheep.
Cattle work, same problem, different critter, and if I have cattle to work, well, I'm going cutting, sorry Brockle.
Then I watched a Schutzund video. A little too military for my taste, but there are three, count'em three, events to train for. It appealed to me the same way cowhorse does. Training involves creating a well rounded animal, the finished product is a dog who knows his job, fits in wherever he lands and is a safe and reliable family member.
I also remembered a brief e-mail conversation I had with a local dog trainer and columnist, Jim Beinlich, for our newspaper. He had written a column about some clients who had come to him for help with their pitbull. The dog had started out by refusing to come for a treat when she was busy barking at a knock on the door. This had escalated into the dog trying to eat her way out the door and kill anybody who tried to enter the house. She was now snapping at her owners when they tried to drag her away.
The owners had been insistent that Jim use only positive reinforcement methods with their dog. He explained he would have used these methods if they hadn't screwed up the dog so bad she was in danger of being destroyed. Now she needed some negative along with the positive. I don't remember how it all shook out, but the point of the column was to get professional help before you create a sociopathic killer, not after, and to think long and hard about dictating your own approach to a pro, especially when it doesn't work. I became a fan.
I remembered he was funny, a little sarcastic and to the point. So I looked him up. He is the owner of Cool K9's Dog Training (look them up on facebook).
Jim, and his wife Bianca, are dog loving, Schutzhund training, obsessively hard working folk. Plus, Jim is a heavy metal musician, band and all, thus the blog name HMT (heavy metal trainer). I had a feeling I had found my trainer.
|Dogs who work with HMT are like this.|
|Then they're like this...|
|Then back to this, within minutes|
Turns out Brockle and I had met our guy. HMT knew my dog's name from day one, I'm not sure he knows mine yet. HMT's teaching approach is a lot like the Big K's, he works with Brockle, I watch, then practice a bit, ask a few questions, usually from the week before and then we go home and practice on our own.
It pays to watch him closely. HMT has a beautiful feel that I envy. I recognize it, because I have the same handle with horses. It takes years, desire and some natural ability to get that feel, lucky Brockle, jealous me. It makes me practice and observe though, I want the same timing, the same soft touch.
HMT makes training FUN, FUN, FUN! It's all a game, and my reserved, somewhat shy dog comes blowing out of his shell and launches into work. He can't resist HMT's wild enthusiasm and gets completely caught up in the game.
Not only that, but I'm completely caught up in it. I want to learn how to train my dog, I am intrigued with the concept and challenges of Schutzhund and am doing my homework like a crazy person.
The Big K taught me well and I think HMT appreciates it. I promised him no more videos, no reading up on different training approaches, I'm learning from Cool K9's Dog Training and won't muddy up the picture with other dog trainers advice.
It isn't hard to do. I am seeing incredible improvements in Brockle's behavior and our communication. He was so intent during our bite practice he completely blew off the dogs in the dog park so we could play fetch, tug and out. When I threw his stick too far and it hit the opposite bank of Fountain Creek, Brockle tasted the water, sniffed the air and eventually criss-crossed the bank, nose to the ground, until he found it. Pretty huge for a dog who a few short weeks ago only used his eyes to find things. He's riding with me and the horses, off-leash and ignoring hikers, dogs and wild turkeys. All of this comes from HMT and the games he has taught us.
My trainer brain is very happy. This dog thing is pretty awesome. I'm not 100% sure, but I have a feeling it had to do with being willing to go to a pro when I saw I needed help. Finding the right one didn't hurt either.