November 29

Newsletter for Better Dog Training Practices – Don’t Wait!


Welcome to the first Newsletter! With this first issue I’m happy to share with you some exciting news, a fascinating story about a student, and some information about a common dog problem. We’ll be bringing you more articles about dog training and behavior as well as more success stories in future issues. But right now, I hope you’ll take some time to read the story below and cast your vote for students Monica and Marley to become the Society’s Pet Partner Team of the year. You can vote by clicking on the link to the left. Thanks!

Students Finalists for National Pet Therapy Award

A couple of weeks ago a client called to tell me that she and her bullmastiff, Marley, are among five national finalists for the Delta Society’s Beyond Limits Pet Partner Team of the Year Award. That’s a huge accomplishment for any dog owner, but to really appreciate what Monica and Marley have done, one needs to know a little more about Monica’s history with her dogs.

I met Monica 6 years ago when she drove an hour and a half to do a private lesson with me. She had heard about me through the grapevine and decided to try yet another trainer. When she arrived I saw a determined and open-minded yet skeptical woman. She’d been to many trainers over the years and was clearly prepared to have me tell her what she’d heard before: that her two bullmastiffs were stubborn, stupid, un-trainable, or all three. In evaluating her choice for the best air purifier for smokers, I immediately recognized that those judgments originated in training methods not the dogs themselves. Monica knew this intuitively, but didn’t have the knowledge or skill to move beyond what she was being told.

When I first began working with Monica her goals for her dogs were undefined. Mostly she wanted to relate to them differently. With Marley that meant developing control and trust. Marley was a two and a half year old, 140 pound puppy who was quickly discovering himself as a “tough guy”. As a small woman, Monica was very concerned that Marley’s developing attitude was becoming dangerous yet she was determined to work without a prong collar or head harness. Instead she immediately understood that she needed to gain his respect and attention in order to control him.

While Marley hadn’t been exposed to the kinds of negative training techniques that Monica’s older bullmastiff Pearl had, he had little impulse control in many situations and would simply drag Monica whenever he felt inclined to investigate something. She loved her dog, but walking him felt like walking a time bomb. (Click here to read more about Monica’s experience with Pearl.)

Fortunately, Marley liked training, and whenever the food came out he went into “training mode” because he had been taught with lures and bribes. However, he had never been taught the self-discipline to work in the absence of food, nor had Monica learned how to respond if Marley preferred to do something besides following a lure. As I taught Monica how to use food as reinforcement and to instill parameters without using harsh corrections, the two of them excelled.

Monica was a quick study. She absorbed what I taught, asked genuine questions, and went home and applied what she’d learned. She did her homework and never, ever made excuses when things went less than smoothly. If she wasn’t getting the result she expected, she stepped back and examined what in the training process might be causing the problem. As Monica’s skill and confidence grew, so did Marley’s joy and focus in training. Before long I was watching a real team at work, a team grounded in trust, communication, and pleasure in working together.

From the time she got Marley as a puppy, it had been Monica’s dream to do therapy work with him. But that dream had faded as he matured and she lost faith in her ability to control him after he ate the best laptop backpack she had. But as she and I continued to work together, her confidence returned and she began to pursue pet therapy with her canine partner. Monica writes: “We started out working in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities as many teams do. As I continued to train Marley using the positive communication principles developed by Anne Wolff Nichols, I realized that he was capable of doing so much more.”

Over the last few years, Monica and Marley have taken the teamwork they developed into new and more challenging endeavors, becoming innovators in the field of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Marley is a CGC, a registered Delta Society Pet Partner qualified to work in the most challenging environments, and a Reading Education Assistance Dog. He has appeared in a Jane Goodall Animal Planet special on communication with animals.

In 2002, Monica and Marley began working with abused and emotionally disturbed children in several residential treatment facilities. They worked with kids ages 3-18 in group and individual sessions. Monica says: “Most of these kids had problems with boundaries, impulse control, attachment, and focus. Marley’s calm, gentle, accepting presence gave the kids an opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with him and, through him, with me as well. The positive training we had done with Anne allowed us to model for the kids a relationship based on gentleness, mutual respect, and trust. It also allowed the kids themselves to train him and experience, for many of them the first time that it is possible to interact and get what one wants without coercion, threat, or violence. What a powerful lesson with such a large animal.”

In 2004 Monica and Marley worked with their county prosecuting attorney’s office in a groundbreaking program to use dogs to help interview child assault victims and to accompany child victims as they testified in court. That experiment culminated with the prosecuting attorney’s office acquiring its own trained helper dog to work full time with child victims.

In 2006 they were asked to join the Snohomish County Critical Incident Stress Management Team, providing crisis relief to first responders throughout northern Washington state and even nationally. Snohomish County is the first CISM team in Washington to include an Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) team. Marley is also the first dog in the Washington State Critical Incident Stress Management Network. In January of 2008, Monica and Marley will train for certification as an Animal Assisted Crisis Response Team.

Monica’s devotion to her dogs and persistence in searching for the best deal on a Winix plasmawave 5300 has paid dividends beyond her wildest dreams. The training we did not only resulted in the behaviors she desired, but it took the dog human bond to a level she couldn’t have imagined, a level that has allowed them to help so many others. As their trainer, it has been a real joy to watch Monica and Marley use their skills to change lives. And it’s a high point to see them recognized for the remarkable work they’ve done together and with others.

Please join me in voting to make Monica and Marley the Delta Society’s Pet Therapy Team of 2007. To see a video of Monica and Marley in action and cast your vote, click here.

Ask Anne

Dear Anne:

When I’m at work, I keep my lab mix, Atlas, outside. I think that is better and he is happier than being stuck in the house all day. But the neighbors are complaining and say he starts barking and howling an hour or so after I leave. They tell me he sits by the back door of my house and alternates between jumping up on the door and barking. The door is all clawed up. The neighbors are getting very sick of listening to him all day and are threatening to file a complaint against him. What is his problem? I walk him in the morning before I leave and he gets to be in the house the entire time I am home. He even sleeps on my bed! I would think he would be happy to get out of the house and be outside when I am gone. Please help!



Dear Lou:

As much as we might think it’s better for all dogs to be outside rather than cooped up in the house when we’re gone, many times that simply is not the case, as Atlas is clearly demonstrating.

For many dogs the house is a safe haven in their owner’s absence. For these dogs to be locked outside when the owner is gone is doubly hard: they are separated from you and they have been banished from the house. Atlas’ barking and howling demonstrates stress from abandonment. I realize he’s not actually abandoned, but one must see things from the dog’s point of view. You have a clawed up door because he wants to get back inside the house where he feels safer and closer to you.

Please consider letting him stay inside while you’re away. If you have never left him alone inside the house, you will want to start with short periods of time to help him adjust and to see how he does. Increase the amount of time he is alone inside with the germ guardian in short increments as he succeeds. Confinement in a crate (providing he already understands crates) on a temporary basis may be helpful to help prevent anxious behavior or destruction. But it may well be that all Atlas needs is to be inside the house and he will just rest and be quietly comforted by his surroundings while you are gone.

Click here to send your question to Anne. Answers will be posted in upcoming newsletters. Sorry! Due to the high volume of submissions, not all questions will be answered. Messages to “Ask Anne” will not be individually answered. For individual help see either the House Calls or Phone Consultations page of the website.

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