Training Case Studies

Curious Puppy at the ParkClub Canine

Written by Dean Miller,

When asked to write a case study that revolved around communication for this training issues, I wasn’t sure how one example was going to help readers connect with the process by which we approach helping all owners and their dogs. I also felt that letting readers hear first-hand from the dog owners themselves might communicate better the process by which not only the dogs, but the people go through with their individual circumstances, to arrive at the same place. Regardless of breed, age, gender, or behavior issues, we understand that there are staples that ALL dog require to be psychologically and emotionally healthy. Otherwise behavior issues grow as a result of these missing components and or mixed signals that get sent. We also know that dog owners have to meet the leadership needs of the particular dog(s) they own and have to go through not only physical changes but emotional changes in their relationship practices, in order to meet those needs. That in itself is the biggest part of the learning process. Dog owners can’t teach what they haven’t first learned themselves and they can’t become successful without an honest positive attitude towards what they’re learning and attempting to teach the dog, even when it makes them feel awkward and or challenges them.

Owner: Bev Edelman
Dog: Rosie, 1yr. F. German Shepherd. Adopted through rescue.

Rosie was friendly, house trained and knew basic commands by my definition. She was a little skittish but her seemingly one primary problem, when we went for walks, she lunged and barked at approaching and passing dogs. She is young and big. I am neither. In fact, by some standards, a senior citizen with a painful hip issue no less. Who was in control on these walk? I fell twice. I knew we needed help and reached out to GSD rescue who referred us to Dean.

Dog paw and hand shakingHis first in home meeting was there to better educate us on the subject of dogs. To help us better understand our subject and that most of us were not really meeting the dogs needs. And as a result, we were dealing with a multitude of symptoms, and that the real problem lie in our day to day living practices with the dogs. Too permissive, too loving without establishing purpose. This was my pet! But we quickly learned that even as a pet, Rosie had needs that had to be met. Her leadership was weak, her purpose unclear and her mind under stimulated. Teaching us how to teach Rosie that her primary purpose was to now just pay attention to us. We were always busy giving her our attention on her terms, now we were expecting her to earn it. Showing us a communication exercise where you move quickly, keeping the dogs attention on your enthusiastically praising face. This was not easy for me, I need to match my energy to Rosies (and Deans!)

They were young and galloping, and I was limping and grimacing. He spoke with strength and energy and was downright bossy. I had no idea I would have so much resistance to this approach. I fought him. Every time he would tell me to use my professional voice, to speak like a leader with streaming communication that feigned enthusiasm, whether or not I felt it. My reaction was whiney inside. No I don’t want to, I’d say, whine, whine, whine. I want to just tune into my dog, have my dog intuitively tune into me. Dean told me that it would come in time, but first, the basics. What about the dogs need, I thought? The need for love and softness, all the areas where I excel. But on and on, over and over, he seemed to drill like a sergeant. Be enthusiastic he’d say, you want your dog feeling like she’s having fun don’t you? He would correct me, challenge me, praise me when I got it right, then correct me again and challenge me some more. He coached me, I coached Rosie. We would practice and she knew what was expected of her more clearly now.

Dean had a system and I’m not a system kind of gal. I rebelled a bit. And so it went, until I didn’t feel so awkward. Then a funny thing happened, I discovered the dog leader part of me as well as the dog lover and witnessed something quite amazing. Rosie loved the training! She’d prance like a show horse, eager to please and anxious for the famous concentration exercises and whatever came after. As my confidence and skills soared, so did Rosies. I was communicating what I expected from her and WOW if she wasn’t communicating that she was joyfully getting her needs met. A true revelation to me.

The Thinking Dog System for Rosie and myself was working. My confidence and skills developed and so did Rosies. She was now empowered with this ability to control herself and relax. She stays focused and matches her pace to mine when we walk. She follows my lead both spoken and unspoken. (I had to learn about that too—what my body was saying regardless of what was or wasn’t coming out of my mouth.) Who knew? Mixed messages can sabotage even the best of intentions. There was much to learn about the sending of mixed signals, without much in the way words.

The fact that I do not have the physical strength or stamina of a young buck has become a moot point. I am clearly in charge. We both learned, we both changed. We became a team through a balance of clear and meaningful communication. I still continue to take Rosie to class, even after we passed our Canine Good Citizen test, not because she barks and lunges at other dogs (okay, occasionally, she might have a slight reaction to a yappy dog on the end of a retractable leash with no owner control, but it’s just slight and easily settled back down.) Because she loves working. And I enjoy being in the energy that keeps me practicing being a strong leader. That’s happiness.

Owner: Bridget
Dog: Jax. 4yr. M Border Collie
Nell. 1yr. F Border Collie

I grew up with Border Collies. Coming from a rural part of NH and living on a sheep farm, we always had several herding dogs on the farm. I’ve always loved the breed and new when I had the opportunity to get one as an adult, I’d buy a puppy of my own. I bought Jax, in 2011. He came from the breeder we had always used, known for their high herding drive and tenacity. Jax comes from a cow herding line, which adds to the guts and, turns out, additional controlling behavior and interest in problem solving with his teeth.

Two dogs playing with rope toyI first called Dean in October after he broke his leg cow herding. His total lack of self-control and handler respect had caused a serious injury and needed to be addressed if he had a chance. His serious behavioral issues could no longer be ignored. You can take a farm dog off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the dog.

One of the biggest frustrations was that Jax had over a year of herding training under his belt. In addition, we had spent his young months in puppy class working on his obedience basics. Click training, treats, toys… Jax had more training than most dogs we knew. And yet nothing was working. He insisted on controlling the situation and wasn’t responding to the training methods.  His behavior was a disaster when company came over and we were starting to feel helpless. Jumping on people, obsessively playing ball, and aggression towards children- we stopped inviting people over for fear of overwhelming any guests. His herding training put on pause until we could figure out a way to get this properly solved.

Dean’s approach was helpful from day one. Within our first visit we were given the insight into how our behavior and allowances around Jax had developed some of the behavioral issues he was exhibiting. We needed to restructure how we were living with our dogs. We were living with them in ways in which we had good intentions but the message was all backwards to them. Dean assessed Jax’s personality and we discussed his behavior immediately, working on how to handle the dog and work on his attention and self control. He talked through day to day interactions with the dog, when to offer him verbal praise and how, and how to require his attention to engage his brain. Jax’s bad habits had come from our bad habits, Dean worked with us on how to create a healthy relationship with our dog and how to stop enabling poor choices through inadvertently praising him, coddling him, or giving him control of the household. We hadn’t realized how our actions had made Jax think he ruled the roost. Within the first visit I felt a sense of relief, that I had the tools and support to make progress with Jax and change his mindset.

With border collies, the details matter. If you give an inch they think they have control of the household. The attention exercise was an approach I had never seen before, but for a dog with no success in food based or click training, it was a great fit. Jax was given new boundaries and as dog owners we were as well. We hadn’t realized the little allowances and communication we had been giving with had taught Jax that he was in charge. Sleeping on the bed? Yup, we had been allowing that. And found out quickly it was a part of the problem, thinking we we’re showing our dog we loved him and really had given him a dominant mind set. This was happening with our young female Nel, as well. She was young and becoming more and more insecure with our mixed signals and relying more and more on following Jax lead which was all wrong to begin with. Redefining what we were doing with both dogs, and now applying the same formula to both dogs was accelerating positive attitudes with both as well as their control.

Within two weeks of training with Dean, Jax showed a major improvement.  Through clear communication on our expectation, regaining his focus, and more praise than we had ever been taught to dole out, we promoted positive behavior.

Within a few weeks Jax’s behavior and self-control improved dramatically. The more we worked with him, and Nel in the house, the quieter and calmer they became. Jax loves to work. Through engaging their brains and making it a part of everything we do, both have become not just herding dogs but a house dog as well. Friends have commented on the major difference in attitude and we’re comfortable having friends visit again. We are thrilled to have a dog with a great working attitude and a healthy outlet to channel it!

Owner: Michael Stephens
Dog: Mouse- 5mo. Old Great Dane

My Great Dane puppy, Mouse, and I started training with Dean and company about two and half months ago. Mouse was just under four months old, and while generally a good dog, he was already beginning to get to be a very large puppy and was definitely prone to getting into trouble if I was not focused on him 100% of the time.

Dog showThe first meeting with Dean was to help better educate me on dogs and how to meet their needs. Not showing enough control with a young strong, intelligent puppy was already causing us struggles. This first thing Dean had me do was put a slip collar and light-weight lead on him so that I had a way to control as well as correct his behavior when necessary.
Specifics in technique were shown as well as emphasis to never make Mouse feel like he was in trouble. No negative emotion. The other immediate item we started working was encouraging Mouse to turn his attention to me and look at me early and often by praising him each and every time he does it. We call it “Checking”, and it is the foundation upon which all the training is built on. I was also taught to not just focus on the things that Mouse was doing that I didn’t like but to praise Mouse for the things he was doing that I wanted from him. I was educated on healthy vs unhealthy relationship practices with Mouse in order to prevent him from becoming stubborn. This meant we had to temporarily modify our lives a bit in order to not unintentionally confuse Mouse, based on the lack of skill both of us possessed at this point in being a more cohesive team.

A couple of weeks later, Dean came back out for another session with Mouse and I. This time as I opened the door to let Dean in he noticed that I was having to hold Mouse back from darting out the door. We immediately began working on setting thresholds (or “Curbs”) that Mouse needed permission from me to cross. Mouse took to this extremely well, and with very few corrections over the next couple of days my ability to control him around thresholds, but also just in general, was night and day. It only further emphasizes the concept of looking to me for guidance and permission.

The Thinking Dog system has given me a good structure for encouraging desired behaviors (lots of praise and repetition) and discouraging unwanted behaviors (leash correction, and lack of praise). The concept of making me the most important thing in his world by basically giving him more of what he wants (praise) than he will get anywhere else, has been extremely easy to apply to any type of behavior from chewing to jumping up on people and furniture to leash pulling. The overall concept of praise, correction, praise and getting him comfortable to looking to me for permission and guidance are concepts that I will continue to be able to apply in any situation.

Owner: Karen and Dirk Calderon
Dog: Sky- 7yr. old Weimaraner

We adopted Sky when he was a puppy.  He was a very loving and energetic puppy that was great with people and other dogs.  This soon changed after being attacked multiple times by an aggressive family dog.  Sky soon became very protective, territorial, and aggressive towards some people and all dogs.  He remained loving and playful with immediate family members.  We attempted several different training methods and trainers but nothing seemed to curb his aggression.  Sky was 7 years old by the time we wanted to begin having children and we were beginning to think there was no hope at rehabilitating him.  My wife came across Dean and the “Thinking Dog” training method while searching online for trainers and training methods.  We set up a consultation with him and our life with Sky would never be the same.

Tongue lollling boxerDean came to our home and witnessed Sky’s territorial and aggressive behavior first hand.  He gave us clear instructions on how to set clear boundaries with Sky and to be consistent with these new rules. We were told that deviating from the outline he uses would only make the dog worse. These new changes for us were a bit of a struggle at first, we were used to just loving on Sky. Since he was already 7 and had several training attempts applied and failed, the dog was wise to this and details would mean everything. Karen and I needed to become a united front and be strong and committed to these changes. If not, Dean said the dog would recognize that instantly and we would get very little out of training and certainly not solve Skys issues. He also educated us on understanding that fixing Sky was about fixing our relationship with him. He advised us to begin using a slip chain training collar, which we were told in the past should never be used on a dog as it will injure and cause problems, but we were desperate not to have to euthanize Sky so were willing to trust Dean.

He then proceeded to show us techniques for using a leash and collar correctly as well as exercises to build Sky’s confidence level up and to pay attention to his handler at all times, not worry about distractions.  The part about building Sky’s confidence was a complete shock to me.  I would never have thought that Sky had confidence issues but the lack of confidence was what made him insecure and aggressive. We worked lessons with sky a couple days a week as well as daily practice without being coached. Soon our dog was moving and working with a totally different attitude and body language. He was looking like a new dog with a new attitude and seeking our approval. And that thing about the training collar being harmful or causing more problems, that never happened. In fact, it was exactly the opposite.

Once we were able to handle Sky by ourselves in our practice areas, we began to introduce Sky to other distractions of dogs at Dean’s facility.  In this facility were dogs’ at all different levels of training.  Dean had his veteran dogs that had been fully trained for years, dogs that had just been rescued and needed full rehabilitation and then everything in between.  Over the course of a couple of months of training with diligent attention to our handling skills and timing and Pack Therapy sessions, Sky grew in confidence and became a happier dog.  We were able to take Sky places now that we would never have dared take him before for fear of him attacking someone.  He was no longer aggressive towards guests and would be tolerant of other dogs.  He would listen to commands and not choose to ignore them.  He never quite regained that willingness to play with all dogs but he was almost 8 and very content being around people.  When our baby arrived, he was very gentle with him and would allow the baby to climb all over him without any problems.  Sky was always a great companion but after training everyone else was able to witness what a great dog he had always been.  We enjoyed 11 wonderful years with Sky, but the last 4 were even better thanks to Dean and his “Thinking Dog” training method.

About Club Canine:

When Quality Of Life With Your Companion Counts:

Houston’s ORIGINAL canine day care that’s rooted in learning, training games, activities and social skill building.

In 2001, our innovative approach to doggy day care began inside Houston’s largest doggy day care facility in the Mid-Town area. Realizing that many dogs were beginning to behaviorally fail out of conventional doggy day care, we were called upon for our experience and expertise as behavior and obedience professionals.

We developed an alternative program for those dogs that were highly intelligent and much more independent in their thinking to keep them social, structured, challenged and balanced. And since it worked so well, we began to offer it as an approach to preventing failures from occurring. Thus, The Thinking Dog Pack Socials, Pack Therapy and Skill Building were born at Club Canine

Where many times these services are seen as nothing more than frivolous spoiling, we see them as a true vehicle for teaching, skill building and connecting owners with their canine companions in healthy relationships.

Ever wish you could send your dog to school to help learn some of life’s needed skills?