adopters, foster dogs, fostering, hard to adopt, training

The Best Trainer for Your Dog

It finally happened.

Mama Mia left for her forever home after 11 months in foster care. I still find it so hard to believe it took so long to get this amazing dog adopted.

Her adopter is a determined and patient woman, who was certain all along that Mia was her girl. It took three meet and greets, this last one happening with the help of trainer, Geraldine Peace, who you’ll recall was such a huge help with Billie Jean.

Every time I spend time with Geraldine I learn more about managing and training dogs. She was able to do in minutes what I was not able to do through two other meet and greets—introduce Mia safely to her new 9-pound senior fur-sister. At each of my attempts, Mia was just too over-the-top excited and could not settle enough that I felt safe introducing them. I never, for a moment worried that Mia would hurt the little dog. What I worried about was her unintentionally hurting her because of the size difference.

Plus, I was all too aware that Mia already had bite addendums – one after she defended herself against another dog, and one because when that fight was broken up, a volunteer was bitten and unsure of which dog bit her. Legally, OPH was obligated to attach a bite addendum (a contract that states that the adopter is aware the dog has bitten another dog/person in the past). I could argue for days how unfair those addendums are, but it doesn’t change the fact of them. More than likely, those addendums are the reason it has taken so long to find Mia her home, and I didn’t want to land her with another addendum because she trampled and hurt a small dog in her excitement at meeting her.

When Geraldine introduced Mia to her future fur-sister it was pretty much a non-event. Sniff-sniff, okay got it. (sorry – no pictures, I was too busy watching her every move – Geraldine’s, not Mia’s)

Her new adopter was certain all along that Mia was meant to be her dog and simply did not give up. At the first meet and greet, Mia met her two daughters (ages 3 and 9). That was over a month ago, and Nick and I were amazed at how Mia was so gentle with the girls, clearly she was able to contain her energy when necessary.

On Sunday, the adopter met me at Geraldine’s (a 2 hour drive) to introduce the dogs. Geraldine spent a few minutes introducing Mia to her own dogs, including a snappy chihuahua, to get a sense of her and to allow her time to communicate clearly to Mia that her crazy pulling/yelling was not acceptable.

Just like the last time I watched Geraldine work with an overly excitable dog, she had Mia following her around calmly in minutes. I love to watch Geraldine at work and only hope that a teeny-tiny bit of her knowledge is rubbing off. One of the tools she used with Mia was the K9 Lifeline. There are links there to watch it in action and learn how to put one on. If you’ve got a dog who doesn’t walk nicely on a loose leash, I really encourage you to check the K9 Lifeline leash out. I’ve already ordered one for future pulling dogs.

Watching Geraldine with Mia, has me thinking hard about my own training abilities and what I want for my dogs. It’s easy to get in a muddle with all the differing styles/methods/tools/trainers. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my own confusion—who is right? Who knows best? Am I screwing up my dog?

My own training history is muddled itself. Too often I have found myself careening down one training path after another trying to figure out what is right. I’m still sorting that out, but three things I’ve come to believe about training are:

  1. Not every training method works with every dog. You have to be flexible, willing to modify, and paying attention to what your dog needs and what you need.
  2. The only thing a dog really needs to learn is how to be safe and happy in your family. For me that means I need a dog who will come when called, walk nicely on a leash, be safe around humans, and be able to get along with other dogs. The rest—obedience skills, agility, dog-diving, whatever, are only a means to achieving those four abilities.
  3. I’m my dog’s trainer. In the end, what will work is what I’m comfortable doing and what feels right for me and my dog.

Gracie (kind of) comes when called these days and is pretty solid on my other three requirements, but it’s taken a lot of years to get there. In the interim, we managed her.

photo by Nancy Slattery

Fanny has all those skills, somewhat naturally, but doing agility helps her relax around humans and playing fetch has helped to reinforce coming when called. We don’t do a lot with obedience because she isn’t very treat motivated.

photo by Nancy Slattery

Otis is an unknown at this point. He is INCREDIBLY treat motivated (probably has something to do with nearly starving to death while battling parvo), so teaching him anything has been easy. He’s got sit, down, high five, come, and crate. He likes the challenge of learning things and earning treats. He’s naturally friendly and (so far) seems to like other dogs. He definitely comes when called and is doing pretty well on the leash during our laps around Home Depot.

He’ll start school tomorrow night. We’re going to Petsmart, not because I know anything about the trainer or the classes, but because I want to get him out to give him more socialization and to focus on basic obedience, since it comes so easily to him.

Sure, I know enough to teach him here, but I also know how important it is that he get out in new situations, meet new dogs, and have experiences. It’s hard to make that happen during this pandemic time, but we all need to be intentional about doing it anyway. The center where I prefer to go, is booked up through April, so we’re gonna give Petsmart a go. It doesn’t matter much to me what this particular trainer is into because I know what I’m focused on for my dog. If she tells me to try some method I’m not comfortable with, well, he’s my dog and it’s my dollar so that’s my decision. On the other hand, she just might teach me something new for my bag of tricks, just like Geraldine always does.

I’m my dog’s trainer and you are your dog’s trainer, don’t ever mix that up with the person you are paying to teach you tricks and show you tools.

With Mia gone, our house is foster-free for the first time in years. It feels odd, and probably won’t last, but it is a nice opportunity to catch our breath, and pay attention to our pups. Early reports are that Mia (who will remain Mia, with the addition of Mia-the-wiggly-butt as her more formal title) is doing great and fits in just fine with her new family.

Thanks for reading!

Cara

For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com where you can also find more information on my book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One  Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) and my latest novel, Blind Turn (Black Rose Writing, Jan 2021)

If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.

And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org where you can follow the blog that shares stories or find the link to our podcast!

Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.

If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. It’s available anywhere books are sold.

I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

Many of the pictures on my blog are taken by photographer Nancy Slattery. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact: nancyslat@gmail.com.

9 thoughts on “The Best Trainer for Your Dog”

  1. How exciting (as well as just a tad sad) that Mia has found her ‘fur-ever’ home. I’ll miss see her smiling face but thrilled she has a new home with a pack who will love her. Bless your patience with finding her just the right home and new huMom.

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  2. Hooray! So happy for Mia, and glad that her new owner made sure that Mia was the one for her. I had forgotten about her bite addendum; you’re right, that probably gave a lot of people second thoughts. Mia seemed to be good with your family and your pack — were there any times that gave you pause?
    Training is hard! Mr. B is much better with other dogs than our previous dogs and not bad with people, that I’ve let the recall slide a bit (he comes back much better in a place new to him than in a familiar one [i.e., the dog park]).

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  3. So glad that Mia has finally found the right “furever” home. That bite addendum really puts a whammy on finding an adopter (or, in my case, pulling for the rescue that I’ve worked with for 12 years).
    Dixie is a beautiful, smart, sweet, tree-walking hound who lived with her young “mom and dad” for all of her 4 years. Then the baby came about 7 months ago, and she was put on the back burner and spent most of her time in the yard surrounded by an underground fence. Two months ago she ran through the fence and bit the Fed Ex man in the leg, not bad–a band-aid sufficed to cover the wound. Anyway, the sheriff came and took Dixie in to the local shelter (a really bad shelter) for 2 weeks bite quarantine. Her family was worried that it would happen again, so they did not go to get her back.

    The mother of the young man got my name from a friend and contacted me. She said that her son and daughter-in-law were devastated and cried and cried, but they just could not afford to have it happen again. I put her on all the hound websites I knew, and sure enough someone in PA wanted her, so I pulled her under my friend’s rescue. When I told my friend about Dixie, she was furious that I pulled a bite dog and told me to never pull a dog under her rescue again.
    Long story–short, after speaking to the potential adopter several more times, I did not think this to be a reliable situation, so I did not send her. I’ve had Dixie about a month now with absolutely no incidents, a really great dog that I am seriously contemplating keeping. She’s very smart and would make a wonderful agility dog. If I keep her, it would eliminate fostering for me because of limited room and time. I keep saying, “Only time will tell. If the right home comes along, I will let her go.” Right now she is a spoiled couch-potato sleeping in my living room.

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    1. Rescue is so hard. You are a good soul. I hope Dixie finds her spot. The exact same scenario happened with our first dog Lucy. I mean- exact. We adopted her when our kids were just being born and once life got busy and we moved twice, she kind of got sidelined a bit. She kept running off and liked to be outside all day long. All we could afford was an invisible fence so that’s what we did. It seemed like the perfect solution. She never ran through the fence, but the UPS guy came to the wrong door – through her territory – and she bit him. We kept her, though, and paid a lot more attention to her, to delivery trucks and her whereabouts. It was a wake-up call. She was not a vicious dog – she was protecting our home, which is what most people want. It’s too bad that couple didn’t think that through and make adjustments.

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      1. I spoke to the grandmother several times and tried to talk her into taking Dixie. She gave me a few excuses why it would not be practical. She asked me if I could keep her for several months, until the family moved to a farm where they are building a house. I told her if I kept her that long, I would surely be too bonded to give her up. There is something really special about her. I feel that if they did not care enough about her to find her another home, they do not deserve her, and would they actually take her when they moved? I just can’t imagine leaving her at the Lee County Animal Shelter after her bite quarantine was up.

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