A tale of two puppies...

A tale of two puppies...

One of my favorite clients, and now a dear friend of mine, has a delightful German shepherd that we have been working on together for some time.

Karma has progressed, since last August when we first saw her, from being a withdrawn, unaffectionate and hopeless looking dog with no lightness of being, to a happy go lucky, playful dog that can assimilate into any pack and be extremely well mannered around adults and children in most situations. A little territorial issue remains in the home but it is much improved and is constantly being worked on.

I have to admit to not having been her biggest fan when first I met this dog; she was moody, fidgety and had problems and issues coming out the whazoo, but as our relationship grew and her trust in us grew, we developed a strong friendship with her that has been nothing short of delightful.

When Chris first contacted me about Karma, I told her it wouldn’t be a walk in the park, (although many of those would be prescribed!) and that throughout this process of changing her dog’s behavior, she was going to learn a great deal about her own. She knew she was going to have to roll up her sleeves and put the work in, as, apart from the practical sessions, it is Chris who has done all of the work with Karma. I give the owner the practical demonstrations and the instruction manual, but it is they who have to put the work in, day in, day out, in their own home.

One of the first discussions we had was about pinch collars and shock collars and I explained to Chris why we won’t work with people who use them, here at the Ranch.

It is our firm belief here at Desperate Dogs that if you use pain or aggression in any way with a dog, then the dog learns to either only respond to that; or the dog, even worse, becomes a bully and uses aggression with those he comes into contact with. Many people tell me that the shock collar (or e-collar as they like to call it when they feel guilty about calling it what it is…) is a light check and that the dog has no knowledge that the owner administers the correction.

Funnily enough, people who use choke chains and pinch collars also tell me that the dog feels no pain on its neck and that its a ‘light pinch’ merely to correct the dog at the time of its misdemeanor.

I tried one on once, pulled as hard as my dog can and trust me, it bloody hurt!

16th Century French writer Descartes believed that dogs had no feelings, logic or ability to feel pain and so, to prove his point, he nailed a dog to a barn door and eviscerated it. The poor thing screamed and writhed in agony, which Descartes attributed to a series of involuntary muscle reactions and movements, saying that the dog was not in pain and was just an ‘unintelligent machine.’

Using any instrument of pain or torture on a dog to achieve a desired effect is redolent of that ignoramus 16th Century thinking; any fool knows that dogs are sentient, intelligent and highly logical and creative thinkers.

Any fool also knows that all bullies started out by being bullied, just ask any kid in trouble for this crime in the Principals office at school, they’ll tell you that aggression trickles downwards…..

Thankfully, Chris had long ago decided never to use such means to train her dog, so we were completely on the same page, and she thus became a client.

I am very proud of their achievement together and also the huge change in Chris herself, who has emerged as a strong confident leader with far more faith in her own capabilities than she ever had before. Every change she has effected has been done using leadership, guidance, boundaries and education.

Our problem dogs show us the human we need to be, and if we are smart, we take their advice and go there….


While this may sound like it’s shaping up to be a love fest between me and my client, actually, this article is about something much, much sadder than that.

You see, just about two months before I even met Karma, I met another German Shepherd, Jack (not his real name, I wish to protect the innocent here) who we all instantly fell in love with here at the Ranch. He was the darling of the place, with all of the dogs loving him and everyone so excited to see him; it seemed there was nothing nicer than to have Jack running around my meadow, gallumphing like a small horse all last summer. His parents would call me at the last minute and I would always find room to fit him in to whatever pack I had here, I was just so happy to see him.

He was not the most well behaved dog in all honesty; his recall was pretty useless unless you had a stack of treats (one of the reasons I don’t use food too much when working with a dog,) and he was a bit of a space invader.

Never mind, we felt that the recall, with practice, could be worked on and that with constant exposure to other dogs, the right kind of dogs, his lack of respect for other dogs’ boundaries would be brushed up on by my employee dogs here at the Ranch.

At the end of the summer, we didn’t see too much of Jack; I asked his parents to bring him over for daycare every now and again as at his age (16 months old, the same as Karma) he needed to learn as many social skills as possible. It gets a little tougher the older they get…not impossible, but just a bit tougher. He came for a few daycare sessions every now and again but Dad got a new job and had to travel for work and Mum didn’t have time to bring him.

Poor Jack rarely got walked and spent lots of time in the backyard, and we hardly saw him for months despite his parents promising that as soon as they could, they would get him onto a regular schedule for dog to dog socialization.

On one of the occasions that they did, we were chatting, and they admitted to me that Jack had had some territorial issues when he was very young and so they had enlisted the help of a local trainer who had put the shock collar on him and zapped the living daylights out of him when he charged out of the door at a visitor.

I explained to them that while what was done was done, they must be very careful to never go down that road again, because while he may be better in the house now, there is always a price to pay for using these methods; either in terms of increased fear, of painful memories leading to inappropriate responses when they might least expect it, neurological disorders resulting from the sharp electrical impulse……. or the dog will associate their presence at the time he was being painfully zapped, and their acceptance and inaction while that was happening, to a lack of care on their part.

This leads to a lack of trust, which spells the end of any relationship. They swore blind they would never go there ever again, it had just been the once……they had been desperate.

Well, time went on, and we didn’t see him, but then they booked Jack in for a Christmas stay while they travelled. Having not seen him for months, the change in this dog was huge!

First of all, he was huge, all grown up and full of energy…the kind of energy you cant get rid of without lots and lots of activity over prolonged time. Second, he had gotten into some very bad habits through lack of attention. Third, him being aware that he was big, he was definitely the boss man and if he was wanting to play and if some other dog didn’t like it, well that was just tough because Jack wasn’t taking no for an answer. If he wanted to mount another dog, then he was going to mount another dog….

All of the work done on him throughout the summer had gone out of the window, he was, quite literally, a pain in the ass. I spent his whole 8 day stay on mainly damage control, every day wishing the time for his owners to pick him up would hurry up and come as he was like a spoiled child throwing his weight around. UGH!

On collection day, my husband begged the owners to bring him to us for regular daycare sessions so that we could work on his issues before it became too late. They said they would be in touch after the holidays…..

I haven’t seen them since then, five months ago; however, I have so many clients that know this dog and live close to this family (who by the way, are nice people) and what I hear makes me sick to my stomach.

Jack is constantly wearing a shock collar, and to be walked he has on a pinch collar and a very short leash, which his owner grips tight as he walks him, in case Jack lunges at passers by. He cannot be trusted around children anymore, they don’t have visitors to their home and his dog/dog social skills have completely disappeared.

When I hear people tell me how they have seen Jack like this, I cry.

I look back at last years pictures of this beautiful carefree dog who seemed to have it all going for him and understand that he is now a prisoner in his own life…in all likelihood he will never again experience that kind of freedom again…I can’t have him here at the Ranch again as we just won’t work with clients who use shock collars and pinch collars. It shows a penchant for the ‘quick fix’ or the ‘pill’ as dog trainers call it…anyone who isn’t wanting to put some work in and just thinks to hit the problem with a sledge hammer isn’t going to cut it here.

Conversely, Karma, the dog who had the bad start, was lucky enough to be adopted by the right owner, a lady who took time and trouble to work through all of her issues, and who, despite having to step out of her comfort zone time after time after time while working with this dog, did it.

That is a true show of strength, that’s true dedication, true parenting and that’s what real dog/ human relationships should be all about.

When we put the work in to anything in life, we reap the rewards every time. There are never any quick fixes in dog behavior modification.

Lucky Karma, Poor Jack.


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