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"Your dogs must be perfect!!!"

"I bet your dogs are perfect!"

Many clients have said this to me! Well, yes...and no.

My dogs are well-trained, but they are not robots! Yes, they know a lot of "stuff." They're pretty reliable. Yet, like any dog, they've got their strengths and weaknesses.

Charlie the pit bull, for example, still struggles with his "doggieness." He love, love, LOVES other dogs! Many pit bulls struggle with impulse control and Charlie's no exception. He's able to contain himself and not strain against the leash to go visit other dogs, but sometimes his excitement will come out as vocalization. Not barking exactly, but an odd sound that's a cross between yodeling and sobbing. I think it's actually quite a funny sound, but a yodeling dog is far from perfect!

Daisy the Rottweiler (she's not actually "my" dog, but she lives with me) was a shy puppy who grew into a shy adult. We believe it's an issue of genetics, as she went through all her puppy socialization benchmarks at the proper age, with the proper reactions, no traumatic experiences, etc. She's making huge strides, but she will still sometimes spook at things. If I'm training her anything that involves special equipment (jumps, pivot platforms, etc) I have to plan for some extra time for her to get comfortable with these objects.

Things like this are pretty typical issues that can be "issues" with any dog. Just because I'm a trainer doesn't mean that I magically get perfect dogs! Having "imperfect" dogs is actually a benefit to myself as a trainer -- I'm definitely much more empathetic towards dog owners who do everything right and their dogs still have sticky spots! All dogs have sticky spots! It's how we support our dogs and work through them on problems that really counts.

I like to say that my dogs are professional "test" dogs -- if there is a new training technique that I would like to try, they are always the first dog that I attempt to use it on. Charlie, for example, was my test dog from waaaaaay back when I was interning at a service dog organization. To this day, if I ever became disabled I could depend on Charlie to retrieve things, open and close doors, and turn lights on and off! When I got into scentwork training, he stepped up as the designated sniffer. Using positive training techniques, I believe, has helped him with this challenge of continuing to learn new things.

Sometimes a trainer's dog is also called on to help other, undersocialized dogs learn to get along and interact with dogs. This can be so stressful for the "working" dog and not all dogs have the appropriate temperament! Charlie, with his excitement level around other dogs, is not a good fit for this kind of work. Daisy, who excels at dog-dog interactions and has great social skills, can do it in a very controlled environment, but I need to monitor her anxiety levels about other things in the environment. Most trainers who have socialization-helper dogs like this are very careful with what they ask their dogs to do and monitor the dogs carefully for signs of stress. I think this is not unlike a social worker or emergency room doctor taking care to avoid burn-out!


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