One of the most common questions people ask me is “How did you get into dog training?” Well, the accent gives some of it away — I am originally from Yorkshire, England, and, in 1997 I adopted a German Shepherd from the RSPCA (the English equivalent of the animal shelter). Allie was a “senior” dog according to my vet (aged approximately 7-8 years old), she had been in the shelter for nine months, returned by three other people but, when I walked along the row of kennels she was the only one who didn’t jump up and bark, she just sat there, cocked her head when I talked to her and wagged her tail when the kennel girl got a leash for me to take her out for a walk – I was sold.
Sold, but unprepared for what this seemingly cute dog became when I got her home. She didn’t listen, she jumped up on everyone and mouthing was her official greeting. I walked her twice a day and she pulled like a sled dog (in spite of various “no pull” leashes, collars and harnesses). However, I thought all of this was minor compared to her aggressiveness when we saw a stranger – our world changed the day she pulled both of us in front of a double decker bus to chase a man who was walking on the other side of the road minding his own business! I got home from that walk, opened up the yellow pages and found a dog trainer – private lessons at a facility that offered dog obedience lessons, general boarding and residential training.
We drove an hour there and an hour back for our one hour lesson every Saturday afternoon. At our sixth lesson the owner and trainer offered me a job as her apprentice – observing her for the first few months, training dogs under her supervision until she was sure of my skills and then taking on clients of my own for the kennel. I was skeptical at first; leaving a well paid office job with benefits to go work in the cold, rain and snow training dogs starting out at minimum wage. However, working there full time not only gave me a very in-depth on the job education in obedience training and behavioural issues it also gave me ample opportunities to learn a great deal about dog behaviour, health, wellbeing and general care through many different breeds with many different temperaments.
Allie sure hated training at first (I don’t think anyone had ever been in control of her!) but, once she realized that behaving properly got much better results for her than acting aggressively she started looking for my commands and for me to be her leader.
When I moved to Florida in 2002 Allie came too (in a huge transport box in the cargo hold). She loved the Florida weather, walks at Mashes Sands, Fort Braden and Miccosukee Greenway and being the social butterfly of any occasion. Without training she would have been too out of control to make the move across town let alone across the world. Unfortunately, Allie suffered, as many German Shepherds do, with degenerative myelopathy (often mistaken as hip dysplasia) – moving to Florida with its warm weather improved her mobility for an extra three years but sadly in August of 2005 I had to make the decision to have her put to sleep. It was a very bitter-sweet loss; Allie was the reason that I got into dog training, her appalling and aggressive behaviour changed my life, without her Clever Canines would not exist.
These days my canine companions are full of much less drama – or maybe its just that I am better prepared and trained! Of course we have a German Shepherd (Mattie), she is seven years old, full of energy and passionately opinionated!
Max is a GBD (Generic Black Dog). We think he has some Labrador and maybe some German Shepherd, but who knows — he is Max, he is very laid back, has figured out that “cute” works very well on the humans and squirrels should not be allowed in his yard!
Buster is an 11-year-old Italian Greyhound who sleeps a lot and loves Storm our rescue cat (as she is about his size!).
My dogs often accompany me on lessons if we need distractions and/or demonstrations.