The Original Dog Whisperer

Right around the holidays, I got tired of being laughed at for complaining about my dog. I didn’t like being laughed at, yet I wasn’t doing anything to make it stop. I admit …I don’t like dog ownership. I’m not a dog lover. I learned this with my first dog.

Fresh outta college, some 20 years ago, my wife and I thought, “we need a dog.” So we got a dog. It’s what Yuppies do. We got a beagle. We spoiled the beagle. The beagle wasn’t trained. We did just about everything wrong. That dog drove me insane. It was obnoxious and disobedient (totally the dog’s fault, right?). I grew to almost hate the dog and resent it. Then we had a baby. Then we had another. Then another (3 kids under the age of 4) and this dog had a hankering for diapers and if ever, absentmindedly, we left a stray diaper laying about and not secured inside the Diaper Genie, the dog would rip it to shreds and I’d be cleaning up microbeeds, urine soaked tissue paper, and …worse …poop. But wait …there’s more. Within a half-hour, I would be cleaning up dog throw-up, full of diapery goodness. I blamed it all on the horrible dog and convinced myself we had a defective, dumb, and useless beagle. I opined and that if wee were beagle owners 100 years ago when breeders were inventing the beagle, certainly this one would’ve run away or would not have been allowed to breed with the other beagles to create the perfect breed.

I hated the dog so much, I wondered if I’d be a good parent* (a good question after having a third child, right?).

I gave the dog to the Michigan Humane Society. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I felt a little guilty, but that dog was so cute and beautiful, I told myself, “oh, she’ll get adopted.” And that was that. I made a mistake (buying a dog). I fixed my mistake (got rid of the dog). I justified it that dogs are animals. No different than a raccoon or rat. A rodent we domesticated. And I told myself that people who like dogs and cats and willingly let an animal into their homes, and use hard earned money to feed and care for a damn dog …ha! Those people are idiots.

Again, not my fault. It was the dog’s fault! It was the breed (hound) and not me. I knew if I had a shepherd or retriever breed, well, everything would’ve been a whole lot different.

Remember those kids I told you about? Well, kids get older and kids want puppies. Kids see their friends and cousins get dogs and they beg for one of their own. My kids hit the ages of 10, 8, and 6 and my youngest got every book our library had on the subject of dogs, and we dog-sat other people’s dogs, and my wife started looking at shelters and looking at puppies (almost on a nightly basis) and it seemed, against my wishes, our household would have a dog, again. I made a big stink about it and put my foot down and blamed my lung condition and allergies and said, “we travel too much,” and every other excuse in the book.

I got sick of my kids and wife begging. I got sick of everyone telling me how mean and ridiculous I was. I remembered myself at 10 years old, in tears, begging my parents for a family dog and pointing out how each of them had dogs growing up, and then getting a dog. I remember my Dad falling in love with that dog and working with that dog and that my childhood dog was one of the best behaved dogs, ever. Key phrase …”my Dad working with that dog.”

So, in early 2014, I decided because I love my kids, and not because I like dogs (I was still going with “I hate dogs”), that I’d get a dog for the family. I’d get it from a shelter (so I’d feel good about myself). We got a dog. A mutt (though we’re told it’s a Ba-Shar – half Basset Hound, half Shar Pei). I had this theory that a “mutt”, like my childhood dog, would be better because they don’t have hunting bread into them). Of course, I’ve spent the past two years saying this dog sucks, too, because she’s part hound and hounds are impossible to train.

Truth is, I actually have no idea if any of that is true because I never really spent a minute training my dog.

I read a few dog training books, but “reading” and not “doing” accomplishes nothing (come to think of it, when I had my beagle, we took three obedience classes, and then followed through on none of it when we got home and the classes were done).

Then I just happened to pick up The Dog Whisperer written by the original dog whisperer, Paul Owens, and I’m ready to change my life, my family’s life, and above all, my dog’s life.

I’ll review it in a minute, but the entire book reminded me of my friend John B. who once bragged about training his goldfish. Why did he train a goldfish? Because he was a behavioral psychologist of sorts and just wanted to see if it could be done. Every day when he came home from work, he’d flip on the light and watch his goldfish swim towards the light and near the filter, and then he’d feed the fish. I forget the exact sequence or how long it took, but eventually, when the fish wanted food, it would swim and bash up against the filter in it’s tank.

Essentially, The Dog Whisperer teaches gentle, friendly, and fun lessons. The book emphasizes training must be done consistently, daily, and with love and energy. Each lesson is broken up into grade school, high school, college, and masters level. I got this book from the library, but will probably be buying a copy for myself, and then do each thing, daily and consistently, until I get the right behaviors from my dog.

As I understand it from this book, a dog can be taught almost anything, if it’s owner has patience and is consistent. Oh, and dogs need to be played with and treated like useful and important members of the family. Hmmm. So my ignoring the dog and pretending to hate it wasn’t the key to good behavior?

This book is good because it’s very technical and very specific on each behavior. It’s humane and is none of it involves punishment and yelling. It’s written and can be used like a how-to manual for each behavior. If my goal is to have my dog sit-stay when company comes, its gives a very specific road map to that behavior. If I want to teach my dog to go outside, without a leash, and “heel” or “come” when I ask, it shows me that, too. It shows how to teach tricks. Suggests proper rewards and training duration.

Other books I’ve read seem to be more about convincing people to love dogs, and then some generic how-to advice on teaching behavior, but this gets into each and every behavior you’d want. Dog-lovers and people who’ve trained multiple dogs would call this book overkill, but for a guy like me, who doesn’t love dogs and knows nothing about animal behavior and training …well, I needed this book.

The biggest thing, and if I take nothing else from this, was buying the Easy Walk harness and how, in a single walk, my dog walks perfectly. Like a show dog. I saw this before and thought the attachment at the mid-chest was odd, but holy crap …she walks like a show dog. It’s amazing.

If you know dog-training is about daily training, consistently, and with patience …and consistency …and daily work …forever …and if you already enjoy playing with your dog and give your dog tons of love and attention, this book is not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. But for me, it was eye-opening in that it didn’t just teach me how to train a dog, but trained me a little bit on how to be a dog-lover.

* Turns out caring for a dog is much different than caring for a child, so just because I suck at dog-ownership, I’m a fairly decent father and I love being a dad.

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