living with a dog outside of neutral – part 4

moving forward –

When you have a dog that is wanting to learn, it makes training fun. It doesn’t necessarily imply that behaviors will come easily, sometimes yes for sure, but at least you have a partner that will hang in there with you and go for the ride. You can make some minor mistakes and all will be forgiven as long as you’re moving forward and things stay interesting and consistent for the most part. This shows willingness and/or biddability.Truly fun training partner!

When you have a dog that finds no value in the human trick called training, and basically in all gestures tells you, make it worth my while and I’ll consider it, you need skills, patience, and knowledge. If you don’t already have this skill set, then you need a willingness to get it.

more info –

I now had a mission, to make things better and more consistent. I would no longer take Fran with me to go see a trainer or to a group training class unless I was sure we were going to learn something valuable and that it would be enjoyable and safe for the both of us.

Phone and e-mail consultations became my initial plan. And then I jumped right into seminars, workshops and clinics.

My first was to Lyn in Utah. We talked several times over a one year period. He was my introduction to working dogs years ago, and I trusted him. He helped me work through some of my questions and concerns, and we came up with some management strategies as well as more appropriate work for Fran. Awesome advice all the way around.

My second was to Bud Houston. I didn’t know him personally, but I was getting to know of him through the agility world. With all of his knowledge and hands on work, surely he could help me with motivation?! I had no hopes of Fran ever doing agility for competition, but for training and relationship I think it had value. I cold e-mailed him, told him a bit of my story with Fran and he wrote back with a lovely e-mail including some great suggestions with agility backyard games. In signing he said, “don’t give up, your dog deserves your efforts”. With that simple phrase he catapulted me forward. FINALLY someone who I didn’t even know gave me encouragement instead of condemnation. It was empowering to say the least.

My next few calls were to people that were listed as trainers in the area. All but one of them told me of 1001 ways they could shock, isolate, pinch, choke, and humiliate my dog into submission. The one trainer who didn’t say any of that gave me some hope, so I followed through and met with her. While I didn’t learn anything new from her, she was kind and open to us attending some privates and well as a class just for reactive dogs. She was willing to let me be part of a community again, but with management and safety first and foremost. I picked her brain in regards to books, videos, conferences, clinics, workshops and more. I was on this huge learning curve and wanted more.

I attended conferences and seminars on behavior, training and veterinary science topics from coast to coast. The world was starting to open up.

My final call during those early years was to Dr. Patricia McConnell. I was active in the agility club with my dog Ocean and proposed the idea of hosting a big behavioral seminar. I had just finished reading her booklets, and much of what she was suggesting for a dog that behaved like Fran was honest, practical, and kind. I wanted to meet her. So I called, left a message and one night when I was eating dinner with my kids she called me back. It was like talking to a close friend. For someone with her fame and talent to be so tangible was refreshing and exciting. I’ll admit, I was a bit star struck too. I explained my story, what I was doing, why I wanted her to come, and she said , yes! I spent the better part of a year and half preparing, advertising, and getting the club involved. It was a huge success all the way around. In parting she told me that if I really wanted to do something with all of the knowledge I was gaining, get certified as a trainer and become a professional. I gained a friend that day and also a new direction forward.

on the home front –

Fran and I were getting along better. There was more consistency, more structure, and a more realistic plan for engaging with her. She would only go into her early Fran behaviors when she was stressed, so I learned how to minimize stress and to choose her environments carefully.

But there was still something that was nagging me, I still couldn’t put my finger on it. And there was something happening health wise too.

On a whim I called the shelter where she came from. It was the typical over worked, under funded, under staffed, and overwhelmed with dogs shelter scenario. They never kept notes on her when she was there. One kennel Tech that remembered us overheard the conversation and was kind enough to call us back. He remembered Fran well. He had the memory of her coming in as a feral dog. She was intact and possibly pregnant when she came in. Cautious, walked on tip toes, didn’t eat well. She got along with all of the dogs she was kenneled with, but older female dogs disliked her greatly. Holy crap! Here is someone who saw what I had seen during the early months/years with her, to the T. I hadn’t imagined anything.

No more than a month later when we were in PetSmart socializing and shopping, one of the employees recognized Fran. Where did I get her, how long had I had her? He proceeded to tell me that she was a feral dog that was found with her brother up in the Bridger Mountains. They were living in a culvert under a trail and some back country skier friends of his found the pair.

I had heard the word feral twice in a months period of time. I knew the word and the rough definition, but I didn’t know exactly how it was applied, and/or the implications with a dog that was living in my home.

So I went on line and started contacting trainers around the country that came up when I entered the word pheral, feral, farol, phairol. A couple wrote back, but I am pretty sure most thought they were being ding dong ditched on some level. What a wacky e-mail that would have been to receive.

I didn’t learn anything new from them, and there wasn’t a great deal of information to pull from. But I did come across a book that helped a great deal, Ray Coppingers Dogs: a New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution. He classified feral dogs into several categories and what I learned was that Fran was my second feral dog. My first would have been classified as a village dog, one that lived in and amongst people but belonged to the streets. Fran was a domestic dog that had been raised in the wild, she had gone feral. hmmmm

Did this new piece of information change my new plan? Not really. But what it did do was make me more accountable as her owner, handler and team mate. I now had the knowledge that she was being asked to live and function in a world that she had never been prepared for. It was up to me to create a safe, kind, and creative environment.

I also decided to get a DNA test done a few years later, curiosity really. She is a true mix breed. Here parents were mix breed to mix breed, her grandparents the same. That’s why she came up as NO DOG in those categories. There is a possibility that one of her great grandparents was part Samoyed, which would give her 12.5% possibility of having some of that in her genetic line. I always guessed that she had Heeler and some type of Northern breed in her. They offered to do a hybrid test on her. It isn’t something I really wanted to know, I was satisfied with what I had, so I politely declined.

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