Jean Dalpe and Blade
This beautiful dog is named Blade, a Thai Ridgeback Dog, or TRD as they are also known. Native to Southeast Asia in an area that includes Thailand, the breed developed in relative isolation. The breed has bred true, without any crossbreeding in large part due to its cultural importance and traditions of the region’s inhabitants. As a result the breed’s physical and temperamental characteristics have developed through the process of natural selection and not from selective breeding. The breed has been described in archeological documents that date back 360 years. A TRD would guard his master’s home, accompany him on the hunt, and escort his cart. The TRD is a working dog, loyal to his master and pack.
Blade arrived from Thailand as a 4-month-old puppy in January 2009. Although he was scared and confused from his journey, he adapted to the frigid and snowy New England weather rather quickly. During the first few months Blade easily learned the basic commands, and other dog owners in the neighborhood marveled at his obedience on walks. I was proud of what I had accomplished in a short time, as Blade is the first dog I had ever owned. The hours of watching the Dog Whisperer had been worth it!
The honeymoon ended in April when Blade bit another dog owner in puppy class. This was followed by several other encounters where he nipped at both my parents in their home and two friends who were guests in mine. I was mortified that he had exhibited this behavior, and knew that it needed correction and fast. Despite all of my work with him, I realized he did not respect me as pack leader. I had gone as far as I could go with him using the tools I had learned from my reading and by watching Cesar Milan in action. I needed a professional.
Acting on several recommendations from other dog owners, I made appointments with two trainers. Although one had great credentials, I was concerned that the training methods based exclusively on positive reinforcement may be ineffective with this strong breed of dog. The second had experience with training police dogs, and I was hopeful he would be able to help. Fate intervened when I met one of Dave’s clients on a neighborhood walk. His companion was a very well behaved German Shepherd. We started chatting and I told him about Blade’s behavior. He suggested that I explore Dave’s website. He told me about Dave’s experience with strong breeds and that he and his dog had been working with Dave for about 8 years.
I composed an email to Dave and received a prompt reply. He had a cancellation the following day and he was able to meet us for an evaluation. Within 15 minutes of the evaluation, I knew Dave was the trainer for us. He impressed me as confident and very knowledgeable about several methods of training. He indicated that every dog, no matter the breed, has individual needs and that no singular training method may be appropriate for that particular dog. It was not surprising to learn that Dave had never encountered a TRD, as the breed is relatively new to this country. He stressed the need for Blade to be out of my possession for a period of time in order to avoid future behavioral difficulties. As he does with every dog, he wanted “to pick the lock” on Blade.
Unfortunately Dave could not accommodate us for training for another 6 weeks. During that period time, I had let up on my strong corrections at Dave’s suggestion, in order to see if my training method had contributed to Blade’s skittishness. Blade took advantage of this and proceeded to assert his place as pack leader. He became indifferent to my commands and began to terrorize my two cats. One cat went completely psycho and began to urinate on everything in sight. You name it: bed, couch, laundry, towels, and rugs. He upped the ante by pissing on by kitchen counter and stove. What broke the camel’s back was when he urinated in the Kitchen Aid mixer. I was rapidly losing the tenuous grip I had on my sanity when the day arrived to take Blade to Trouwe Hond K-9.
I had originally signed on for a two-week training package. However, it took Blade about 3-4 days to take food from Dave’s hand. It took that time for Blade to trust Dave enough to forge a bond from which training could begin and be effective. Dave suggested that Blade stay with him for 3 weeks. I was more than happy to oblige, as I had not had any time away from Blade since January, and I needed the break. Dave kept me in the loop at all times by sending pictures of Blade daily and working with me at the training site and by telephone consultation. It was just as much about training ME as it was training Blade!
Given Blade’s particular set of issues, Dave suggested that I have a gathering in my home where he could train Blade in the presence of other people on Blade’s own turf. Since I was asking friends to join me in this training exercise, I figured I had better provide food and drink, so I made it into a graduation party for Blade. Dave came over and worked with Blade, greeting guests at the door when they arrived and having guests take the leash to walk with Blade. I couldn’t believe that Blade actually allowed other people to pet him!
The party was a success, but during the week leading up to the party, Blade began to challenge my position as pack leader by rejecting his crate and acting out whenever he was placed in it. This took the form of throwing himself against the crate, whining loudly, defecating in the crate (sometimes multiple times daily), and escaping the crate by chewing a hole in the plastic. This went on for 5-6 weeks. During that time I was desperate; what had happened to all that training?
Dave was very patient with me despite my endless pleas for help. He was supportive but firm when he stated “Blade will not respect you through me. You need to make it happen.” He reassured me that I had the skills to indeed make it happen. But Blade was one formidable opponent. I was firm and persistent, but he kept on challenging. I knew that if I could not gain the title of pack leader, no dog owner would be able to either. But as long as there was a glimmer of hope that I could accomplish it, I was willing to take Blade on. I had given myself a deadline, after which I would have to let him go. Dog ownership was supposed to be fun, right? This was not fun. It was hard work and responsibility without any of the rewards. But I had invested so much time, money and effort into Blade. And I don’t like to give up.
Then it happened. The challenging behavior stopped. Blade had finally surrendered to my authority. The craziness in the crate was now a thing of the past. I was amazed that I could command him to go to his crate from one room in the house and he would reluctantly walk to it, but get to his crate he did! That was a huge turning point in my relationship with Blade. I could now begin to enjoy dog ownership, and reap some of the rewards of my investment in him. Blade had stepped up to the plate, just as I had.
Dave recently had the opportunity to train Blade again while I took a much-needed vacation. Dave commented that Blade is a different dog. Blade quickly responded to Dave’s leadership and was able to engage in play, which he had not been willing to do during his initial training.
Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, says that “you don’t always get the dog you want, but you get the dog you need.” Whatever the lesson I am to learn from this experience, I have Dave to thank for guiding and supporting me through it. Dave did not give up on us, even when it looked like I was about to cave. He taught me how to be the pack leader of this very independent and dominant dog. The turning point for me was when Dave said that Blade would not give me respect through him, but I had to make it happen for myself.
Dave said to me that my getting Blade was like I had bought a Porsche for my very first car, and now had to learn to drive it. It’s not all about the dog. It is equally about the handler, or even more so. A dog will continue to behave appropriately long after he returns from training so long as the owner continues to assert leadership. Dog training is just the beginning of a process. It’s up to us as dog owners to be the pack leader that our dogs’ expect us to be.
I look forward to a long working relationship with Dave and Trouwe Hond K-9. Blade is just entering his adolescence, and I’m sure there will me more challenges ahead. But I feel very confident that whatever the challenges, Dave will be there to help us navigate through it.
Thank You for all your hard work,
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