“Thank you, Dave for giving me the dog I always wanted.” That’s what I wrote to Dave Ranieri two nights ago. Here’s Jake’s story:
We got him from a rescue in June 2006 when we lived in Los Angeles. We thought he was about a year old. All we knew was that he had been abandoned and was in a shelter. He was about to be destroyed. He was in a cage barking non-stop when the shelter, seeing that he was a pure bred, called the local German Shepherd Rescue. As the GS Rescue people approached him, they spoke softly, moved slowly and offered a flat palm. He stopped barking, wagged his tail and licked the hand. That story tells a lot.
In LA we had a large house and a big yard. At first he was skittish but settled down quickly. He is the best cuddler and kisser you have ever met. He quickly endeared us to him. We discovered that he likes to watch TV with us, he sleeps curled up next to us and, when we took him for hikes in the Santa Monica mountains, sometimes he would walk by my side with his head pressed up against my left knee.
What a doll but he had a few issues. He was head shy when my husband made any sudden move, and he would bark at him sometimes and not let him approach me. Outside, when walking him on a leash, he pulled so hard as to knock me over and when he saw other dogs, he would bark and pull desperately.
The Nazi Dog Trainer
For these behaviors we hired a trainer who was highly recommended to us and was to supposed to specialize in German Shepherds. $650 later, I had a Gentle-Leader nose harness that bloodied his nose. I also received pages of instructions on what I needed to do. During the training sessions she would yell at me to remember all the steps. I was a big disappointment for her, I’m sure!
Then in March 2007 we moved to a small city apartment in Boston. I hired a dog walking service for him. They would come everyday and take him for day hikes. At first every thing seemed fine, they liked him and he loved them. Then I started to hear complaints. They said my dog was “aggressive” with other dogs; they said he would “pick on” another dog. This was upsetting since I had never seen any of these behaviors.
Things Got Worse
On a sunny Saturday I took him to the park in Newton. He was off leash enjoying himself. I was watching him and feeling the feeling only another dog owner knows: bliss, contentment and joy all wrapped up together when you see your animal run abandon himself and run free. Then it happened. He and a Labrador were chasing and having fun until the Lab stopped running and lay down. Jake started barking at him to get up to go again. What it looked like from the other owner’s point of view was a big German Shepherd barking at his dog. He interpreted this as aggression. I knew it wasn’t but I took Jake away anyway. We got half way across the park when the Lab started to run again, so Jake chased him. The Lab went back and laid down next to his owner, and Jake did what he did – run over to him and bark until the dog got up to run again. When I called to Jake to come back he did not listen; he just kept on barking at the Lab for another run. By the time I walked back to the Lab and his owner, the owner was furious with me. “How could I bring such an aggressive dog to a dog park?” He cursed at me and told me I was “the problem” and so was my dog.
I felt awful. I couldn’t shake the bad feeling. I had a sense that my dog just wanted to play and having no other vocabulary but a bark did just that.
Even if I didn’t believe Jake was aggressive still he wouldn’t come when called in the dog parks and he totally ignored my commands. I had to chase him down to get a leash back on him to come home. And he would pull me so hard to get into the park I had to wrap my self around a tree not to fall.
Then last July he started something new. The elevator door opened and he barked and lounged at a lady entering. He tore her purse. It cost me $50 and a sincere apology.
Another day I was coming home when I saw the dog walker (Who must have been about 12; I couldn’t believe the people the agency hired!) with my two dogs on the street corner. Everything looked fine until they reached the very corner of the building and a man was walking in the other direction. That fast it happened. Jake barked and lounged at the guy. The man started screaming that the dog bit him. People started gathering around the scene. The man lifted his pants to show me the bite. I couldn’t see anything. His pants were not torn but he continued to scream and curse me in the street, more people gathered. The dog did not bite but it was an ugly scene. The man tried to follow me into the building and I had to maneuver my way out.
The Psychologist Dog Trainer
I knew I needed to get control of my lovable Jake. He was becoming unreliable. The dog walkers were complaining about him and they refused to take him on the hikes with other dogs. They recommended another trainer who helped quite a bit. She has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and her methods are based on classical and operant conditioning. It did help some but again it was me who got the training not the dog. I learned how to avoid people on the street, how to distract him with treats and how to get him to carry a ball in his mouth when walking.
By December Jake’s barking and lounging was getting so bad I knew it was a matter of time before he bit someone and holding him tighter on the leash resulted in him biting me out of confusion. One day in late December I was walking past the Boston animal shelter and I thought, “I need to talk to these people”. I was now in the position of those before me who had given up on Jake. I called and had several conversations with a veterinarian. She recommended a Veterinarian Behaviorist. She told me they had drugs and behaviors that could help. This could not be the answer I thought. I would have had to take Jake to the vet and come home with a bunch of pills and more pages of instructions on dog training. Let’s face it; I already had all the books. I read them, tried to practice their methods but nothing worked. Jake and I needed something else. I had the sense he needed something …..more.
Enter Trouwe Hond
I was desperate when I found Dave Ranieri’s website. I thought, “Now if that guy can train German Shepherds to that level, then surely he could train Jake!”
Here is part of the message I sent Dave:
He is a normal German Shepherd with good instincts, in fact some of the people he reacts to are indeed creepy. We live in Boston next to the projects (there were a couple of murders there last June). We also live across from the Boston Medical Center with its methadone clinic clientele. Some of the people who inhabit one of parks we use are drunk, on drugs, sleeping in the park, etc. The police never bother us even when the dog is off leash; I think they like him. I don’t want to depress his natural reactions I just need to get better control of him. Can you help me?
We enrolled Jake in Dave's 2 week In kennel Training Program. Two weeks with Dave and when we got Jake back, he was just as lovable as ever but a breeze to handle. I can now walk him on and off leash with confidence in any environment. Dave's Obedience work has made him so reliable in the highest levels of distraction. He still runs and plays but he comes back when called – no hesitation. He is truly the dog I always wanted! He is a doll! We are now working Jake in personal protection training which has built confidence both in Jake and in us as well. The protection training has not changed his loving personality one bit but has helped us to control, and understand his aggressive side in a calmer, clearer manner.
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