From Rescue Dog to Guide Dog - Part 4

Buddy Flunks Doggy Day Care

You would think that a dog who was picked up off the streets would have a certain swag and street smarts - you know; a confident air that says I’ve seen it all and I’m top dog around here! But that’s not Buddy. We were told by Brian from “Way of the Dog” that we needed to take Buddy to the Dog Parks about 60 times and help him get socialized.

Buddy is a BIG 90 pound fearsome looking dog who, when people see him coming down the sidewalk, grab little fluffy and run. Buddy looks like that enormous bald guy in the prison yard bench pressing 1000 pound weights with a swastika tattooed on his forehead,. NOBODY messes with that guy! So naturally what I expect when Buddy steps foot into the Dog Park is the sea of K9s parting like he was a four footed Moses.

Wrong! A group of runt dogs greeted Buddy at the gate and Buddy turned tail and ran. It was embarrassing. So we took Buddy to the doggy day care center where they have a meticulous way of socializing dogs by introducing them into the pack. Buddy just about leaped out of his skin when those fifty sets of noses poked and prodded him of like he was a kielbasa at an encased meat convention. The sweet young manager of the facility politely turned to us and said; “I guess Buddy doesn’t like the environment”. In other words get your insecure piece of dog fur out of here. My dog flunked Doggy Day Care!

Me:        Buddy flunked Doggy Day Care

Brian:    So take him to the Dog Parks

Me:        You don’t understand, he’s like the nerd that all the bullies pick on and steal his lunch money

Brian:    Then you need to protect him

Me:        Ugh?

Brian:    Yeah, you need to be the pack leader that comes to his rescue so that he feels safe enough to interact with the other dogs

Me:        Me a pack leader? How do I do that?

Brian:    If you see another dog getting aggressive step in a give them a whack with the leash in your hand.

Me:        Won’t the owners mind?

Brian:    If they’re not paying attention to their dogs then they're idiots … so whack their dog. (Brian doesn’t mess around when it comes to dog training)

Brian explained that Dogs get aggressive when they are insecure so if we wanted to keep Buddy from getting into some bad habits (like ripping the throat out of the neighbor’s dog) then we need to make sure he knows he’s got back up. Kind of like Starsky and Hutch. (Note here – this is a reference to very old TV buddy cop drama) One of them won't go blasting into the drug dealers den unless he knows he's got the other one watching his back.

So once again, to help Buddy become the Guide Dog he was meant to be, we need to step up and learn something new; like how to become his bodyguard. Funny – I thought it was going to be the other way around. But somehow I think if we can pull this off he may just be that dog I want at my side when I encounter a scary person in a dark alley. Because we’ve got each other’s backs.

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From Rescue Dog to Guide Dog: Part 3

Learning the Language of Buddy

The first thing we noticed about Brian at “Way of the Dog” was that he was strangely unconcerned about training Buddy. We had brought to him a 90 pound, out of control, dog so that he could learn obedience (or at least not destroy our home) and Brian tells us obedience training is highly over rated. So I gave him a skeptical look and said;

Me: “At least I would like him to come when I call”.

Brian: “He doesn’t come?”

Me: “He runs the other way”

Brian: “That’s because he’s smart, and frankly there’s nothing good that is going to happen when you call him”

Me: (this time I gave him by cynical look) Ugh?

While we were talking, Buddy is engaged in playing with a Black Lab in the yard and has absolutely no interest in this adult conversation. Brian (still sitting) turns to Buddy, gives him a whistle and a shout and Buddy runs obediently to Brian. He gives Buddy a good ruff petting and then pushes him away. Buddy goes back to playing with the other dog and I sit there wondering what just happened.

Brian explains that Buddy doesn’t want to come because whenever I call him it’s because I want him to do something he doesn’t want to do – so naturally he’s going to run the other way. It would be like if the dentist called me up and asked me to visit him at his office … I’m not going because I know it’s going to hurt! (Sorry for all you painless dentists out there) I need to create a new expectation with Buddy that when I call it means PARTY TIME! And even if I occasionally call him because … let’s say a Mack Truck is about to flatten him in the street, he won’t associate those few unpleasant times because ordinarily when I call him it means ...

Break out your dancing shoes 'cause we’re going to have fun, fun, fun!

I guess this is what Brian means by calling his training, “Way of the Dog”. We need to think like a dog so that we’re communicating with him in his language rather than making him try to understand our language. After all we’re the intelligent ones … right?

So in Brian’s training there is a hierarchy of needs that must be met in order for us to get the “perfect” dog.

  1. Basic needs
  2. Socialization with other dogs
  3. Relationship with owners
  4. Communication: Speaking the language of the dog
  5. Training: Having the dog do what you ask him to do

During Buddy’s Adventure we’re going to walk through these steps. Did I say walk? No, we’re going to stumble through these steps because I am finding that dog language is more difficult than people language - and I totally bombed French class. (The teacher said I spoke French like Jacques Clouseau of Pink Panther fame. Here’s a classic example; and no, our dog does not bite!

Next week: Buddy is taught to socialize

or

Buddy learns to post on Doggie Face Book

Resuce Dog to Guide Dog: Part 2

Buddy Meets “Way of the Dog”

For those who are just joining us on this journey with Buddy  he is our 90 plus pound bundle of K9 energy who was rescued from wondering the streets of Southern California and chosen by Cheri to become her service dog.

Buddy has many of the qualities to become a great service dog. These are:

Intelligence

Willing to please

Endurance

Size

Lack of aggression

But he is like a raw gemstone that needs to be cut and polished to show off its innate beauty. And just like people’s strengths come with corresponding weaknesses so Buddy’s attributes had some rough edges.

Intelligence: Because Buddy is highly intelligent he is naturally looking for ways to get what he wants and needs from us, often in inconvenient ways. He also gets bored easily and LOOK OUT WHEN A ROTTIE/SHEPHERD GETS BORED!

Willing to please: Buddy is highly social and constantly wants our attention. This can become very, very trying. Ever had a 90 pound dog who all he wants to do is sit on you?

Endurance: Buddy has seemingly boundless energy which is great for our 10 mile hikes. The downside is if he doesn’t get the exercise he needs he becomes a 90 pounds bullet speeding through the house knocking over anything or anyone in his path.  Or he becomes JAWS and chews whatever he can get a hold of.

Size: Well that speaks for its self – great for feeling safe walking down the street but hard to control when he gets a full head of steam.

Lack of aggression: Buddy is a scared-e-cat. Yes, for all his bad ass dog looks he’d rather run than fight. This is a problem when we’re on walks and he sees something that he thinks is dangerous (like a blowing leaf or kids playing soccer)

Let’s face it we’re over our heads in the dog training department. Although Cheri worked with Clifton, a highly trained Guide Dog, for over two years the training that got him to that place was done long before she and Clifton became partners. We don’t know the first thing about how to make Buddy into a Service Dog. So we began our search for the right trainer.

Our first encounter was with a delightful lady who came to our house for a couple of hours. She soon had Buddy sitting and staying and other tricks. We were very impressed. But when she left all the issues that made living with Buddy so hard were still there. Buddy is so intelligent that he can learn just about any trick in minutes but what we need is a way to relate to him that goes far beyond treats and puts Cheri in the position of innate authority. In other words, we need to become the pack leader and our authority needed to be there with or without treats in our hands.

That brought us to Brian Lee and “Way of the Dog”.(see the link below for more information) Brian is a no-nonsense dog trainer who tells it like it is. Our first meeting with Brian went something like this.

Us: We can’t seem to control Buddy. Everything we do just gets him more riled up.

Brian: (looking at Buddy and then looking at us) That’s because Buddy owns you and is basically having a party at your expense. He’s the ultimate “party animal” taking belly shots off you.

If you know me you know I had to have this explained since I’m not acquainted with barroom behavior. What he meant was Buddy was in control and having a great time. We were the miserable dutiful servants cleaning up after his messes.

Brian explained that until we understood Buddy’s mentality and he saw us as his leaders we were never going to have the dog we wanted.

So we went to a dog trainer to get trained! Now my counselor “Spidey Sense” was alerted. Maybe this is not all about Buddy – Maybe we’ve got to go deeper in who we are if we are ever going to help Buddy experience his full potential. What we’re heading into is not just a course in dog training but in revealing the weaknesses in our own personality. Dogs like Buddy are acutely sensitive to us and they know when we’re authentic and when we’re putting on a show. In a lot of ways training Buddy will be like putting a mirror up to myself and seeing who I truly am. He is the ultimate litmus test to see if I can become the leader he needs me to be which will have an impact on every other area of my life.

Stay tuned for more of “Buddy’s (and our) Story”

Rescue Dog to Guide Dog: Part 1

The story of Buddy's amazing Journey

When I first met my wife, Cheri, I would not have known she had  a serious vision impairment if it weren't for the big yellow dog (AKA Clifton) proudly sitting at her side wearing his uniform (guiding harness). As Cheri explains it , Clifton was her confidence rolled up in a fur ball.  Although Cheri was extremely independent Clifton helped her navigate through life's obstacles. I too quickly fell in love with him but sadly just a few years later Clifton fell ill and was forced to retire. Losing Clifton was a big blow to Cheri as he was not only her friend, companion, and often entertainment but she had become reliant on him for most of her mobility.  After losing Clifton we came to the sad realization it would be at least a year (if then) before she would be paired with a new partner who would meet her rigorous demands of ten mile hikes and insanely fast walking.  To give you an idea of why the process is so long many guide dogs are bread in a test tube and genetically engineered to have all the characteristics of a perfect service dog. They are then groomed for two years to exact standards of obedience and deportment and taught how to perform flawlessly in most any situation. Once a dog is matched with its new partner that team spends a month at the training school working from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM to ensure that they become a perfect unit.  Net cost for a fully trained guide dog - $65,000.

So we decided to think “outside the box” - way outside the box. 

Meanwhile Cheri started working on a "Get Healthy - Adopt a Pet" project for our business, Total Wellness Resource Center.  The idea was to cross market with a local rescue, “Whiskers and Tails " in Palos Verdes, CA and give back to the community.  I can only describe this project as, "putting a kid in a candy store". in fact, I am not sure 24 hours passed before Cheri saw a photo of Buddy on the rescue's website and it was love at first sight. 

Then along came Buddy.

In Cheri's mind Buddy had exactly what it would take to be her next partner which included size, personality, temperament and energy level. But he was a street wondering, untrained rescue dog - not a highly trained service dog.  If you know Cheri then you know there was no point arguing - with in 24 hours I had a new 90 lb. roommate.  Don't get me wrong, Buddy is a beautiful dog (mix of Rottweiler and "we think"! Shepard)  but he had untamed boundless energy and had been living on the streets fending for himself for - nobody knows how long; with absolutely no training. 

So with all that said, we want to invite you on this journey with us.  The journey of Buddy's transformation. We have had him for about five weeks and the training has begun. We have seen signs of brilliance and times when we’ve honestly wondered what we got ourselves into. But we can see that he has a good heart and takes great joy in pleasing us. There are millennia of man/dog interaction bread into Buddy’s DNA so that he experiences his greatest fulfillment when he is working seamlessly as our helper. Our job is to help him become what he was created to become. (If that sounds familiar it’s also the vision of Total Wellness Resource Center but we focus on humans)

This time of training for both Buddy and us will be the content for our up and coming "Selfless Saturday" Blogs. Please follow along with us as we learn more about Buddy’s world and how he begins to learn how to be Cheri's new "confidence in a fur ball" Guide Dog.