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Do Some Dogs Need a Heavier Hand?
It never fails—someone always says it. In an recent online discussion about a trainer known for using less-than-gentle methods, someone made a comment that sounded a lot like this: “Positive training is fine for smaller dogs and puppies, and maybe even some adults, but there are some dogs that need a heavier hand.” Really? Because that sounds an awful lot like justification for jerking, yanking, shocking, and other things done to dogs in the name of training.
I’ve heard the excuse for heavy-handedness put like this: “They’re red zone dogs” (somehow that term always makes me visualize dogs with red, flashing sirens over their heads) or something similar. The term is meant to indicate dogs who are severely aggressive, and often the trainer has been brought in as last-ditch effort before the dog is euthanized. In my years of working in canine training and behavior, I’ve worked with many of…
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Getting rid of dogs.
I had a cat named Victor who did not like the fact that we moved houses a lot after my parents divorce. We lived in two rental homes after that, and in both houses he peed everywhere. Because both houses were all carpet, we could not do much to stop it. So in both houses, we paid several thousand dollars to have the carpets replaced when we moved out, because he peed on them so much. It was usually in closets or corners. After my mom got remarried, we moved into my step-dad’s house, which was all tile except for the bedroom. So we spent a few a hundred dollars buying metal gates to put up in the house to keep him out of the carpeted areas.
When we rushed him to the vet one morning because he was so sick that he could not even walk(at only 7 years old), we did everything we possibly could to save him. Unfortunately, he had a seizure and passed away. He’s buried under one of our oak trees. We spent many thousands of dollars on this cat, despite all the trouble he caused. Why? Because we loved him. He was our pet, and when we got him we made a commitment to take care of him.
My personal dog Nelly cannot be around people, and she cannot be around any dogs besides foster dogs. Until she really outgrew the puppy state – which, with Border Collies, is around 4 years old – she drove me nuts. I have dealt with some serious behavior issues, and still do(she is my problem child!), that even I(someone who has fostered more than 20 dogs and worked with multiple dog trainers) could not fix…but never once did getting rid of her cross my mind. Because the day that I got her, I made a commitment to take care of her for the rest of her life.
You learn to love them despite their flaws.
But some people run into a few problems with their pets, often times problems that are very fixable, and they quickly jump to the conclusion that they should just dump their pets on someone else. Get rid of them like they’re some kind of disposable object. And that is where dogs like my current foster, Tweed, come from.
The people only had him for FOUR months before getting rid of him! And here he is after almost 3 months in rescue(and even longer in a shelter before I pulled him from there) still searching for a home. Because he’s scared of people and scared of being left alone, nobody wants him. His owners, the only people in the world that were supposed to love this dog, could not see past his problems.
It makes me so angry when people treat pets like they are disposable. They encounter some difficulties and figure the best thing to do is just get rid of the animal that they made a life-long commitment to. Having animals is not easy, they are not perfect. And anyone who expects them to be, or is not willing to put in the work to fix problems that arise, should not be owning pets.
How My Dog Saved My Life
Some of my earliest memories are horrible. As a kid, before my parents divorced, I remember hiding under my desk or behind my door when my father would yell and scream at my mom. Or I would play with my toys, pretending I couldn’t hear it. I remember the crack on the garage ceiling from him slamming the door so often. I remember crawling into bed with my crying mother, offering her my blanket, after my father stormed out of the house.
When you’re just a little girl, you don’t think much of it. So daddy gets mad over the smallest things, so what? So he yells and screams all the time, don’t they all?
And then you get older, and you make friends, and you meet their parents. And you notice that their parents don’t do that. Your friends tell you that their parents are nice. You didn’t realize some fathers don’t yell all the time. Your parents divorce.
And you get even older. You learn that it’s called “verbal/emotional abuse”
And then you want out. You want it to stop, you want to live a normal life. You want to be the kid that isn’t afraid to go home, because you don’t want to be yelled at. You don’t want to live every day in fear of the next time you have to see him, because you know there’s a good chance he’s going to get mad over something. What will happen next time?
But it doesn’t matter what you want, because the courts think they know best. And that means, you will be spending time with him, no matter what. It’s the law.
You fall into a deep depression. “You can choose where to live when you’re 18 years old.” Who wants to live that way for so many more years? I didn’t. I wanted out, but there was no way out. And when I threatened to run away if they made me go there again, they just called the police to my house and forced me to go. They told my mom that if I continued to act out like this, they could just put me in a mental institution. That would be sure to stop me from rebelling.
That was about the point I started to seriously contemplate suicide. Nobody, not even the police, cared enough to help me. I had friends, but I’d never felt more alone. It would be so easy. They’d be sorry when I was gone.
But then everything changed. This dog came into my life, and I fell in love with her. She was not a perfect dog, but she was the perfect dog for me. I had never loved anything as much as I loved her, and all of the sudden I found a reason to keep fighting. I wasn’t going to kill myself – how could I? I could never leave behind this beautiful, amazing creature!
So we waited for three very long years, until I turned 18. I could make my own decisions, I could decide who to live with. And I did just that.
Now, whenever things get hard, when my world starts to fall apart, I turn and I look at this beautiful face. And I know we can make it through. I know that together, we can survive anything.
How it all Started
I was 15 years old when I fostered my first dog.
I wanted a dog so bad, but my mom was against the idea – she didn’t really like dogs. It took a while, but I finally convinced her to let me try fostering a dog. We could take a dog into our home, and if it didn’t work out, fine. No problem. We went to the local SPCA, did the new foster parent orientation, and walked through the sick bay. Saw the dogs available for fostering at that time. After we left the sick bay, the lady asked if we wanted to take home a foster dog that day. I gave my mom my best “pretty please” face, and she said yes. I asked the lady to please just bring out the biggest dog they had, as I prefer larger dogs. After a couple minutes, she came out with a brown and white Border Collie named Nelly. I remembered seeing her when we walked through – she had been quietly standing up against the bars of the kennel, grabbing the railing with her claws, and was probably the only dog that wasn’t barking.
Needless to say, I fell head over heels in love with her. As did my mom. She agreed to let me keep her, and the journey began…I fostered two more dogs for the SPCA – those times, it was with the intent of just fostering, not adopting. After that, I started to (and still do) work with Border Collie Rescue. Including Nelly, I have fostered 22 dogs. Many of my dogs have had behavior issues, which has made me learn a lot in the way of dog training and behavior. It can be difficult and sometimes frustrating to work with and train “problem” dogs, but it’s always worth it in the end.
Of course, dogs need pictures, right? Good pictures are a big part of attracting potential adopters. I started using my mom’s Nikon D50, and photography soon turned into a hobby(or should I say obsession?) My mom eventually bought a new, simple camera for herself, because I was constantly using hers. She never used it that much, anyways. It usually just sat on a shelf somewhere. I have only really been into photography since September of 2012 – go easy on me! I mainly photograph rescue dogs – my foster dogs, and dogs that are with other foster parents for the rescue I work with – but I am starting to branch out.
A quote, author unknown, “When people say ‘I couldn’t foster because it would be too hard to give a dog up’ We say, ‘How can it be harder than knowing a dog died because nobody stepped up to foster it?’ And that is why we do it time and time again.”