Help you and your dog.
People ask me if there is a trick to dog training and the answer is yes – you. Conflicting communication is the number one reason why humans and dogs struggle so much. Each side is saying something but neither side is receiving and responding appropriately. If you learn how to handle a dog properly, the training process will be successful.
My motto: Don’t talk – communicate. Learn how to speak dog and you’ll make it far easier for your dog to understand human. The first step you need to learn is to not speak vocally but instead use body language. It’s hard, I’ll admit, we humans are a chatty bunch but the talking does no good at all. Conversational talk is busy and often over-stimulated. The dog feeds off that and the next thing you know, you’re both struggling. Stop talking, relax. Communicate. When you do talk, let it be a command for the purpose of educating and remember to praise your dog while working together.
See that cute doggie in the photos? That’s my Chico. He used to be one of my clients when I ran a dog walking service in Vancouver. He was one wound-up little dude; not trained properly and very aggressive. His owner loved him madly but didn’t understand about leadership and boundaries. In Chico’s mind, Chico was in charge of everything; his owners actions told him he was in charge of everything and he took it seriously.
Chico was adopted as an abused and abandoned pup from the pound and in the seven years following, Chico and his owner did everything and went everywhere together. They were almost never apart. One day the owner asked me to board Chico so he could go on a holiday. While on holiday the owner died of a heart attack. No way to explain that to Chico. All Chico knew was, for the first time in those seven years, his master walked out the door without him and never came back.
Chico was distraught, beside himself, frantic. He began to self-mutilate, stripping a good three inches of flesh and fur off his back and chewing on his paws. He shredded five feet of carpeting in the front hallway of my home. He barked ALL the time, he howled, he cried, he moaned, jumped and hyper-ventilated. In the car he would bark and honk the horn if I was elsewhere. It wasn’t good. And the truth is; anxious behavior was his standard state.
He had never been taught how to relax. A friend of Chico’s owner said Chico had never napped, was always awake and on guard. I knew what she was talking about. At every moment of the day, every single moment, Chico’s eyes were on me. I would wake up at three in the morning to see Chico staring at me, his eyes wide, dark and glassy. Poor guy, he was exhausted from all the stress but unable to sleep. Yes, of course he slept, but lightly, bolting upright at the slightest activity.
It proved to be a turning point for me. My name is Alix Balfour and I’m a dog trainer. As a child I grew up in a farming community working with livestock as well as having family pets. I spent a summer as a veterinarian’s assistant and have taken a pet first aid seminar. In 2001 I began working for a dog walking company. The owner of the company was a Master Trainer who offered courses to people who were interested in becoming dog trainers. I knew it was right for me.
In taking the course, I came to learn that I already knew about the communication of body language, the animals throughout my life had taught me. I just didn’t realize it was a skill that I possessed and that I could teach others. I became certified in general dog obedience and have since been certified as a Master Trainer. I specialize in the family pet and started my own dog training business in 2004.
But I didn’t own a dog.
Sometimes when teaching a class I would look at the faces of the dog owners, all listening to my words, accepting them, and I’d find myself thinking, wow, what a responsibility. These folks are depending on me to fix things with their dogs, to make their problems go away. I knew that I knew what I was talking about. But sometimes with the extreme cases, with dogs that were never socialized properly, or not exercised enough and driven mad with boredom, even though I knew the problems and what to do, would my suggestions really work? Did my words convey the proper information? Sure, I can talk to the animals but it’s not always as natural at first for new pet owners. The real problem dogs I had dealt with in the past weren’t my dogs. Problems never seem as difficult to handle when you don’t live with them. Was I a sham?
Well, Chico took care of my problem. His permanent arrival into my world, for surely I could not send him back to the pound after his unexpected orphanage, left me with no choice but to fix his problems. Which meant I had to put my money where my mouth is.
For the complete turn-around Chico had to start from the beginning and learn not only the new stuff but how to let go of the old. At the age of 7 he wasn’t ready to let go of anything. He pined for his owner. There were days I would lie on the floor and cry with the exhaustion and sadness of it all. But I had made a promise to Chico deep in my heart that I would not let him go through life carrying all that baggage.
The training worked. I could come or go from my home and Chico comfortably stayed behind. There was no crying, mutilating or distressed behavior; Chico rested on his bed, knowing his days would continue to be filled with walks and company, human and dog.
This is where you can be with your dog.
Chico passed away in May of 2012 at the age of 14. I am so, so grateful to him; I would not be the trainer I am today had I not shared my life with him. The struggles and sacrifices were enormous but the rewards are without measure. I love you, Chico, always and forever.