Concerning Canines: A Journey Back to Joy
Being professional dog trainers, we are on the front lines of the dog and human relationship. We meet all types of dogs ranging from behaviorally healthy to behaviorally unhealthy. We see the toll it takes on both the human and dog when the dog has behavior challenges. Strangers offer unsolicited, uneducated advice based on superstition, hearsay, and TV shows. Their judgement can overshadow the improvement and victories, small as they may be.
We're creating a safe space for our clients to share their experiences. Concerning Canines: A Journey Back to Joy will feature essays written by clients and be posted periodically. We hope that you enjoy these stories. After all, we're all in this together — united, you might say. If you'd like to share your story, please contact us.
Rico's Story by Lauren Steele
I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I adopted my little buddy Rico! It has definitely been a journey of self-discovery and growth for me, with a very steep learning curve. Rico was rescued from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and although he was wearing a collar when he was found he was very skinny and had probably been on his own for a while. He’s a little guy, and the fact that he managed to survive on his own shows how tough he is.
When I adopted Rico, after meeting him at the home of the family that fostered him, it took him a few days to warm up. The first night I got him he chomped on my arm because he thought I was going to take a treat away from him. But he didn’t seem to want to eat, and curled up in the bed I’d bought for him for that day, not sure what to make of his new environment. He eventually began to feel more comfortable, joining me on the couch and finally deciding he trusted me enough to eat the food that I gave him.
I discovered that I wasn’t the only person that Rico needed time to get used to. I had been told that he didn’t like to be petted by strangers on the street, but I also found that I needed to be very careful in introducing him to my friends at home. Everything was new to him and he didn’t trust me enough to feel safe with new people.
Rico also reacted very strongly to other dogs on the street. He would lunge, growl, bark, and generally lose his mind when we saw another dog on a walk. He also lunged at bikes and joggers. And buses were his arch-nemesis, which made walking him in DC pretty stressful for both of us. It was all very overwhelming to me as a new dog owner who hadn’t factored behavioral issues into the cost-benefit analysis I’d done before deciding to adopt a dog.
A major turning point for Rico and me came when I reached out to Behavior United and Jackie responded. Other trainers I’d contacted used e-collars, or wanted me to crate him for 8 hours a day, and charged over $2000. I had started to feel that I wouldn’t be able to find a trainer whose approach aligned with my wishes to pursue force-free methods and not spend my entire savings. But when I met with Jackie I instantly felt relieved and less alone. Rico liked her immediately, and she was so easy to talk to and informative. Our sessions helped me understand his behavior better, to be able to interpret the signs he was giving me and to get to know him so I could help him feel more secure and less threatened by all the new noises and people he was encountering.
Jackie was also a wonderful resource to go to if I had questions. She reached out to see how things were going after I told her we’d had an incident where he lashed out at a person. When the vet recommended putting him on Prozac she was so supportive and really helped me to feel like I was making the right decision.
I honestly don’t know what I would have done without Jackie and her guidance. I had no idea when I got a dog that everyone would have an opinion about how I was treating him, feeding him, walking him, etc. It was so helpful to have someone I trusted to be able to check with, rather than feeling like I had to follow the unsolicited advice of everyone who thought they knew better than I did what I should be doing with my dog. In addition to helping Rico with his reactivity, her training gave me the confidence to make decisions on my own and understand that I know my dog better than anyone else does. And she helped me accept him for who he is. I won’t be taking him out to brunch or a beer garden with me anytime soon, but we have plenty of other fun things to do together that won’t stress both of us out.
Getting to know Rico has also helped me better understand how to help him be his best self. I know now that he’s a super sweet dog that wants to behave well, he just needs to feel secure. All he wants is a warm couch to sleep on, some tasty chicken sausages, lots of belly rubs, and fun smells to investigate. And I’m so grateful to Jackie for helping me to know that side of him, and for giving me the tools I need to understand his behavior and be the best person I can for him.
It’s been so gratifying to see the change in Rico as he’s come to feel safe in his new home. He is still wary of strangers but warms to them more easily. Recently a gentleman came by to do some work on the apartment and, after investigating, Rico ran up under him as he kneeled at the kitchen sink. He now has a daily walker, and I recently left him with a dog sitter for the first time so I could go away for a weekend. There was a time when all of these things seemed like they wouldn’t be possible, and I am so grateful to Jackie for helping us get here! It’s been hard work but totally worth it
We are honored to be a part of Rico's team and grateful for Lauren's kind words. Since last fall, we've been coaching Lauren how to change Rico's reactive behavior during in-home sessions. Rico is also a graduate of our Teacher's Pet program. While Lauren was at work, we helped Rico become less reactive towards strangers, dogs, buses, noises, and handling. Below is a video example of one of our training sessions to improve Rico’s association with city sounds. Lauren is an exceptional advocate for Rico. Lauren, thank you for sharing your story with us, and keep up the great work!