BARKS from the Guild January 2018

Page 54


A Lesson in Compassion Angelica Steinker relates the tale of the best behavior consult

of her life, and how it taught her not to make snap judgements


about a client who has been using a shock collar udge me all you want, but this is what happened: I left my client’s behavior questionnaire at home but went ahead and did the consult anyway! In fact though, my error ended up teaching me more than years of consults combined. Let me start at the beginning. My school, while the largest group class training school in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area, is a small business run by two full-time staff. Prior to this consult, both my manager and I fell sick. This yielded the following data: If two full-time personnel are running a business and both fall sick simultaneously, it will result in problems. When I forgot my client’s behavior questionnaire, my manager was extremely ill and I was trying to cover two full-time jobs (for reference, this is not possible). As a result, I was in reactive ‘fix problem’ mode and not in proactive ‘normal’ mode, which lead to my forgetting several things – including the questionnaire. The questionnaire contains extensive information about the dog and the client. It usually takes a client 20-30 minutes to fill out and we use the info to prepare for the session. In this case, I did not just forget the behavior sheet, I had not even read the form. In addition, the client in question appeared at a time that was not the arranged time. She turned up an hour early, and the veterinary behaviorist that sees clients at my facility still happened to be at the canine counseling center. My staff alerted me and I rushed over to see what the problem was, not imagining for a moment that my client was a full hour early. At the same time, the veterinary behaviorist popped out and announced that she was ready for us. It would have been awkward for me to leave at that moment to go and fetch paperwork, so I opted to do what I have never previously done: conduct a consult without the 10-page behavior sheet. Imagine then, I am in the Canine Counseling Center with my client and her dog and I have absolutely no idea what the antecedents are. I have no idea what she has already tried. I don’t even know what the presenting behavior problem is. Honestly, I am sweating. Yes, I have been doing this for 18 years full-time but my behavior questionnaire functions as a security blanket for me (or does it?). I can see the dog, a large, powerful Malinois, is human reactive as his eyes are glazed. He appears to be in a global suppression of behavior which, of course, is typical for dogs that are being flooded, and he is displaying signs of stress if I make even split-second eye contact. I visualize my behavior form and start with the first question: “Please tell me about the main behavior problem.” Yes, as I thought, he is aggressive with people and has barked and lunged and nearly bitten a few times. This is very frightening to his owner who goes on to explain that she herself has been bitten. As we are talking, I can sense the deep love she 54

BARKS from the Guild/January 2018

© Can Stock Photo/DragoNika

When author Angelica Steinker was presented with a Malinois who had started behaving aggressively, removing the shock collar and replacing his fear with joy changed his motivation to bite

has for her dog. He has bitten her hard and she still is committed and motivated to help him change his behavior. We continue through the usual questions and I find out that this well-intentioned client has been trying to “socialize” her dog by taking him to restaurants. On one such occasion, the dog nearly bit another restaurant guest. It becomes clear to me that this client has no idea about canine body language, so we start talking about distance increasing, distance decreasing and conflicted behaviors. I role play with her and have her reach for me and then demonstrate each of the three types of body language. We do a little pop quiz. She is picking this up fast. She is smart, intense and hungry for the information. She is leaning toward me and asking lots of excellent questions. I feel a strong connection with her and repeatedly acknowledge her passion for this information. She was primed and ready for the information I was providing and it felt like we were dancing.

In the Zone

In sport, when a person is performing at their peak the term “zoning” is used. That is exactly how I felt. I sensed that this client and I were a very good fit, that we were not just hitting it off but that we were making a great team. I could tell she was experiencing something similar with every few minutes that passed our connec-