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TRAINING

keeping his rear end on the floor. Lilly continued out the back door and the evaluation continued. Despite my being a nervous wreck almost the entire time, Chopper passed with a complex rating. I was so proud. This was something my Labrador did not accomplish until he was on his third evaluation after nearly six years of therapy work. After all the effort we had put in, my rescued Rottweiler had officially earned the title, therapy dog. The story does not end here, though. I know my dog and his idiosyncrasies, so while we do go on regular visits, we choose the ones where we know he can be successful. I am ever diligent in trying to be aware of which scenarios may be too challenging for him, and not putting pressure on him to perform in those settings. It is my responsibility to protect my dog and do what is right by him at all times. I take that very seriously. Given his breed and the reverse discrimination we have so often experienced (see The Challenge of Breed Discrimination, BARKS from the Guild, November 2015, p. 32-33), Chopper regularly visits children’s camps to demonstrate how to safely approach a dog. He also teaches them how to avoid making judgments based solely on appearance. Before we start, we always request that the children are sitting down so he can be focused on me when he comes in. Chopper has a very expressive face and body, which helps me demonstrate first-hand to children and adults alike what dog body language looks like and how one might interpret these signals. Chopper also attends seminars about family dogs and how to look for the certain characteristics of any given breed, as well as individual personality traits that will help others choose a new pet successfully. In addition, his size, and the fact that he has learned how to tolerate proper restraint, works to our advantage when assisting children with disabilities in one-on-one physical therapy settings. Chopper’s ability to defer to me when he sees other dogs has enabled my family to foster a wide variety of dogs for our local shelter. He does particularly well with puppies, is extremely tolerant and is often self-handicapping while helping to teach them appropriate play. Chopper, with all his “issues,” has become a near perfect ambassador for puppy mill dogs. He is a classic example of long-term issues developing because of poor breeding standards. He is also the perfect example of a successful rescue dog, battling the common perceptions that purebreds do not end up in shelters, and that rescue dogs have behavior problems. He is also an excellent representative of the socalled bully breeds. They are, of course, not bullies at all, but are often completely misunderstood, and, like all dogs, benefit immensely from patience and compassionate training. Chopper provides me with a wealth of case study material and is a living, breathing example of how positive training has helped me help him. I often find myself explaining, if I had started with just the raw material (i.e. a Rottweiler, a breed known for its protective ten32

BARKS from the Guild/March 2017

dencies, strength and stamina, who had come from such poor breeding it caused numerous health issues and nearly constant physical discomfort), then added training that was forceful, painful or intimidating, this dog, like many others out there, would have lead a miserable life, potentially with a tendency towards aggressive behavior. Using patience, rewards and general compassion in training, however, has taught him to trust, to respond to and accept challenging situations with adoring eyes and a wagging tail. Our experiences are a clear demonstration to others that using humane, force-free training on a big, strong, powerful dog has given him the confidence and ability to handle a variety of situations with focused attention, solid obedience skills and a willingness to continue to learn. Throughout his life, we expect Chopper will continue to face challenges both physical and mental, and we plan to meet them with confidence, compassion and the same fun, positive, rewardbased training that has allowed him to earn his therapy dog status, help other people through their challenges, and become the wonderful companion dog he is today. We can only hope he will be able to continue bringing these experiences to children, families and the general public in the name of education about dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes, as well as successful, compassionate, and humane training, for many years to come. n

Resources

Iffert, K. (2015, November). The Challenge of Breed Discrimination. BARKS from the Guild (15) 32-33. Retrieved January 15, 2016, from www.issuu.com/petprofessionalguild/docs/bftg_nov _2015_online_opt/32?e=4452575/30971067 Pet Partners: www.petpartners.org Kym Iffert ABCDT, www.dogosophy.info, is a Family Paws licensed presenter, AKC CGC evaluator and licensed Pet Partners evaluator and instructor based in LaGrange Park, Illinois. She works primarily as the director of humane education, dog obedience instructor and canine behavior consultant at Hinsdale Humane Society.

BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...

BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...