I have a dog who is an extremely rare breed of dog. She is a German Pinscher (not to be confused with the min pin). She has an extremely strong personality, everything she does, she gives it her all. She is a very loving and loyal dog; however, she has some issues with strangers and territorial aggression. She would not let anyone else into our home, even our friends. In our ignorance, we were trying to socialize her and keep her around when people came into our home so that she would get used to it. For this reason, we have many friends who are now terrified of her, and for good reason. It killed me to have my friends talk about how vicious my dog was and how we should not allow her around my son. I really did not want to have to re-home her or put her down, because I know for a fact that Zoe would fight to the death before she let anyone hurt me or my family. She would never bite anyone in our family, or even growl at us. She is so very loyal, and these types of dogs only have one true owner. So I know that even if I did re-home her instead of putting her down, all I would be able to think about was how she would never be the same, and neither would we. She is a member of the family.
We have had many, many trainers work with her, and they all had different theories. Many told us that she would never really be safe to have around other people. I can't describe how exhausting it was to think about being on edge for the rest of her life. In effect, owning Zoe was controlling our lives.
Earl was very helpful for multiple reasons, but two really stand out. The first is that he knew of Zoe's breed, and had seen her breed in action before. So the first thing he told me was that, she was not doing anything abnormal for her breed. She is a strong dog, and her breed is naturally wary of strangers and are said to be excellent watch dogs (though not many progress to the guard dog stage that Zoe thought she was at). This made me feel better because even though he saw her aggression first hand, he did not think she was vicious or bad. Earl has extensive experience with working dogs, like Zoe, and with extremely aggressive and dominant dogs. There really are not many trainers out there who truly are qualified to work with aggressive dogs, and Zoe most definitely had not been responding to the 'tree hugging' version of training that is so popular now. For most dogs, that may work fine, but Zoe had progressed to biting and needed specialized training, not out of the box training.
The other thing that really helped that Earl did was explain the theory of dominance and pack structure in a way that I could understand. Of course, with a dog like Zoe, I had read a lot of material on being a pack leader and watched every Caesar Milan episode he has made, but it seemed like a lot of it was just mean, to me. Earl explained why a dog needs to know where s/he stands in the pack and that it is not all about asserting yourself in a violent way. There are many subtle and easy things that you can do to establish your rank in the house and we were doing them wrong. Things like letting her have free reign of the house instead of making that an earned reward, and allowing her on the furniture and to sleep on our bed. Just beginning to change these simple things I have seen a huge improvement with Zoe. She used to be kind of a spaz, and we thought that was just her being weird, but really it was her not knowing her place and being confused. Sometimes we were dominant, others we weren't, and we were not being consistent. Now, she is calm all the time! She has had NO problem not sleeping with us anymore (and it is fantastic to have our bed back) and she spends a lot of her time calm and sleeping in her area. She gets to go out and play when I decide, and that has been more than enough for her. I thought it was mean to keep a dog confined, that they needed the stimulation, but I can already see how much calmer and happier she is, just after a few days! We still have a lot more work to do, but I can see that Earl's approach really works and is making her happier, not making her feel unwanted. There is much, much more that we were doing wrong, but the long and short of it was that we were treating her like a person, not a dog. And with some dogs, that may never pose a problem, but with a working dog like Zoe, it definitely did. She didn't have a place, she didn't have a job, so she took on a job of her own, protecting the house. Now, it is my responsibility to take on that job and let her know she does not need to handle it.
Finally, another thing that really helped me, was the amount of material that Earl gave me to peruse. I am the kind of person who likes to learn as much as I can about an approach so that I can really do it right, and Earl was able to provide that for me. I now have so many things to work on, I will have to make myself an objectives list to be sure that I touch on all the issues. The other good thing about all the reading material is that it is hard for a trainer to really see all of your dogs issues in just an hour or two, or even after a month of working with them. I live with Zoe and see all the things that she does. There were many things that she was doing to assert herself as dominant that I never realized were an issue. So now I know even more that I need to correct than what Earl saw. He, of course, saw how she reacted to strangers, but I was able to see how she was asserting herself with me. I thought she knew I was alpha because she was obedient and would listen to me (except when she didn't). She had decided that she would listen when she wanted, but that she got to decide when to obey and when not to. That is why I had so little control over her when people came to our door.
All of this I got from only two days working with Earl. I appreciate all his help so far, and I intend to gain off leash control/obedience from Zoe, so watch for my call Earl! You will be hearing from me!
I could write more, but I'm sure no one is interested in the life and times of Zoe; however, I think that the most important thing we will gain from this experience is MY confidence. A lot of trainers talk about the dog gaining confidence, but for me I needed to be confident of my place and ability to control Zoe. She didn't trust me to handle the situation, so she took charge. That will be changing now.
Thanks again, Earl!