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Few are the days when animals – be they dog or cat – weren’t a part of my life, and yet it was not until after I graduated veterinary school that I took on the responsibility of owning and caring for my very own dog – not the family dog, or my father’s dog, but my dog. His name is Ollie, and he is basically where the story of Pet Centrics began.
Ollie was gifted to me by a client who was looking for dog-loving people to adopt an accidental litter of puppies born to her dogs a Golden Retriever female and a Labrador Retriever male. It just so happened that our family had lost a dog a few months ago, and we were now prepared to welcome a new puppy into our lives – and by this, I mean, nobody actually discussed this, I sort of just decided for everyone in our household that it was time to get a new pup. Way to be responsible, right? In any case, my client was kind enough to entrust me with the care of one of her grandpups.
As soon as he was old enough, I took my puppy home. He quietly rested on my chest throughout the entire car ride, and just as the car came to a stop in front of our house, the little brat threw up on me! A wonderfully, disgusting bonding moment that I will never ever forget…
I named him Ollie, and I decided from the very start that I was going to get puppy raising right. That Ollie would be an amazingly well-trained and well-mannered dog that I could take everywhere, and that he was going to be healthy and want for nothing.
One might assume that a veterinarian is the best dog owner there can be. Sadly, this is far from the truth. I know many vets who are uneducated and irresponsible in their pet ownership. Even those that claim to love and that truly do love their animals make many mistakes.
With raising Ollie, my biggest mistake was that I believed what was common advise at the time: that training starts at 6 months of age. Soon enough problems of potty training, puppy biting, leash pulling and general puppy naughtiness began to arise, and I felt overwhelmed and frustrated. Like many dog owners, I felt my dog was probably the worst dog ever. Comparing him to all the other dogs that we had owned before him, Ollie seemed the most stubborn and the most uncontrollable. He was just impossible! I needed help.
At the time, there were no dog training schools or competent trainers around that I could approach for guidance. So to find a solution to Ollie’s behavior problems, I bought many, many books on dog training and spent many hours surfing the internet for information on how to properly raise a dog. I remember, very well, 3 resources that determined the course of my dog training journey:
The first resource was an e-book on Labrador-raising that I purchased off the internet for approximately $20. Unfortunately, it taught you to do all the wrong things (that I didn’t know at the time were wrong) for how to train a Labrador. For example, to control puppy hyperactivity I was instructed to grab my dog’s collar underneath his jaw and chuck him under his chin. Too ignorant to know any better, and even though I felt bad about doing this, I actually tried this technique once on Ollie. To this day, he is still wary of collar grabs unless there are treats involved, and I wonder if maybe that initial grab had something to do with it. Needless to say, I hated the methods and training philosophy proposed by that e-book and looked for solutions elsewhere. I didn’t want to treat Ollie like my competition or my enemy. I didn’t want to nor felt capable of exerting the physical punishment that the book told me was needed for me to win my dog’s respect. Over all, it just made me feel bad and even more frustrated with my dog.
The second resource that I discovered was bought at a local book sale: ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training by Steven Appelbaum. It was an incredible eye-opener for me, because it revealed to me just how complex canine behavior is, and how much of a professional craft dog training is. I became more and more intrigued about dog behavior and training, and the thought formed in my head that this was something I might want to really get into in the years to come. I learned that my relationship with my dog didn’t have to be a constant battle of wills, of one trying to overpower the other. All I needed to do was understand how a dog thinks, know what he finds motivating and then know how to reinforce the behaviors that I like. This was my introduction into modern, science-based dog training.
The third resource, and the one that solidified the thought of studying behavior and training, was the Dog Star Daily website where I discovered the work of highly renowned veterinarian and behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar and his work to promote early puppy socialization and positive dog training techniques. In discovering Dr. Dunbar, I found my interest in dog behavior validated. Here was a veterinarian, like myself, talking about the importance of dog training being equal in importance to vaccinations and medical care. More importantly, what I learned from him was that popular media – and one TV-popularized dog trainer, in particular, and you can probably guess who – actually promoted antiquated dog training techniques and many false ideas about dog behavior that weren’t helpful to the dog and human relationship at all. My mind was blown.
I had been one among thousands misguided into believing that dogs had to be shown who is boss in order for them to be obedient. I had lived and worked around dogs for most of my life, and yet I had been stuck with a wrong perception of them for so long because this was what popular media had told me to believe! It was at this stage that I reached a new level of enlightenment regarding dogs and animals in general.
It is exactly this passionate feeling of enlightenment that I wanted to share with dog owners who have experienced the same feelings of frustration that I had with Ollie. I had found the solution to my puppy woes and I was delighted to learn that I didn’t need to beat my dog or intimidate him to get him to do what I want. I didn’t have to be tougher or stronger than my dog. Rather than wait for him to make mistakes and punish him, I just had to be smart enough to implement some management strategies to prevent naughty behavior from happening and then focus on teaching my dog good behaviors.
The end result is that I now have a much better relationship with Ollie: We train for tricks, basic obedience and home manners as teammates. I don’t attempt nor need to assert myself as his master. Ollie is not perfect, but life with him is no longer stressful. It is fun and enjoyable. We enjoy long walks through our neighborhood, play games of fetch and chase. It is all that most dog owners want but just don’t know how to achieve. Which is why I decided to learn to teach about dog behavior and dog training, to help my clients with their problems with their dog, problems that I once had with Ollie. More importantly, I wanted to share the wonder and awe of dogs that I discovered, and help my clients have better relationships with their dogs.
After discovering a variety of dog training techniques and philosophies, I became clear on the sort of trainer I wanted to become, leaning more towards reward-based methods of training. These are methods that don’t require force or intimidation. Just planning and preparation, clarity and consistency. These are techniques that any dog owner can implement because they rely on us to use our human intellect and not our muscle to train dogs.
In February of 2011, with my own training philosophy now clear in my head, I opened Pet Centrics a home-based business that provides dog training and behavior consulting services, and veterinary services. Since it’s opening in 2011 I have had the privilege to provide training and consultations to scores of dog owners looking for help in training their dog.
You likely arrived here looking for a solution to your dog’s behavior problems. Maybe you have a new puppy or a young dog that is full of energy and difficult to control. Or maybe you just want to get the full potential out of your dog as a companion animal.
To be clear from the very beginning, I do not offer quick fixes or overnight solutions. I do not take the training out of your hands: Dogs are not like cars that you can send off to a shop have fixed or upgraded and then be returned to you in better condition than before. Dog training is about relationship building. Dog training is about patience, persistence, clarity and consistency. Dog training is about responding to the needs and communications of your companion animal. Why should you learn to train your dog?
If you are committed to training your dog by developing a good relationship with him/her, and if you have the patience to learn about dog training and behavior, then you have come to the right place. Dog training for the average dog owner can be challenging but it can also be extremely rewarding. My goal for you is that you get to know your dog, see things from his or her point of view, learn how to train your dog, and adjust your training according to you and your dog’s needs.