A Return To The
By Carol Aspen
It has been three weeks since we drove down to Miami with our Golden child (Golden Retriever to be precise) and now here were on our way to a second trip for a well-deserved “adjustment”. Granted that at the time of our first trip we had no clue what an adjustment was or whether it would do any good with our then 20-month old Mitzy. For almost 2 years we had failed miserable with her and so had half a dozen self-proclaimed “trainers”. As can be seen, we had lost all faith in our dog and in anyone’s ability to help us with her.
To be honest with ourselves and those that read the first installment of our adventures with this so-called “misfit”, we were at wits end with her before that fateful encounter with Sandy Herzon, deservedly dubbed the Dog Talker.
At the end of the first 2-hour work session with Mitzy and us, we were amazed at her progress and were thrilled that someone had finally understood her and was able to reach her. Of course we were in for a major surprise to find out that she was not as much the problem as it was our lack of understanding of how to “treat” her individuality.
“This is going to be 75% people training and only 25% dog training”, the newly anointed Dog Talker proclaimed.
Plus, “there is going to be major behavior modification on your part on how you go about relating to her”, were more of the “pearl’s of wisdom” dispensed by Mr Herzon.
“We are totally in for the ride”, we assured Mitzy’s new conqueror. How could we not be, for standing right before us was the “perfect dog” we had always envision on having. If he could achieve wonders in a relatively short period of time, we certainly could dedicate ourselves to doing whatever he was about to prescribed for our doggie-child.
The Dog Talker warned us that there were no magic solutions or wonder pills that we could give the dog to make her obedient, that it would take consistency and will power to follow his lessons and that allowing her any lee way would bring us back to square one.
So, here we were back to square one, heading south to the Dog Talker’s farm because we had slacked off and allowed her to “rule” us and dictate to us. In other words, we did not follow the game plan according to Mr Herzon’s prescriptions and we were now paying the price in more ways than one!
Of course, he had said that this was to be expected and that sooner or later we would be coming back for an adjustment! He also explained that each time that he worked with her and we watched and understood what was transpiring, that all of us would benefit greatly.
He mentioned that he was counting on the fact that by observing how to elicit proper behavior from her, that we would make up our own minds and make the determination that we could also bring about the desired behavior. In other words, we needed to see it to believe it and then to make it so.
To recap the last three weeks, we went from the perfect dog to the misfit of before! For the first 3 or 4 days after the Dog Talker had his way with her, she was somewhat subdued and would follow our lead with almost everything we did. Then little by little she started to challenge our authority and as Mr Herzon says, “She started to make bad decisions!” We also realized that it was our fault for her unwanted behavior because we had allowed her to take charge, not all at once mind you, but a little at a time. Those little incidents added up and a week later it was very obvious in her overall “bad” behavior.
Although the prescription was for her to be in her crate while we were at the dinner table, by the 4th day we hedged a little and let her out to see if she would be okay being “free”. At first it worked for 2 days, but on the third day she stole a honey glazed ham off the counter while we were at the dinner table and proceeded to parade around the entire house with the ham in her mouth and the two of us chasing her to put it down. I guess this was one of those “bad choices” that the dog trainer warned us about!
The Dog Talker had “cured” her of jumping up on us. He showed us how to double team her and go over the drill at least once per day. One of us would hold the leash and the other would approach and tease her to jump up on us. The person with the leash would watch and snap the leash backwards while giving the command/correction “OFF” if she attempted to jump up. The person approaching would raise a knee upwards towards the dog and also say “OFF” if they also saw that she was going to jump on them.
Once again our guilt feelings for tricking her got the best of us and we laxed off from doing the exercise. We had talked about putting her through the routine and we both felt that it somehow was demeaning to do that to her. Sure enough, as the dog trainer had predicted, she saw an opening in our defenses and she resumed taking advantage of our weakness. She started jumping up on us at unexpected times and it soon became her favorite game, as she knew that this was one thing that annoyed us to the nth degree. She was especially fond of doing it to me the most and she even started to nip at my cloths whenever I scolded her!
The final straw that brought about the impending call to the Dog Talker was the day that she decided to run away again. She had been doing fine for 14 days without an attempt to head to places unknown. We had followed the dog trainer’s advice and had kept her on leash during all our walks and had been very careful about opening doors and gates. She had been doing so good and it seemed that she had gotten over the “run away syndrome” that Bob felt that he could “trust” her to go and bring back the newspaper from the front lawn without being on the 25 foot Flexi-Lead.
WRONG!!!!!!!!!! She went to the newspaper and then bolted down the street as fast as the wind was blowing, close to 25 miles per hour! A cold front was moving through Central/East Coast Florida and it brought with it the worst winter storm of the year. It did not matter to Mitzy, for she seized the moment and was 4 blocks away by the time we were able to get the car out of the driveway. Our hearts were pounding and we could barely watch as she dodged one car after another way ahead of us.
She sped right out of our walled-in complex, scurrying under the security gates by the guard’s station and right out into the busy thoroughfare. Cars were whizzing by at breakneck speeds and we prayed for her to make it across without harm. How she made it across the 6-lane highway is beyond imagination, but here she was across the street and into a large water puddle in the shopping mall’s parking lot! She was splashing and cavorting as if she had never been in water before, all this in freezing 30-degree weather with a wind chill of nearly 20 degrees!!!!
She did not put up a fight nor did she run off when she saw us, instead she came out of the puddled water and up to our car with the biggest grin on her face that we have ever seen. She jumped into the back seat with over a gallon of water dripping off her thick Golden coat drenching the floor and back seat.
The ride back home was uneventful as nary a word was said nor a single whimper from the soaked, poor of an excuse Golden Retriever in the back seat. To be fair with her, both Bob and I realized that we had failed her once more for it was us that had allowed her to make a “bad decision”.
This was the turning point for us as the Dog Talker had said would come. He said that we would know when to call him for our next work session. We could see that each and every instance of bad behavior on her part was a direct result of our insistence on treating her as if though she was a “human” and this was causing all of the problems that had crept back to create all the undesirable situations.
The Dog Talker had made it very clear to us and we had resisted accepting the fact that we are two separate species with totally different rules and regulations to abide by. He had said that the fact that dogs have been domesticated is a tremendous asset for them to acclimate to our social order, however that did not diminish the fact that they abide by totally different rules when left to their own resources.
So here we were heading south one more time. The 180-mile trip was uneventful for us this time arouond, as we did not stop along the way as per the trainer’s instructions. Also, we noticed a marked difference in her behavior along the way. It was as if though she knew where she was headed. No longer was she watching every single car that was on the highway as usual, instead she was totally focused on the road ahead. She even took a nap during the 3-hour ride, which was rare to say the least!
A mile away from Chambray
Farms, Mitzy bolted up in the back seat and stared ahead in anticipation to
the journey’s end. She knew where she was going and she was extremely
excited about arriving there. We were both amazed at how happy she was to
being here and her face lit up as she spotted her “alpha daddy” a distance
away in the front yard.
So here we were pulling up to Chambray Farms after a seemingly smooth ride south on Florida’s Turnpike. Mr Herzon was waiting for us as usual by the gazebo in the front yard, however his instructions to us were to wait inside the car until he exited through the front gate and came up to the rear car door where Mitzy was strapped to the seat belt.
We followed his instructions and sat in the car as he approached the car’s rear passenger side. “Pull down her window a tad,” he commanded from outside the car. Mitzy was riveted to the trainer outside her window, watching his every move and listening intently for his next command.
“Wait” he clearly commanded her in a very low-pitched voice all the while exuding authority both vocal and with body posture. He then opened the rear car door slightly as Mitzy lurched toward the opened door to leap out of the car. Instantly, the trainer shut the door on her and gave out a loud, guttural “NO” that instilled fear on all of us inside the car.
Once again he repeated the “Wait” however this time it was delivered in a louder and lower pitch. There was no doubt to Mitzy and us that he meant business and this time he opened the door and she sat still until he clipped her 6-foot leash to her slip collar.
“Outside” he commanded and allowed her to jump out of the back seat and unto the ground, “Easy” was his next command to instill the Perimeter Training and only had to snap once to define the length that she was to go out to. He then instructed us to exit the car. As soon as Mitzy saw me, she headed my way and was about to jump on me when all of a sudden came the loudest “OFF” I have ever heard, Mitzy turned back around and sheepishly approached the Dog Talker (maybe Dog Yeller was more appropriate at this time).
“I can see that you all have not be addressing the jumping up issue!” Mr Herzon half-heartedly chastised us. “There are no bad dogs, there are bad owners, might be appropriate in your case!” he emphasized in a humorous, tongue in cheek manner referring to a popular dog training book. No matter how he summed it up, it was all true and deserving, for we had not kept up our part of the training and had allowed Mitzy to make “choices that all turned out bad”!
Just as in the first session with the Dog Talker, we were led to his seating arrangements in the front yard, while he released Mitzy to do her thing as part of his territory. We watched as she performed her ritual of staking out the boundaries of the front yard and then observed her scent after all the spots where the resident pack dogs had marked earlier in the day. We now know what all this meant, as Mr Herzon was very informative into the “nature of the beast” routines. He addresses all the nuances as part of our education into training our dog. It really doesn’t take long to “see” what he reads from the body language exhibited by a dog. Of course it helps tremendously to have someone so skilled in the ways of dogs to narrate as the dog goes through all the simple and complex gestures of recognition, dominance, marking and even submission.
The dog trainer allowed Mitzy enough time to relax and satisfy her “inner cravings for information”, since this was part of her innate makeup. Roaming out to the edges of the territory and bringing back information was part of who she was and that was one of the reasons that she had the urge to run away from us. Of course Mr Herzon explained that by chasing her when she did decide to go out and roam, that we had inadvertently created the “chase me game”. So, we were dealing with 2 distinct causes for her to take off and lead us on her merry chases, first the instinctive urge to roam and then one of the greatest games that wild canines enjoy, the run after and catch game.
“You need to satisfy her natural urge to explore!” the Dog Talker began.
“Every single day, she needs to be taken on a Flexi-lead walk and preferably a different way each time, with distances and time allowed also varied.” He continued.
He instructed us that using a 25-foot Flexi-Lead was ideal, as it allowed her to wonder off to the sides and sometimes ahead. The one rule that we needed to follow was that we had to control the entire exercise as the “leader of the pack”. So from time to time, we needed to stop and announce to her that we had stopped and then when we were ready to move, to let her know that it was us that was in charge of the whole walk.
In addition to the “pack walk”, there was also to be some free back yard time. In our case this was almost impossible, as our homeowner’s association does not allow fences in the back yard out to the community lake. However we were allowed a variance on the side of the house with a portable run that was concealed with landscaping and could not be seen from either the street or from the lake view. Although it was rather small in size, it would provide some off time to herself. We had this small run installed, but we had deferred in using it because we felt “guilty” placing her out there by herself.
Mr Herzon assured us that our “human feelings” had nothing to do with her canine needs and that we needed to overcome most of these scenarios, since they were hindering any progress that could be made with her. He went over more instances of inappropriate behavior on our part and then he told us that he was going to work with her some.
The Dog Talker stood up from his seat and summoned Mitzy back to where we were. His command to her was firm, “Mitzy, over here!”
She stopped and glanced at Mr Herzon and seemed to understand what it was he wanted, but in an instance her facial expression changed in she got into the “chase me” mode. Simultaneously, the trainer crossed his arms and his body language changed, of course this was the threat of the “shadowing” that he had performed on her on the first visit.
What transpired next was a sight to see, as Mitzy froze for a second and turned and headed towards the standing dog guru. He never changed his pose, or his expression until she reached his side and then he extended his arm and touched her neck with his outstretched hand, “Good girl” he praised in a very authoritative voice.
He sat back down in the chair and stroked her withers (the point on the shoulders right above the front legs) for a good minute or two, all the while cajoling her with praise. This is the part of the training that he says is a must. “You must acknowledge proper behavior more than you correct improper behavior!”
“She will respond so much better to praise and accomplishment than she will to continued nagging”, he added for good measure.
He then clipped her leash unto her collar and commanded, “Let’s go”. They moved in unison out to the middle of the yard and the Dog Talker instilled the Perimeter Training that he had taught us the first time we visited. She adhered to it perfectly and then he proceeded to add “responsibilities” to the routine.
Responsibilities are routines that are added as the dog learns to respect the leader (us). Each routine makes the dog more receptive to leadership and more reliable as a member of our pack and also as a member of society. In order for the dog to learn the routines correctly, it is essential for the owner to know how to teach it correctly and this is where Mr Herzon excels, for his communication skills with us were keen, sharing with us little details as well as complex issues of behavior.
This is the part that sets Mr Herzon’s training methods apart from most dog trainers, this is the part that makes him the Dog Talker. Not only does he communicate with the dog by body language and by voice he also communicates with the dog owners with a wealth of information that makes dog training so interesting. He shows you how to train the dog physically and mentally and then he tells you why it will work with your dog’s personality type.
He reiterates on how dog training does not have to be so physical, but rather a prescribed ratio of mental and physical. The prescription of course will vary with the individuality of the dog, as multitudes of factors are considered by the Dog Talker that will work with each dog that comes before him. The one underlying factor that does not change is that each dog is dealt with using techniques that are employed by packs of dogs in the wilds of Africa and Australia, not to exclude packs of feral dogs that follow the exact rules and regulations of their not-so distant brethren.
After working with Mitzy off and on for over 90 minutes, the adjustments had been made to her and she responded marvelously to his every command, in fact her tail was wagging the entire time with him. He would work her for 10 to 15 minutes and then let her relax for 3 to 4 minutes, all the while explaining to us what it was that we needed to do to get the same results with her. He even let her loose at one point so that he could call her back to where he was, which she promptly did and was lavishly rewarded for responding in a positive manner.
What made the biggest impact on us was that we had observed that once again the dog was perfect and that it was our lack of authority that was causing the problems in our relationship. Of course the Dog Talker had warned us that it was easier said then done, when it comes to overcoming guilt and not to applying human characteristics to our dogs, both of which causes major problems with owners and their dogs.
After this second visit at Chambray Farm, the Dog Talker assured us that this adjustment would last as long as we played our part of leaders, but as soon as we slid back and allowed Mitzy to dictate to us, then the bad decision making process by her would return and we could expect a return for further adjustments, not so much for Mitzy, more so for us to get back with the program!
So, off we go on our way back home with the “perfect dog” seated in the back seat of our car. We now know that seated in the front of the car are the keys to whether Mitzy continues to make good choices or whether we slack off and allow her to make bad choices. One thing that is comforting now, is that we know that we can always trek down south for another adjustment with Mitzy’s leader of the pack, the Dog Talker.
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