Extreme Makeover: Mutt Edition

For as long as you can remember, you’ve envisioned your dream home. 10,000 square feet of splendor. It will be a paradigm of home fashion.

You win the lotto. It’s time to hire a contractor! You have two options, Bob the Builder Construction or The Construction Whisperer.

Bob the Builder tells you that building a house is an investment. Bob hires a team of experts – architects, plumbers, engineers, electricians, and construction workers. Quality materials and construction take time and resources. He tells you it may take a year or more to complete your house. Your dream home will cost $9.5 million dollars.

The Construction Whisperer works by himself. He promises he can build you a house in an hour, just like you see on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (a two hour show which usually includes an hour of “fluff” – telling you about the family’s needs, the reveal, etc.). The Construction Whisperer doesn’t need no stinkin’ experts – he learned everything he knows about building houses from practice (“I played with Lincoln Logs a lot as a child) and from watching his neighbors build a tree fort for their ten-year old son. All your building dreams completed in an hour and for 1/3rd of the price of Bob the Builder.  Does anything sound fishy here?

Who would you hire? Bob is more expensive, the house will take much longer than an hour to build, but the quality of workmanship and expertise will likely be far superior. Working with Bob, you are investing in excellence. He will build you a house that will be a home for your family for decades, generations.

The Construction Whisperer is putting the roof on your new home before the foundation has even dried. Your house looks great for the first few weeks, but is in shambles just months later. The Construction Whisperer is an investment in convenience, but is it a bargain if you must sacrifice quality and long-term enjoyment of your new home? Are you better or worse off than you were when you started?

What the heck does this have to do with dog training, you ask?

There are trainers that mimic Bob the Builder’s style with a focus on quality, long-term results, and integrity.  They take a lot of pride in their work.  They’ve studied hard to learn their craft and continues to research ways to bring clients the best in service.  Then there are trainers like The Construction Whisperer, who make pretty promises of immediacy while sacrificing professionalism,  the well-being of the dog, and long-term reliability of behavior.  You’ve paid for the temporarily attractive facade, sorry about the crumbling (or non-existent) foundation.

The other similarity is that, Bob the Builder ultimately gets the client.  He either builds the house or is hired to later fix someone else’s mistakes.  I am certainly not the only trainer that gets a high percentage of clients whose dogs require rehabilitation as a result of bad training advice received by another professional.  I admire these owner’s commitment – many are skeptical, “once bitten twice shy” when it comes to professional training assistance.

It’s the difference between fine dining and fast food.  The difference between quality hand-made furniture and one of those nylon metal-framed collapsible camping chairs.  It’s the difference between eating correctly/exercising and buying a “lose weight instantly” supplement at CVS.  It’s long term enjoyment vs. ultimately fleeting instant gratification.

People watch television training shows and think that they are “real time” displays. Trust me, neither Cesar Millan (not a fan) nor Victoria Stillwell (more of a fan) correct long-established bad behaviors in the 44 minutes which are left after commercial breaks in an hour-long show. This is television. The depiction of training perpetuated by these shows is about as realistic an example of actual dog training as Hogwarts is an exemplary model for your average public school. It’s a fairy tale.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Rome wasn’t build in a day. Even the best builder in the world wouldn’t be able to give you your dream home in an hour; nor would the world’s best trainer be able to teach a dog to service dog level reliability within the context of a single hour-long consultation.  In fact, a good trainer will tell you that training is not an event – it is a lifetime endeavor.  It is a “use it or lose” it enterprise.  We can train your dog today but if the behavior is not maintained, it will disintegrate over time.

THE FINE PRINT
Many times, things which sound great (“We can fix your dog’s pulling on leash in one hour, guaranteed!”) actually aren’t that great. They often (coincidentally, I’m sure) leave out the small print, like “our shock collar/flooding/corrective methods may create reactivity, aggression, and other severe problems.” The handler no longer has a dog that pulls on the leash, but the dog is now aggressive and bites the handler whenever she sees another dog on leash. She no longer jumps on the counters, but she won’t even enter the kitchen. The owner no longer comes home to find her dog poop on the carpet when she was gone – he developed coprophagia (stool eating) to hide his accidents so he could avoid punishment.

I can’t “fix” your dog in an hour. I can’t “fix” your dog in a week. Depending on the problem, it may take weeks, months, or years to see full rehabilitation. I can’t “guarantee” you that your dog (who has killed three other dogs and attacked many more) will ever be a dog park socialite. I can’t promise that your dog who dislikes and has bitten children will ever be your infant’s best friend – you will never be able to leave them alone together and trust that things will be ok.

What I can offer are the tools you need to live with your dog successfully. To make training a natural part of your life together rather than an inconvenience. To give you a dog that enjoys giving you focus and responding when you ask him for behaviors. I can maximize the enjoyment you find in each other. I can teach you how to see more of the behavior you want. I can help you prevent problem behaviors from starting and find solutions to them when they occur.  And I can make it fun.

DO YOU HAVE A MAGIC WAND?

I can’t wave a magic wand that fixes problem behavior in minutes. In a way, I wish I could. I know it’s what people want.

In another way, I don’t wish that at all – I don’t think you can get the full, ultimate, rich experience of dog ownership without positive training, lots of play, and a lifetime commitment to your best friend. These are the things that help a dog reach his full potential. Why get a dog if you don’t want to train him? Play with him? Positive training and play build a bond between a dog and handler team that no other experience I’m aware of can replicate. Spending quality time with your dog is how you earn the key to his or her heart.

I know my dogs will not live forever. Their lives are so short, I want to maximize the memories and fun we are able to have together. The best way I know of doing this is by training them throughout their lives so we can continually better our bond and enjoy many adventures together as a family.  A dog that is trained can go more places, enjoy more experiences, spend more time hiking in the woods and less time home alone in his crate.

I owe it to my dogs.  It’s the least I can do for all that they’ve given me.

4 comments on “Extreme Makeover: Mutt Edition
  1. Tena says:

    AWESOME post Casey!! I really love this…really … this is fantastic!!!!!

  2. Stacy Greer says:

    Absolutely GREAT article!!!

  3. Ada says:

    Like the first night of class and the owner can’t understand why their dog does not respond and do a perfect recall….did that the dog is in the woods chasing squirrels. Could take months, could take years. It depends on the committment of the owner and the type of dog…did I mention it was a beagle?

  4. Bravo! Beautifully said.

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