The Alliance Dog Training Origin Story
I vividly remember the embarrassment and devastation I felt the first time Gracie showed outright aggression to another dog. After falling immediately in love with her during a meet and greet with a local rescue, she became a failed foster (like...failed within 3 hours of coming over). From the beginning she was my Velcro dog. She followed me everywhere, a little shadow I could always count on even when there was no sun to cast one.
We were on the outdoor patio of a small mom-and-pop coffee shop we frequented; the staff there loved Gracie with her happy grin and wagging rear end. She never caused any trouble. The other regulars always yelled hi from across the street as they watch us wait for traffic to clear so we could come over.
I was horrified at my best friend's behavior.
I chatted with the other regulars there. Gracie was lying next to my chair, head down, lazily watching the people go by. Another dog came around the corner.
My beautiful laid-back, friendly and relaxed dog that everyone loved jumped up, knocking over the chair next to me. The chair hit the table and spilled 2 coffees. Gracie lunged insistently at the end of the leash, barking and thrashing like a 100 pound marlin at the end of a fishing line. I couldn’t call her off.
My attempts to reel in her leash were met with an alligator death roll and a short charge directly at me. She continued to bark and look back at the other dog, who was plodding down the street with it’s owner, unperturbed. Somehow this made me even more angry and humiliated.
I yelled at Gracie and yanked her leash. I was frustrated and embarrassed. I felt betrayed. How could this girl, my best friend, act like this?! Especially in PUBLIC?! In front of other people?!?!
I was afraid to walk my own dog.
From that point on, I was afraid to take her off our property. I no longer took her on walks except around the neighborhood. Even then, it was during hours where I hoped there was no one else with a dog out walking. I was hypervigilant when we walked. My stomach would knot up if I saw another dog even if she hadn’t spotted it yet.
I’d shorten the leash so she couldn’t lunge as far and I had a death grip on it. Walks were no longer the healthy cardio workout they used to be; now they were a cardio stress of a different sort. I dreaded taking her out and our walks, even around the neighborhood, became shorter and less frequent. Eventually I stopped walking her altogether. I couldn’t handle the stress of taking her out any more. But the more she was indoors and only on our property, the more neurotic she became. She started barking at random things passing in the yard: a squirrel, a leaf...the wind. I knew she was anxious but couldn’t figure out why!
Seeing trainers just made it more confusing.
I went through several trainers. Each gave different advice and brought a new philosophy to the table. Everything was so confusing.
So many options. Shock collars seemed the way to go since they guaranteed results.
But something felt wrong; something about shocking a dog that didn’t understand why it was being shocked didn’t sit well with me. Using only treats and never correcting the dog didn’t seem to make sense either. Why did I have to bribe my dog to do what I wanted her to do?
Then I found the right dog trainer to help Gracie.
After an intense internal struggle on the cost, I eventually hired a very well-regarded, highly recommended local positive reinforcement trainer. Her name had come up several times but she was expensive and I’d already dropped a sizable amount trying to fix Gracie. I needed to help her and no one else seemed to be able to help ME. Her anxiety was through the roof and I could no longer handle the strain of always worrying if she was going to be aggressive. I didn’t take her anywhere any more, I cried often and the truth of the matter was...I missed my Gracie. The one that was happy to do anything with me and didn’t care about dogs. The one I could be proud of, that I wasn’t embarrassed to be with. I knew she was still in there.
The consult with the positive reinforcement trainer was productive. She gave me a lot of insight on how to read my dog and all the signals Gracie showed before she ever lunged or barked. I was impressed with how much the trainer knew, and relieved to see her attitude that seemed to say Gracie could be helped. She wasn’t beyond redemption. I delved into dog behavior and dedicated my spare time to understanding how my dog worked and why she did what she did.
We worked hard. Every week, Nan came to our house and taught us some exercises which we built on in between sessions. Gracie excelled at everything we taught her, and I learned to read her like a book. We were back in sync. We could walk everywhere on a loose leash and she was not tense. Nan brought in a control team with a dog that didn’t react to anything; we practiced getting closer to the other dog without aggression.
There were times I didn’t think we’d ever get past this. It seemed like she’d get better and then we’d be out walking and suddenly she’d be aggressive. These episodes frustrated me but Nan assured me this was normal. What was happening was that I was getting overconfident and not being aware of Gracie’s signals again. *I* was pushing too hard.
Success came after lots of time, training, and treats.
We continued to work in controlled settings with Gracie being set up for success. We got closer and closer to the control dog until we were able to walk next to each other. I was amazed. The weeks of hard work paid off, and WE WERE WALKING NEXT TO ANOTHER DOG!!! The triumph, pride and relief I felt were overwhelming.
Gracie’s aggression towards other dogs left its mark. I wondered if there was a way I could help other people like me – to let them know they weren’t alone and that their dog was not broken. In fact, this is a much more common problem than most people realize.
The trainer that helped me find Gracie again was Nan Arthur, author of “Chill Out, Fido”. She asked if I’d consider apprenticing under her; it was a huge opportunity. I jumped in with both feet and never looked back.
At the time of this writing, Gracie is either 11 or 14 years old (with rescue, who knows for sure?). After months of hard work, Gracie was eventually OK with other dogs again. We road tripped with her – Oregon, Washington, Northern California. She’s been hiking in Whistler, Canada with us and played in the beaches in Hawaii after being the maid of honor in my wedding. Best and most importantly – we could just WALK together again. No more embarrassing outbursts. No more worries about being sued. No more tense moments whenever I saw another person or dog. She still has moments but now I attribute that to her being a grumpy old lady. I enjoy my girl again.