My boyfriend, Mike, and I had been eager to welcome a dog into our lives for months, and the perfect opportunity presented itself when we met a beautiful shepherd mix Noah through Muddy Paws Rescue in summer 2016.
When his foster mom, Marni, called to discuss our application for him, she let us know off the bat that he had special needs: He was fearful around males, had some growling issues inside the house, and was fearful of the sounds of the city while on walks. Noah had also been returned from another adopted home after just one day due to him growling at the male in the household.
Between the two of us, Mike and I had experienced living with eight dogs big and small, and thought the challenges of integrating Noah to the family were well worth the reward.
When we visited Noah for a meet and greet, we took him for a walk around the block in the quiet neighborhood and went inside the foster’s apartment with him. We saw that he was such a good boy; he didn’t growl or act timid towards Mike and rolled over on his back for a belly rub once we got settled in. We were dead set on Noah and took him home the next day.
For the first few days, Noah was a breeze and things were going as smoothly as they could be. Muddy Paws had set him up for success — he was crate trained, house trained, leash trained, and knew how to sit.
We were hand feeding him his meals to establish a pecking order of the household and to strengthen our bond. We also worked on counter conditioning Noah to the sounds of the city streets by rewarding him with food when a loud truck rolled by or when a door slammed.
There were no problems in the house either — we invited friends over to meet Noah and get him acclimated to having people in his new space, and he did fantastically. He was friendly, wagging his tail and rolling over for belly rubs. He had not growled once. Everything was going well for the first three days.
On the fourth day, Noah had settled in. We could tell because, much to our dismay, we began to witness his guarding behavior. Our friend, who Noah had previously been completely calm and friendly with, came by the apartment. This time, Noah growled, barked, and lunged at our friend as soon as he entered what he thought was his space.
We were dumbfounded that our sweet Noah had that kind of behavior in him. Thinking this was a fluke, we tried again the next day to an even worse reaction from Noah to our friend.
We were beyond upset and felt totally unprepared for the situation. Rachel and Marni from Muddy Paws had encouraged us to consult Jason, from Canine Cohen Dog Training when we first adopted Noah, and now felt like the right time to. After we spoke to Jason on the phone and explained the situation, he put us at ease and offered helpful tips to get us through until our scheduled session.
When Jason came over, he was able to alter Noah’s behavior pattern using just one spray of the "Pet Convincer Air Training Tool" and the rest using positive reinforcement with clicker training, marking and rewarding all good choices. By the end of the session, Noah was out of his crate, wagging his tail, playing the name game, and learning the very important concept of the "Place" cue. We blitzed through so many cues in the session, and Jason left us with a recap of everything we had gone over so we could work on it over the next few weeks until our next session. We felt relieved with a game plan in hand.
For the second session, Jason got creative to really help Noah get over the hurdle of feeling the need to guard his space. He offered to host an entire party for Noah. We invited friends over to do an interactive training session under Jason’s guidance and by the end, Noah was warmed up to the idea of a whole group of people in his space.
A third session helped us go over off leash techniques and recall. With that, we were graduates of the Canine Cohen program (for now).
The best parts of the sessions were the recaps that Jason sent, which doubled as homework for Mike and I to apply to Noah’s training sessions. For example, the "Touch/Target" exercise and the "Name Game" were perfect for us to do in an empty dog park where Mike and I stood on opposite ends and had Noah run back and forth to practice his commands, all while using the release word (“break”) which Jason had also introduced us to.
Despite some challenges with Noah, we still wanted to include him in as many day to day activities as possible such as bringing him to meet our families. We learned from Jason that there are good ways to introduce a fearful dog to new people. Equipped with his tips, we were able to introduce Noah to my mom, dad, younger brother (4) and younger sister (7). We precluded our arrival to sending the kids a video on dog body language (“I Speak Doggy”), sent to us by Jason which advocates for the dog and educates younger kids on dog boundaries.
When we arrived, we kept Noah on a leash and had the family meet us outside to set a neutral space for their first encounter. We had each member of the family hold some sausage (a high value treat) and play the touch game with Noah, which created an easy, non-intimidating job for him to complete.
Once Noah seemed comfortable, we kept everyone armed with sausage and headed into the house and had everyone go about their business as usual while rewarding Noah when he approached them with interest. Keeping a crate available for him was also important, as it created a safe space for him to decompress if he at any point was uncomfortable.
Advocating for him in every visit home and every new scenario has helped build an enormous level of trust between us and Noah and has allowed him to come out of his shell - he now loves playing fetch and getting his belly rubbed by the kids and is genuinely happy to visit the family. This approach has worked for many other introductions since.
Working with Jason was game changing for both Noah and for us. Jason provided the training structure for the smoothest possible transition to city life that Noah could have had. He also introduced us to a network of other dog owners in the city who have faced training challenges just like us.
Moral of the story: A happy, confident dog is one who knows the basic rules and is constantly learning. There is no better way to do this than through training. If you’re not sure how to train your dog, work with a trainer. If you think you’re sure how to train your dog, work with a trainer anyway because the knowledge of trainers like Jason is invaluable!