As a service dog handler, I cannot count the number of times people have said to me, “Wow, your dog is so well behaved! Mine could never be like that!” While I appreciate the compliment, it sometimes frustrates me, because the way DeeDee acts is the result of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of hours of training. In fact, she had nearly 200 hours of public access training alone before graduating to full service dog status. People often find it hard to believe that DeeDee came to me as somewhat of a fireball. But she did. I thought I might share some of DeeDee’s untold stories so people can see that, while not all dogs have what it takes to become service dogs, almost every dog can learn to be well behaved.
Let’s start with day one - the day we brought her home. One of the things I foolishly did was to give DeeDee a rawhide bone to chew on. After about an hour, it became necessary to take it away from her. I don’t know where my brain was, but it had clearly taken an unannounced vacation. One of the number one rules with dogs is never attempt to take a high value treat from a dog you don’t know well. Sure enough, when I reached for the bone, DeeDee growled and snapped at my hand. She didn’t bite me, which means she didn’t intend to bite me (a dog who wants to bite almost never misses), but still, it was a clear and scary warning. Eventually I got the bone away by trading it for a treat, and training against resource guarding moved to the top of our training list. Today, not only can anybody remove a treat DeeDee’s eating from under her nose, she will actually bring me any treat she is working on and place it in my hand on command. Did she just automatically learn this? Of course not. It took time and training.
(Time to reflect on days gone by…)
Another issue she had was wanting to get to our food while we ate. My husband and I frequently ate on the floor, watching movies and using a foot stool for a table. The first time we tried this with DeeDee nearby, I had to repeatedly wrestle her away from us and the food. DeeDee was the most determined dog I’d ever seen in this area. She would gladly attempt to push me aside all night long if it meant a chance at my food. So I trained her, using her love of food to my advantage. I placed her dog bed near where we sat, and began tossing pieces of kibble to her as long as she stayed on it. At first she got kibble every couple of seconds, but eventually I weaned her off of needing it completely. Nowadays, I can confidently leave DeeDee alone in a room with extremely tantalizing food right at nose level, and she won’t so much as look at it. Again, she didn’t arrive this way. It took training.
Another issue common to dogs that DeeDee had was snapping at fingers when offered treats. She was so horrible about this that at our very first greyhound meet and greet, the man handing out dog treats, who was used to greyhounds and their strong affinity for food, gave up trying to feed her and handed me the treats to try at my own risk away from the other dogs. So I trained her. Today we actually have the opposite problem - DeeDee takes treats so cautiously they often fall to the ground because she doesn’t grip tightly enough.
Moving on, prior to adopting DeeDee, my husband had decided he didn’t want her on the bed. Apparently nobody told DeeDee that. She repeatedly jumped onto the bed her first two nights at home, forcing my husband to literally drag/push her off time and time again. DeeDee had huge crate issues from being kenneled 23 hours a day at the track (she came to us with yellow, urine stained fur that wouldn’t wash out from being forced to lie in her own urine), so that was out. Once again I resorted to rewarding her for remaining on her bed next to ours at night. After just a few nights, the problem was gone. A few months later DeeDee won my husband over enough for him to want her on the bed, but to this day she pauses with her head resting on the edge of the bed, asking permission before coming up.
(DeeDee in a no pull harness, shortly after we adopted her.)
Another huge issue DeeDee had was her prey drive. While she was relatively okay indoors around small animals (with the occasional reminder not to give chase), outdoors she would leap and lunge and whine at the end of her leash every time a cat, rabbit, or squirrel was in sight. It looked horrible, and I was afraid she’d hurt her neck, so I temporarily switched to a no pull harness (which, of course, she pulled in). I then taught her the command “watch me” indoors, away from distractions. Once she had it down, we began practicing it randomly while on walks outdoors. When I was confident she had that down, I began to give the command the instant I saw a small animal. Each time she’d turn away from a small animal to glance at me, even for a split second, I put on my super excited happy voice and gave a bunch of treats at once. Nowadays, if DeeDee sees a small furry, even if it’s running from us full speed she refuses to chase after it. But again, it took training.
DeeDee also came to us with a severe case of separation anxiety. It was so bad the adoption group actually asked us to consider returning her and getting a different dog. It took a solid six months, but eventually DeeDee got to the place where she’d curl up and sleep when we left. Talk about a long six months!
DeeDee definitely had issues when we first brought her home. In fact, had I known I would be needing a service dog, I wouldn’t have chosen her. But I did, and with a lot of time, work, and patience, she became the well trained companion I now trust with my life on a daily basis. There are some dogs who will always have issues, but the vast majority of dogs can overcome them with proper diet, training, and exercise. I truly believe having a well behaved, closely bonded dog is one of life’s greatest joys.
(DeeDee, without a care in the world.)