Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The making of a General

'General' was a magnificent jet black German Shepherd who belonged to a pub landlord named 'Alan'.  Alan rang me one morning and asked me to drop by the pub as he had rather a lot to explain before he would even ask me to take him and General on as clients. This I duly did a few days later.  Upon arrival I listened to Alan recount what problems he had with General.  General was a second hand dog, having been kept by some people before and allowed to stray onto a field that Alan often walked his old boxer bitch on.  The people, having done nothing with General but allow him to do exactly as he liked were keen to 'get rid' and Alan, seeing the advantage of having a German Shepherd as a possible watch dog for his pub agreed to take him on.  He had had General for about 5 months and during that time, General had managed to bite not one, not two, not three but four people!One was not long after Alan got him and was showing him off to some men in the pub.  One of the men had tried to playfully shove him and General had chomped down hard on his hand.  The second and third people were relatives of Alans who had turned up and gone upstairs unannounced (they were bitten on the arm) and the fourth was a youth on the park who had been drunk and swayed rather close to Alan.  He had had his lower leg bitten though Alan believed that he was kicking out at the dog at the time.  Fortunately nobody so far had involved the police.
Before I would agree to take General and Alan on, I really needed to meet General so I was shown through to the private back yard.  Alan came down with him on lead and as soon as he set eyes on me, General went ape!  We walked around the yard with me averting my eyes, talking in a low voice and keeping all arm movements to a minimum.  I had taken a basket muzzle with me so I placed it on a table and asked Alan to put it on his dog.  Once he had done so, I asked for him to casually hand me the handle of his' lead then to slowly walk away.  This he did and once he realised that Alan was leaving him, Generals' attention turned to me and believe me, if he had not been muzzled, I would have been victim number 5!  I retaliated with a loud growly "What the hell do you think you're doing?" and General sat back on his haunches with an aghast look upon his face!  That wasn't meant to happen!  People were normally scared of him!  I then started to walk with General warily keeping up with my pace as I altered from slow to fast, back to slow, then to normal and then to fast etc.  This kept him on his toes and I had to stifle a giggle as his face was such a picture!We stopped and I commanded him to sit, which he did straight away (he knew that much then!) and I uttered a quiet "Good lad." to which he responded by leaning against my leg as only a German Shepherd can and then it happened.  He totally relaxed and from then on we became friends.

Over the following year (yes, they had lessons for a whole year with me because Alan enjoyed learning how to train him that much!) General gradually went from being a bossy, loud mouthed, aggressive lout to being a loudmouthed (Well come on!  He was a Shepherd!) and very well trained dog, totally faithful to Alan but with a soft spot for me.He was the dog I thought he was.  An intelligent, confident animal who enjoyed 'working' and the challenge of learning new things.  Within the year he had learned to do all the basics, sits, downs, stays, recalls, heelwork etc plus out of sight stays, send-aways, re-direction at a distance, retrieves, fun agility and I even introduced my Weimaraner Lacey as a training companion so that he could work with another dog present.  He was not actually that keen on other dogs though he bonded with Lacey quite well.  He did learn to leave other dogs alone though and much preferred his owner to any of them so would always come away.  Sometimes with him, it was a seemingly hard slog, one step forward and two back etc but we did it and eventually we ran out of things to teach him hence the lessons stopped after a year.  But, most importantly of all, General never bit anyone again and now looked to Alan to make the decisions for him.  He also became trustworthy to have down in the bar at closing time and would collect the beermats from the tables to take to the bar staff and then sit and glare at any stragglers until they drank up and left!  I went to see Alan and General six months after our lessons stopped and all was well.  I did tell him to call me if he ever had any more bother with him but I never heard anymore so I must assume that he never did.

General was trained using reward for response methods with verbal chastisement if he required it.  But as General had bonded so closely with Alan through them both learning together, the latter was rarely needed.  Alan was at that time, aged 59 years old and had only ever trained his dogs in the way he knew best which was rather 'old school'.  He had to relearn almost everything and to be honest, to look at him you would not have expected him to have been so open minded!  He was a really old fashioned soul.  But he gave it a go and stuck with it, reaping the reward of having a cracking looking German Shepherd whose behaviour he was proud of at the end of training.  There was no need for alpha rolls, pinning down, hanging him up by his collar and other dubious methods used by celebrity trainers obsessed with quelling so called 'dominance' in dogs.  General was treated with respect and rewarded fairly for what he did right.  He grew to trust Alan even more plus he trusted me too. He was not subjected to cruel gadgets like shock collars even though he was a biter when I first met him.  I don't work that way and never have needed to.  Between us, Alan and I got results without subduing General and he retained his character.  Another dog I will never forget!

Out of respect for the privacy of my previous clients, names have been changed.

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