Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nothing in Life is Free (Training!)

G came to me via the Mayor's Alliance for New York City's Animals via the ACC on 110th Street. As I recall someone had found 2 pittie puppies in the Bronx and had brought them to the city shelter in the middle of December. Obviously sickly, the 2 puppies were diagnosed with parvo virus – a disease that unfortunately has a very high prevalence in pit bulls - and slated for euthanasia.

Luckily for them, Bernadette Peters, the famous Broadway actress and well-known rescue supporter, was at the ACC that day and saved the puppies in the nick of time. The two pups, who Ms. Peters termed ‘Mary Kate and Ashley’ as they were frighteningly skinny, were whisked away to the Animal Medical Center on the east side and treated for several days.

Around that time, I had recently moved to a new, dog friendly apartment and decided that I wanted to get a dog. It had been about 6 months since our family’s 10-year-old boxer/bulldog mutt had passed and I was just beginning to finally make my peace with it.

My mom, who was working at the AMC at that time, told me about the 2 pittie puppies that needed a foster home with no other dogs for a month - parvo is contagious to other canines via hair shedding for one month after treatment. I decided sight unseen that one of these pups was mine. I didn’t care about the breed (which in retrospect, now being so conscious of the breed and its negative stigma, is funny) – I had watched enough Cesar Millan to know that the problem is usually on the other end of the leash.

I remember stopping by the hospital one night after work to meet the puppies. 2 tiny little things, now named Tabby and Gabby were just 3 and 4 lbs., respectively, squirmed and squeaked all over the place is their own separated isolated crates. Gabby even had a note on her door that said “I eat paper plates.” She’s eaten a hell of a lot more since then, so I can’t say I didn’t have fair warning.

I got to hold each of the pups and decide which one I was going to keep and which one I was only going to foster until they found a forever home. I tried turning each puppy over on their backs to see how submissive (or not) they would be. Gabby was definitely the more dominant, but Tabby was smaller and sicker and I wasn’t sure I could responsibly agree to take care of her from a financial point of view. Not to mention Gabby’s head was all white, the same as my previous dog, and had one blue and one brown eye, which was just cool.

I decided Gabby was my girl.

Since that day, G (now renamed) has been in my life (her sister now lives with some friends of mine out in Connecticut). She is my best friend and I love her more than anything. That being said, even though I understand the importance of being the dominant, alpha one in our relationship, I haven’t always been the best at implementing it. She really walks all over me and I decided last month that it had to stop.

G and I began working on the Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF) training program as recommended on BAD RAP. For some reason, I’ve read a million training books, watch a billion “Dog Whisperer” episodes, and this is the thing that really stuck. Almost immediately, literally within 6 hours, I noticed a difference. G stopped barking my neighbors who passed by our front door. Immediately. It was incredible!

We are continuing to work on this method and it is crystal clear that consistency and control are the answer to any of G’s “bad habits.” I am still finding it tough to be the alpha presence and not give in, and we still have our okay days and our better days, but all in all I’m really happy with this method - and apparently so is she:

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