The Dog Whisperer

Susan Blatz uses a kinder, gentler method to train dogs and the people who own them. Or is that the other way around?

During her next therapy session, Blatz scored no points with Esther when she pulled out a 30-foot leash from her bag and suggested that the best way for Moe to grow attached to the family was for Esther to attach herself to Moe--all day. Blatz, however, was making sense: Since Moe felt out of control, he needed to be controlled all the damn time. When he began looking around the den for a superhero to sink his teeth into, Esther could yank him into awareness, redirecting him to his own toy box, where all manner of bones, bears and balls lay waiting for him to jaw. If he acted out or made bad choices, he needed to go into time-out, a space where he would separate from the family, settle down and sulk about his bad-dog self. Esther recognized the logic of time-out: It worked for Max; maybe it could work for Moe. Though she already felt tied down by the kids, she reluctantly agreed to give the long lead a try.

Later that evening, Lily innocently picked up the leash, and Moe walked her right into the wall. Lily was wailing, a nasty bump rising on her forehead. Moe's punishment was swift, certain: a 30-minute time-out. Esther had to stop me from gently kicking his ass.


It stunned me when Blatz told me my family had risen to the top of her "most difficult list," particularly since her specialty was training aggressive animals--biters and barkers mostly--some of them downright vicious. She took me to the home of 5-month-old Sam, a pernicious pup whose high-pitched yelp could cause the side of your face to tic involuntarily. Owner Dana Johnson seemed a big-hearted woman, a massage therapist whose arms Sam had once mistaken for a chew toy. "When we first got him I looked like a heroin addict," she said, holding out her right forearm. "He bit me in the eye, and I had scratches all over. He is getting better, but he still doesn't know when to stop."
Dog trainer and attitude adjuster Susan Blatz shares some lighthearted moments with 1-year-old Moe, a neurotic golden retriever whose abandonment issues cause him to steal children's toys for attention.
Mark Graham
Dog trainer and attitude adjuster Susan Blatz shares some lighthearted moments with 1-year-old Moe, a neurotic golden retriever whose abandonment issues cause him to steal children's toys for attention.
Blatz's gentle training methods employ repetition and praise to positively motivate dogs like Moe. Her techniques may also have a residual benefit of motivating Lily Donald, bottom picture, left, and Max Donald, right, to sit and stay on command.
Mark Graham
Blatz's gentle training methods employ repetition and praise to positively motivate dogs like Moe. Her techniques may also have a residual benefit of motivating Lily Donald, bottom picture, left, and Max Donald, right, to sit and stay on command.

Moe's behavior suddenly seemed more benign, less Jeffrey Dahmer.

"If he wants people food," Johnson added, "he comes up to where we are sitting and latches onto our arms. We don't give him people food."

I folded my arms across my chest, wondering what she meant by people food.

Blatz certainly showed no fear of Sam, a rottweiler mix who responded admirably to her commands by sitting, staying and taking a time-out in the large iron-wired cage parked in what had formerly been Johnson's den. Blatz recommended frequent time-outs for Sam. "He's like a spoiled kid who is saying, 'You're not the boss of me.' We have to teach him to calm himself down before he gets to the point of being bossy."

In this clash of alphas, Johnson seemed outflanked. Sam wasn't just pushing the envelope; he was ripping it to shreds. She could never let him win--not a game, not a sit, not a stay. When it became Johnson's turn to command, her shoulders were stooped, her head leaning forward. "Don't bend over like that," Blatz instructed her. "You lose your upright advantage. You need to speak from a position of authority. If Sam bit or barked or humped, Johnson should not engage him or fight back. She should just go limp and not give Sam the negative attention (or the body part) he was craving.

At the end of a two-hour lesson, Johnson had Sam sitting on command "100 percent of the time, which is huge," Blatz said enthusiastically. "Sam is smart and is going to make a fantastic dog as soon as he learns he can't win through intimidation."

Later that day, Blatz brought me to the quaint but cramped Lakewood home of Newman (as in Seinfeld's annoying neighbor), an obsessive-compulsive wolfhound mix. Newman would sniff irrationally for hours at a clip after her owners built a deck in their small back yard and she had less territory to dominate. Newman could be a real bitch; not only would she badger her owners, Lisa Evans and Jeff Lovell, she would also savagely attack the family's second dog. The owners had unwittingly sentenced this second dog to a subordinate pack position by naming him N.D., which stood for Newman's Dog.

"Newman is the alpha dog over all of us," admitted Evans, who referred to herself as Newman's mommy. Lovell got no respect from Newman, partly because he didn't use a command voice and insisted on explaining everything to his dogs.

"We are trying to switch roles now and put the owners in charge," Blatz said. "That way, Newman will be more controllable and N.D. will feel protected."

N.D., a beagle mix, looked severely depressed, playing the role of battered spouse as if the part were written for him. Both dogs had been sleeping on their owners' bed, which Blatz quickly remedied. "Getting the best spot in the pack means getting the highest spot," she said. "It's fine for dogs to sleep beside your bed, but if you elevate them to higher ground, that elevates their status."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...