The Taming of Tasha: A Short Story
It was instant! She was beautiful! That’s what got me in the beginning.
The search for a young, adult shepherd took me to a local German Shepherd Rescue group, and there was her picture. “Was she a German Shepherd or a Belgian Malinois?” was the first question I asked myself. Well, guess I will just have to see her for myself.
My background is training (teaching) and behavior. I have been in this business for over 20 years now and love it because every dog/handler team teaches me something new. The dog and the person are two separate beings; there is no other person like the handler and no other dog like the dog. Always being open and clear allows me to keep it all new and fresh.
We have had many German Shepherds through our place in the past 20 years for training and have had three of our own. We have also had two Belgian Malinois. Love the breeds!
So here was the presentation of Precious, now known as Tasha. A beautiful fawn-colored Malinois, 65 lbs, with the definitive square structure known to the breed. No question as to her breed. I watched her at a local PetSmart with people -- and pets -- of all colors and sizes.. I liked what I saw in Tasha, but I was realistic as to the training needed for her to move to her full potential. There were also some things I wanted Tasha to do for me.
I have been looking for a demo dog for my classes, and I would absolutely love to do therapy dog work with Tasha. Both of my Cavaliers are TD registered and it is definitely a passion of mine. Notice I say a passion of MINE, but maybe it won’t be a passion of Tasha’s. It is a passion for my Cavaliers, Tillie and Gus, but the jury is still out on Tasha. Whether she wants to work as a therapy dog and/or a demo dog or not, I’ll respect her decision.
When we adopted Tasha, I promised her we would work in the way she wanted to work. That has yet to be seen. She had no focus on her handler, PULLED on the leash, had no food drive when distracted… she was basically all over the place. But, she was beautiful! I hear that from so many people, but I still think: did I really want to take this on?? I guess I did.
I asked the director of the rescue to hold her for me, if possible, and she told me she could. I think she was happy to have someone adopt her who knew what they were doing. The reason for the hold was because of my two resident dogs. Two opposite ends of the canine spectrum? Yes! I needed to introduce them in a neutral area and see what kind of prey drive Tasha had.
My cavaliers are pretty dog savvy, having been around many other breeds in a therapy dog setting and in our own home. The meeting went well and Tasha came home with us.
In the beginning, Tasha was leashed at all times to continue to monitor a prey drive toward the little dogs that might appear. This was done also to let her know there is someone she could look to for good things to happen. Those good things might be movement, fetch, food and/or play. She wasn’t much into food, and she didn’t like to be touched, but she was ball crazy so we started out playing with the ball as a reward.
Tasha was pulling out all of my insecurities at once. She was teaching me to start at the beginning and to not perceive the outcome. It was never the same with her. This beautiful dog had so many issues that I was wondering what the heck I was doing. I really questioned my ability as a dog trainer from the beginning with her, but I also knew we were in it for the long haul.
She had a submissive urination issue, didn’t like to be touched, freaked if I even thought of doing her nails, was food aggressive (paperwork said she was beaten for growling), pulled on the leash, wouldn’t make eye contact or come when called, jumped on people and us, and so on.
Wow!!! As a trainer, what would you tell someone if this was presented to you? Do we look back at prior handling history? Do we go forward into teaching/training?
I was overwhelmed, yet, there was something there, not sure what but I knew I had to adopt Tasha. We would be a good match in the future.
I believe our dogs are here to teach us patience and, as a professional trainer, to help me to be empathetic with the people that come to me for help.
So, where to start? In the beginning of course! In the beginning …
Being a silent stalker of Suzanne Clothier, I started Tasha with her ‘Auto Check-In’ protocol. I didn’t want to push her too hard too fast because of what she had already gone through. I put Tasha on a 25’ long line, loaded myself with treats and took her out to our large side yard to see what it would take for her to work with me. I let her run a little bit then put on her six foot lead and started in. And yes, I know she wasn’t food-motivated but I felt that with fewer distractions, if any, I might have a chance.
It was the longest I have ever waited for a dog to turn their attention toward me - 14 ½ minutes. As soon as she looked at me I bent my knees, turned my body to the side and she came up to me giving me very quick eye contact, but it was more than I had ever gotten before. I rewarded her verbally and tried to give her a treat from my hand, but she didn’t take the treats. I continued a few more times, and had quicker success, then stopped for the time being. She was working for praise and I decided to let her see me throw the treats on the ground. She did start to pick them up.
Tasha was worked every day just like that, waiting for eye contact and rewarding as things progressed both verbally and with treats, as she took them. She finally did start to get interested in treats and that was helpful. It probably took a week before she started offering eye contact fairly quickly, within 4-6 seconds, with the ‘Auto- Check-in’.
There was no safety, no trust in the beginning and no consistency with training manners. She was at a loss as far as what to offer and why she should offer anything at all. We also practiced eye contact at the door, to go in and out, to let her out of the crate, sit for all and sometimes down. She started to seek me out. That was the beginning of our ongoing relationship training/teaching.
We then started the ‘Really Real Relaxation’ protocol of Suzanne Clothier's, I saw it starting to happen! For those of you that have a herding breed, specifically a Malinois, to have them relax is such a blessing! She is now going to get a bone in the toy box and laying down in the evening with the Cavaliers and taking it easy. Ah…
As I see it, the herding breeds form close bonds with their people. Tasha was relinquished to a Chicago shelter on February 7, 2015. German Shepherd Rescue was called, had her spayed, brought up to date on her shots and placed her in a foster home. She was in the foster home until we adopted her on May 27, 2015. She was then brought into our family after bonding with her foster and most likely her original family to some degree. That was all she knew.
Currently it is August 7, 2015. We have had Tasha for 71 days. Funny how I count the days. My husband has brought her to a few of my training classes and she actually did quite well. She is progressing very nicely, but it is a long road ahead of us.
We continue to offer her our trust. We trust her, and she in turn has learned to trust us. We offer her safety in the form of a clean, quiet household and a crate she loves! We continue to love her and I believe that connection is the bonding element that will keep us together.
Persistence, patience, consistency, love and trust. There are many other factors to a great relationship, but in the beginning …
Unleashed Potential Canine Teaching and Behavior