Lessons from
Challenging Dogs:

Luzelle & Puppy Sage of HausTralis Malinois at Starbucks Botany Auckland

By Luzelle Cockburn

You don’t become a good dog trainer by only having successes and you certainly don’t hone your skills just working with easy dogs. No, but you can learn plenty of valuable skills and lessons if you allow the challenging dogs to teach you. So, if you want to learn more about the dogs that shaped me as a dog trainer, and taught me my most valuable lessons, who knows, you might learn a thing or two, too!

You see, I once believed that all dogs needed was love. There. I said it. I didn’t believe that dogs were dominant and I thought that if I could only become a bit better I wouldn’t need to use any punishment in my training. But then, I got Delta. And she was the most challenging dog I ever had. Let me tell you about her ways.

The Problem Child’s Early Days

When she was a pup, I took her to go and hang out at the local dog training club as part of her socialisation. Delta had this thing where she liked to lean on people and sniff their breath. Of course, never having had a Malinois before and being a dominance denier I was quite happy to let her do whatever she liked. I thought she was a little nervous of people so I did everything I could to raise her confidence, and if she needed to sniff people’s breath, so be it! Oh how I laugh at my ignorance now.

So anyway, while at the club, she went to sniff the breath of a lady who is quite into agility. Delta stood up on her with her front feet on the lady (not jumping, just leaning but equally inappropriate and something I wouldn’t allow now) the lady yelled at Delta in a growly voice “GET DOWN!” Well, in Delta’s mind you do NOT speak to her like that, even when she wasn’t even 6 months old, she matched the lady’s tone and barked back at her, telling her off in the process. That was the first time I saw Delta in action and I was impressed (the lady did get a serious fright) that she wasn’t taking that from anyone. I shouldn’t have allowed Delta to do that. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. I still didn’t think that she had an attitude or was dominant. I was still in denial.

“She went to sniff the breath of a lady who is quite into agility. Delta stood up on her with her front feet on the lady (not jumping, just leaning but equally inappropriate and something I wouldn’t allow now) the lady yelled at Delta in a growly voice “GET DOWN!” Well, in Delta’s mind you do NOT speak to her like that, even when she wasn’t even 6 months old, she matched the lady’s tone and barked back at her, telling her off in the process.”

Things I did wrong

Now, while many, many dogs can sleep in their owners’ beds without staging a coup and planning world domination. Delta was not this type of dog. And letting her sleep in bed with us was the biggest no-no for her. Ever. She wouldn’t sleep next to me. She always slept on top of me. I loved her, and didn’t see anything wrong with this. There’s no such thing as dominance. Right…?

I also carried her everywhere. Neither Zak nor Kaz liked being picked up, and I was convinced that my next dog was going to like being picked up. But that furthered her delusions of grandeur. If I could give advice to my more naïve self: “Dogs have 4 legs. You have only 2. Put the puppy down.”

I also favoured her over Kaz. Delta could pretty much do what she liked without boundaries or rules. She got training 3 times a day, every day. She was my pride and joy. My blue-eyed girl. Delta could do no wrong.

Growing Up

She threatened to bite me. Daily. If I required her to do something she didn’t like. Putting her in her crate when I went off to work ended up being quite the spectacle. I’d chase Delta around the house and yell “You’re not going to bite me, you little minx” and she’d show me the whites of her eyes in defiance. She’d go in her crate eventually, but not willingly (I had to drag her in, which of course made matters worse – and yes, to those reading this, I did lots of training to get her to like her crate. Didn’t work. She’s not that gullible. Every day we’d try and outsmart each other. Every day was pretty-much groundhog day.

She was also quite fond of telling everyone off for daring to look her in the eye. She also sent me to A&E though it was an accident, it’s still worth telling you… I’d taught her to weed the garden. And… we both went for the same weed. Delta is a lot faster than me, and nailed me.

Because I thought that Malinois were all handler sensitive and that dogs weren’t dominant and that you could train dogs by only using cookies, didn’t give me the mental tools to help Delta become a good dog. And no, by that I don’t mean I should have scruffed her and put her into a submissive position. Dealing with a dog of this caliber requires you as the human to become more calculating in your dealings, you are the human and thinking party. You can learn more in the blog posts Can You Say No to Your Dog and How Effective Leadership can Help Your Dog.

Realising I had Created a Problem

But probably one of the most telling stories about Delta was when I had her out one morning (it was still dark) and she took off to do her own thing. I dually decided to go and hide from her in the shadows of the pine trees. When she came back and found me, she bit me as to tell me off for daring to hide from her.

She really had it in for my German Shepherd. Not that Kaz was in the right – neither of them was. It was a power struggle and I was just the muppet. You see, Kaz tried to tell Delta off for doing certain things, and that always blew up into huge fights between the girls. I threw water on them, even threw the stupid bucket at them. Nothing. They were at it and there was nothing I could do short of choking Delta out to the point where she would let go (trust me, nothing else worked).

It was after one of these fights that I decided I had had enough of the fights. One of the girls had to go. It was just after my traumatic experience involving a litter of puppies and an animal abuser (you can read more in a future blog post What I learned from an Animal Abuser) and I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and did not have the mental capacity to handle Delta. Delta also had the opportunity to become a working dog, something Kaz couldn’t do because of her health and her age.

I organised for Delta to start her training to become a working dog. But she still stayed with me for the next month. The only way I could stop her fighting with Kaz was to make her sleep in an outside run. Not loose outside. Not in a crate inside the house. None of that stopped the fights. Only demoting her to an outside run allowed me to keep her until she could start her training. I was allowed to start her detection training before she went. I love that dog so much and I miss her every day. But she’s gone on to do what she loves and is now a dual purpose military working dog.

What’s the Point

The point is that if you don’t want to believe in dominance, that’s fine. But unfortunately, dogs do follow a hierarchy. Some more so than others. And whether you choose to believe in dominance or not, doesn’t change that fact. Not every dog is like Delta. Many, many can happily sleep on your bed, be carried around and you can enjoy you doting on them without making your life a misery. But, every so often, you might just find that your dog has a little bit of Delta in them too. And, I want you to know, I understand.

Did you enjoy this blog post? Have you found it useful? Share your thoughts with us below and tell me what you think. Do you agree or not?

In the next blog post we’ll find out if you can say “No” to your dog.

Need Some Help with Your Dog?

The whole reason I’m a dog trainer is to keep dog out of shelters and rescues and off death row. The best way to do that is to keep dogs with their families! So, I’ve put together some resources to help you with your dog! It’s all kept in The Dog Training Lab – you’ll find heaps of free resources, just pop your email address in The Free Resources Hub to get access and you’re set! 

What information is in there? Tips to help you with walking your dog on lead, toilet training, problem barking and so much more!

Hey, I’m Luzelle!

If it has to do with transforming your naughty, embarrassing, frustrating or worrying dog into an obedient, well behaved member of the canine society that you can actually enjoy spending your life with, I can help.

Wanna know more? Check out the SolutionK9 About page!

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