I received this lovely tribute from Ada Simms, a positive trainer working in Rochester at a positive training facility in Rochester, New York, Boom Towne. Simon and Ada’s relationship certainly went full circle – from positive training and happy puppy, to traditional training and reactive dog, back to positive training and a dog that now competes and thrives as part of a team with his handler.
Thank you, Ada, for sharing Simon’s story with us.
Riding home from Buffalo was so exciting with my new 8 week old AKC registered Golden Retriever. Just what I wanted..big blocky head, giant feet. I knew he was going to be gorgeous. I just had to learn how to train him. Simon was happy and loved to play with other puppies and go places. I was socializing him just as I was told.
He was a puller and getting very strong. At 6 months the instructor said I needed a choke chain to control him. Ok, your the trainer and I know nothing. The choke chain was useless. Now I needed a prong collar. The trainer came to my home to teach me how to walk him and pop the collar so he would stop pulling. Hey it worked!! But deep in my heart I was aching because I knew I was hurting my puppy, but this was the only thing that worked.
At 12 months he passed his CGC and TDI (Therapy Dog). Then I knew this must be the way to train. We started doing visits to nursing homes. I would hide the choke collar under a fuzzy cover. No one knew. Simon loved people.
Fast forward to 18 months. In class, Simon wanted to go visit dogs. Every time he pulled toward the dog, I would pop the prong collar and drag him back. Never seemed to bother him. But at this age when he was feeling his oats and manhood, he started to react to other dogs. It started with little growls, that I would correct. In a matter of two months, it was full blown attack mode when other dogs approached. I was told to Alpha roll, and pop harder, that I wasn’t giving good corrections.
I was taking a Novice Obedience class and the instructor said “Your dog will never be able to show. He is unmanageable”.
My heart sank. My lovely therapy dog has turned into a vicious monster. I was so careful and told people to give us room in class because Simon is aggressive. When entered the training building on a certain night, I didn’t know it was going to be our last. I saw a Golden puppy coming down the narrow aisle. I had told the puppy owner to keep her distance. This was the third reminder I had given her. Simon and I ducked into a ring to let them go by. Her dog was pulling on the end of a 6ft leash. They started going by and dog back tracked pulling the owner and came at Simon head on. Simon gave a warning growl which the dog ignored. Simon and the dog connected and the other dog got a 1/2 scrape on his cheek. Simon could have chewed him up but he has great bite inhibition. The other owner freaked out. All eyes were on me for having such an attack animal.
That was my last time there.
Going home that evening, I just cried. My lovely Golden turned out to be an attack dog. That is what I was told. I started searching the internet for help. Hmm, clicker training sounded interesting and I was desperate. I found a trainer and a behaviorist in this area that practiced both. I was committed to changing my training style. Simon and I practiced and played. Everthing was a game. I learned about disensitizing and counter conditioning. We started about 50 ft away from other dogs and kept on shortening the distance.
At age 4 I decided to take classes again. I knew now how to read my dog, redirect, protect my dog and how to tell people to back off. From not being able to be with dogs and now to do long stays with dogs 4 ft from him….I was might proud. The class I took was Novice Show Preparation. The class was 8 weeks long. Our AKC Obedience trial was coming up in 6 weeks. Will I have learned enough by that time?
I entered Simon in Novice class both days at the trial. I had thought he did very well. At the titling ceremony with 8 other dogs, we waiting for the results. First place was announced. I clapped for the winner. Suddenly, people were shouting, “Ada, that is you!” I was in shock and gladly accepted the blue ribbon. Next day, we ran again and yes….another blue ribbon for first place. What was most rewarding was doing so well in the same training club that used aversives and where I was told I had a dog that could NEVER be a show dog. Simon finished his title with a 3rd place.
We then did Rally. Winning a ribbon every time. He obtained his Rally Excellent and we are working on our RAE of which we have 4 legs. We started agility in my backyard. The clicker way of course. I took classes to use the contact equipment. Our first agility trial, Simon got blue ribbons in Standard and Jumpers/Weaves class. We went onto Open Standard at one of the biggest shows in NYS, last autumn. Simon just got his last leg for Novice. I was nervous about moving him up to Open, but I did. There were 15 dogs entered. Simon got first place and only one other dog qualified on this course.
My groomer loves Simon because he so well behaved. She started to recommend me to her clients. I started doing home visits and then started to teach group lessons.
It has been a long journey and now a happy ending. If I didn’t learn about clicker training and embrace the method, Simon would just be a backyard dog. He is 8 years old now and we recently adopted a young golden retriever, that Simon just loves.
Yes he can play with some dogs, but I never thought he would have another dog in the house.
I am committed to spreading the word about positive training and I am delighted that I do get to teach the public. I tell my story the first night of class, hoping to prevent the same tragedy that happened to me.