Max, an Australian Shepherd mix, was FluentDog Training’s first-ever client. One day, his owner saw me playing with my own dog offleash in a field (safely, thanks to his ecollar training!), and she asked me if I could help with her dog Max. “Well, I’m not really a dog trainer…but sure!” I had been competing in AKC events with my dog, taught a few group dog training classes, and had a basic understanding of pet dog obedience.
Max’s home life included children, other pets, and an owner with a very demanding job who realized she was over her head with this dog. The biggest problem was when Max would door-dash and run around the neighborhood, not coming when called… he also jumped on people, counter-surfed, and needed to lose about 20 pounds.
All of these are fairly simple fixes but they require time and some lifestyle changes. I gave some suggestions, like putting up baby gates and not leaving free-choice food out in a bowl 24/7. (Every piece of kibble is an opportunity to reward good behavior!) We also worked on teaching her dog to walk on a leash and to greet people politely, both critical skills for any dog.
After I did a few lessons with her, I found out Max’s problems were more than I knew how to handle at that time–he had bitten someone on a bicycle while out on a walk, and had even been reported to animal control. I showed her how to teach Max to enjoy wearing a muzzle, then referred her to another more experienced trainer, although we kept in touch and I often pet-sat for her while she was out of town. He was so easy and perfectly behaved at my house–but I run my house with a LOT of structure and rules. He is a dog who craved direction, and could not handle roaming around the house without misbehaving.
Max’s owner struggled with him for over two years. She struggled to implement the structure in her home that he needed. He kept escaping the house, which was right next to a busy road. She didn’t know what to do. Although he had so many great qualities–trainable, happy, safe around kids, cats and even birds–it was unlikely a rescue would accept him with a bite on his record. At the time I wished I could take Max as a foster, because I knew his issues were due to lack of management and follow-through (not a knock on his owner…she loved him very much but he was just way too much dog for her lifestyle).
Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn’t foster Max. I could only have 3 dogs in my house at the time and adding Max would take a spot away from a paying client dog, cutting my income in half.
Fast forward to September 2022. By that time, I had graduated a world-renowned dog training school (NePoPo® Gold School) where I became certified in the NePoPo® system and in ecollar training. I was training full-time and I had helped dozens and dozens of owners with rambunctious, reactive, and difficult dogs. Most importantly, we had just moved to our facility in Ijamsville, MD–a 6-acre paradise for dog training.
Max’s owner reached out to me again. He had just gotten in a fight with her new dog and she asked me if I knew of anyone who would want him. I offered to foster him. I was happy to help this dog I had grown to love so much…particularly because I had seen in my own home that he was a totally different dog with the right boundaries and rules.
She said, “You know him, you know how good he can be. It’s just certain people and certain dogs he doesn’t mesh with. If you would do this, it would be an answer to prayer.”
We both cried when I picked Max up, and I promised to care for him and train him as long as it took to find him the perfect home. I never fault owners for realizing their home is not working out for the dog. It is very painful to separate your emotions from what is best for the dog.
His owner texted me: “This is truly his second chance at having a really happy life. We miss him, but want the best for him.”
Time for a training bootcamp to turn Max from an overweight hooligan to the trim, active worker he was meant to be!
I trained him just like a board-and-train dog that comes for ecollar training. Work/rest/work/rest, walks, plus some structured social time with other dogs in the yard. He earned all his food via training, which is a highly motivating reward!
Max tended to punch new dogs with his snout and then ask questions later, so he always needed to be on muzzle! He wanted to interact with the other dogs, but did not know how to “speak dog” with good manners.
In our social groups, I teach dogs to just “exist” around other dogs. More of a canine cocktail party, as opposed to a dog park mosh pit. Over time, he became one of my most stable group dogs who could help other dogs gain confidence.
He was still terrible at coming when called. I always kept him on a 30ft long line, and even still, I nearly lost him one time when darted out the door and chased a deer!
Ecollar training is what really turned Max around and made his behavior more reliable. After 2 weeks of on-leash training, we introduced coming when called to the ecollar, pairing food with the lowest level he could detect on the collar. Food/tap/food/tap. Ecollar training works best when there is a strong foundation of on-leash training. The ecollar becomes your invisible leash.
We practiced this for about a week and then his skills were put to the test one night when he saw a deer while on a long line walk. He froze…then BOLTED, nearly yanking the leash out of my hand! “Max, come!” I said and tapped the ecollar.
I won’t lie. It took a while. But he did turn around and I DUMPED my entire treat bag out for him as he bounded my way. Good boy!! That wasn’t the last time he was tempted by a deer, but each time, his response was better. In just a few more weeks, I trusted him without a leash at all. He was living the farm dog life just like my own dog, following me every day as I went about my work on the property. The strong foundation of on-leash training, paired with offleash ecollar training, meant that I could trust them to always listen.
I started advertising Max for adoption and got a lot of inquiries. Finally, the right people found my post–a couple just 30 minutes away from me whose dog passed away. They had experience with reactive dogs and were excited to keep up with Max’s training.
We met up and not only was it love at first sight, it was OBEDIENCE at first sight! Max showed off all the skills he learned at FluentDog training camp.
What really sold it for me was that one of the adopters asked “What’s your marker word?” I said, “YES!!! My marker word is yes.” Clearly she knew about training dogs. I was happy to adopt Max to them, and I offered lifetime training support. They could always bring Max in for group classes if they ever had an issue in the future, or simply wanted to continue learning with him!
Now Max has a family who enjoys training him. He impresses everyone when he comes to group class! His new owner said, “I’m not sure what to teach him next…he’s so good!” so I showed her how to work on some tricks like “stand on a bucket” and “flip into heel.” Oh, and they kept up with his weight and exercise regimen, reaching his goal weight of 70lb that the vet recommended.
It was bittersweet to have to rehome the dog who gave FluentDog its start. But not all dogs are the right fit for all families, and I applaud his former owner for putting Max’s needs first, as well as his adopters for giving him a great home!
Wish you had a trainer on call? FluentDog’s Set for Life program comes with lifetime training support, so you’ll never have to worry about your dog’s training slipping over time. Our Set for Life clients are always welcome to book a private or group lesson for the entire life of the dog. Get in touch to learn more!