Ah Berns!

Ok, now its Bernie’s turn or we like to call him, Bernie Werns (the pup on the right in the picture)!

Bernie came to us totally unexpectedly.  After my husband and I settled into our new home in El Paso, we were thinking of adding on to our family.  We felt Jack adjusted too and we knew more as pet parents, so we kept our heart and eyes open!

At the time, I was volunteering at the Humane Society.  There is a pet/adoption fair at this wonderful place called Saddleblanket.  On a side note, check out Saddleblanket (www.saddleblanket.com).  Not only are they “Southwest Interior Design Center”, but the family who owns and operates it are total animal lovers and host the pet/adoption fair every year in October, if you’re in El Paso go check it out.  ANYWAY, my husband and I decided to volunteer for the day at this event. In addition to our duties of scooping poop and refilling the dog pools, we checked out all the vendors.  We came across Dona Ana Pets Alive-Action Programs for Animals.  All of the dogs in the kennels were barking and excited to see everyone stopping by, except for one….Bernie!  Bernie was laying there chill and relaxed like whatevs.  My husband gravitated to him and wanted to meet him.  So, we took him out for a few minutes and fell in love with him.  He was shy and reserved, but something spoke to my husband, so without intention of adopting any dog that day, we were on our way home to pick up Jack so him and Bernie can meet!

We arrived back at the fair with Jack and introduced him to Bernie.  They pretty much ignored one another, but now looking back at this, I see it in Bernie’s personality which Jack picked up on, to give Bernie some space, which Jack obliged and now they are best buds.  After completing my certification program with ABC and spending hours observing dogs in social settings, I understand the importance of first impressions.  So much happens nonverbally with dogs and the first meeting is definitely key to seeing how the personalities of two dogs will mesh.   Things like glances, lip licking, play bow, sniffing, body rigidity or loose wiggly body and tail placement are all indicators from one dog saying to another dog or a human “what’s up and how I’m feeling right now”.  I will discuss more about body language and give some fantastic recommendations for books later, I want to get back to my intro of Bernie.

Bernie lived in several different foster homes, so moving around was especially disruptful.  After we picked Bernie up and brought him home, we noticed he needed some time to adjust to change.  First, even though he was house broken , he had accidents throughout the day and night.  We had to revert back to crate training.  Not necessarily for him to remember to go outside, but rather to build trust with him that we will take care of him.

There are a many steps to crate training, in particular for puppies, so not all of them were necessary for Bernie.  Some of the steps we implemented started making his crate enjoyable to be in at all times he was in there.  We would give him treats and toys to keep him busy.  We gradually increased the time of him being in there and NEVER used it for punishment.

As soon as he came out, we brought him outside for a bathroom break.  This was important for him to get used to a routine, which reinforced his level of trust we’ll take care of him. Bernie was also used to using a doggie door in foster care to go potty.  He didn’t have that luxury living in an apartment, so regular  trips outside on a leash was vital for everyone’s sake.  We gradually moved the time between potty breaks up, so now he’s able to go through the night without any need for a trip outside.

We also PRAISED, PRAISED, PRAISED him for relieving himself outside.  Since we had failed attempts because accidents do happen, we wanted to be sure he was reinforced with his favorite squeaky toy or treats (both are huge motivators for him) when Bernie went to the bathroom outside.  Positive reinforcement gets you the behaviors you want faster and more reliably than negative or aversion training.

Now, Bernie is a more well adjusted dog who still needs time to get to know people and dogs.  Understanding Bernie’s temperament and what he needs allows for more successful interactions with dogs and people and in new situations.  My husband will attest to the trust building between him and Bernie and how crucial it was in building their bond.

Jack and Bernie aka The Bears

Jack and Bernie aka The Bears

What can I say, only that Jack and Bernie are my inspiration to becoming a dog trainer. Well, Jack truly got me started! He’s the little (only in stature) Jack Russell Terrier on the left in the picture. My husband and I were living in Germany when a dear friend of mine needed to rehome him for personal reasons. We were a bit hesitant since we would be newbie pet parents, but also because we did our research on JRTs and discovered Jack would be a handful to say the least. If you don’t know much about Jack Russells, they are tenacious, hard working, territorial, intelligent, confident and proudly devoted pups who are anything but little. They were originally bred to hunt foxes, so they are awesome longer distance running companions since they would follow along their owners out on hunts. We at least were prepared to know and begin to understand Jack is a working dog and obedience cues were our first priority. We weren’t prepared for what was next….

Jack most definitely possesses all of these qualities, but at the time of having him enter into our home without proper training or boundary setting in his prior home, he was a highly anxious, destructive basket case at 1 1/2years old. He chewed through purses, leather shoes, carpets, dryer vents, oh yes and that memorable moment when I walked into the house and found he pulled the 750ml plastic bottle of olive oil from the grocery bag (my mistake of leaving it in his reach); dragging it to the carpeted living room, chewing off the top and having its contents drain onto the floor. When I returned home to find this all I could do was walk back out the door for a few minutes in total disbelief.

We were now living in the reality of a dog with severe separation anxiety and we were at a loss for dealing with it and didn’t know where to begin. Separation anxiety in dogs prevents them living to their potential and especially with Jack’s stubborn and alert nature, it was necessary for him to learn boundaries, who the leader was in the home, so he didn’t feel he had to be and obedience as a way to redirect the anxiety on to other beneficial behaviors.

Where to begin……..I became a certified dog trainer who utilizes positive reinforcement techniques

The first thing we focused on with Jack was running. Since the Jack Russell Terrier breed was used for hunting and running long distances to catch prey, and he was in good physical health and was given the go ahead by our veternarian, we take him out for 4-6 mile runs daily. This at least chilled him out when we were home and could set us up for a successful training session.

Secondly, I positively reinforced his sit, and taught him to lay, stay, focus, heel, find it, roll over, play dead, recall all to engage his brain and make him mentally tired, so he not only learned obedience cues to do on command, but also wore him out so he was calmer inside the home. This was beneficial when we were to leave home, he was worn out from all of the positive learning!

Thirdly, I would give him toys like KONGs which could be stuffed with treats and he had to work on getting them out. This would keep his energy focused on his ‘job’ rather than being vigilant about what’s going outside and for him to not be focused on our departure.

Lastly, but there is no end to his training since training will be a life long commitment to him, I positively reinforce quiet behaviors in the home. I randomly treat him while he’s lying down, when he quietly looks out the window, when he patiently waits to go outside.

I’m proud to say with the hard work on both of our ends, he’s a calmer and more reliable dog.

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