(Note: this is a long heartfelt letter from Moose’s owner Amy)
What an amazing nearly five years it has been that I’ve known you, and what a change you have made in me – the human. It is also hard to believe it’s been five years.
You can see I only remember a little about how much frustration I put you through as I brought my “leash jerk” training methods along with me. If a dog couldn’t be jerked into compliance, the human should yell and holler and yank some more until the dog finally did what was needed. Training a puppy was so HARD! I remember being (willingly, actually), “regaled” to a chair, leash woven into a carabiner and secured on a dog food rack, told to sit on my hands except for my target finger, and I’d have to train with my voice if I expected to make it through the class. I was free to leave at any time, and I wasn’t forced to do anything – and I understood that. I was interested in this new method as much as I was annoyed by it. Early into classes (about five more weeks), my Dad told me that we could not keep Dozer. I was sad and ripped into pieces. You were awesome, suspending and then restarting the “classes on the books.” I knew something else, too – of all the places I had tried, and the various trainers I had chatted with and trained with for various lengths of time – you, and Hillsboro Petco, were a really good match for me. I wanted to come back to Hillsboro Petco. As soon as Baby Moose came to live with us and got enough vaccinations, he went up to see you. While I wrote this, I took a look back at his “Training Journal” – it’s noted in there that his first basic obedience class was with you in March of 2014. Then what other countless classes can we recall? Rally-O, of course – classes Moose truly loved. When we had a Rally class or did Rally-related commands in public – I literately saw Moose beam and transform into “what do you want next, Amy?” – as if he couldn’t wait to be told what else I wanted him to do. Seeing that vibrancy and interest was incredible. The skills Moose learned in Rally were also an advantage in his service dog work. Several times, I got comments from other trainers I networked with (often “service dog trainers”) about how advanced Moose’s skills were – his advanced skills were because you taught me how to train him, and you used your “Professional Nag!” title to change my training methods into more positive ones that really do work well! I am now an advocate for positive training methods and for the truth – you cannot train a dog overnight, and it takes A LOT of diligent work to get a well-trained dog, for sure. That diligent work is worth it, however, we cherish the fun memories of Moose having “roller skates to the training room” – I knew if I ended up dropping the leash, just about where to find him with reliability, hee hee! It has been so special to always see him so happy when we go to Petco, although he will have quite the adjustment when he figures out that “Sandy’s moving to Texas” means that he looks all over the Hillsboro Petco and can’t find you. I think I might cry, while alternatively being happy for you and remembering what incredible work you’ve done for us (both of us!) and cherishing all you’ve taught us and all the opportunities that you’ve so graciously extended to us throughout the last four / five years (Dozer included!). I know that both of us cherish what you’ve done for us, what you’ve trained us, and how you’ve taken so much incredible time to mentor us. I want to conclude this letter by saying that you did something for me that many other people and trainers had difficulty doing over the past five years. You made it look easy, although I know at first I was probably one of your most annoying customers (because I believed that “leash jerk” methods could train the fastest and best, although now I know that there is no quick way to training a dog and positive training works wonders). Not only did you give me more training methods in my toolbox, methods that I now pass on to other beginning (and some seasoned!) people, but you found a way to share training methods that worked for me despite what difficulties were presented by my disability. When other trainers gave up or gave me devices like a clicker, that I couldn’t wrangle with limited function of my left hand, you said, “Use a “mark” word.” “Mark” is now Moose’s favorite word (aside from “Want to go see Sandy?” and “Cookie!”) and Moose and I (verbally click) with as much precision as those using a clicker. We’ve also demonstrated to other trainers that a verbal clicker can be as good as a training tool as a physical clicker. When I had trouble wrangling a “target stick,” you suggested using “target finger” (target hand, target fist), and taught me how to use a target stick of the 10 choices I have available. J When other trainers, including “service dog trainers,” said I wouldn’t be able to train a dog without (physical force, at first,) and then later without the ability to use a clicker and/or a target stick well… you said, “let’s try these methods.” And you made training possible for me with Moose, and for all you’ve mentored us, for all you’ve done, and for all you’ve seen in both of us – know that I thank you so much, and I will truly miss you. At the same time, now I will recommend folks in Texas track you down and train with you!
Moose says: I’m going to miss you so much, Sandy. I love you as sweet little (not so little now!) Black Labs do, my very special Sandy friend!!