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World's best pack leader
The value of the right professional dog trainer: can your dog gently play with a cat? 
Can you take your dog into a Chinese restaurant?
After months of practice Bobcat demonstrates his pack leader skills with a 100 lb. German Shepherd.
 
This page is a testimony to the long term value of professional dog training

Watching Cesar Milllan for 2 years before I got Tyler did not prepare me for raising a "full blood" German Shepherd dog (GSD). From day one his "prey drive" meant he wanted only to chase and kill my cats.

Dog trainers, notably Cesar Millan via TV, and Donna Soderstrom (by private lessons followed with classes), were essential to teach me how to handle this amazing dog. A powerful GSD such as Tyler is the pet equivalent of owning a race car. The race car is nice to look at but an average person cannot drive it; only a highly trained, skilled driver can control it on a race track. Even though your ego tells you otherwise.

A novice cannot control a German Shepherd. When I became aware of Tyler's athletic capability it scared me. Either I had to attain excellent command of him or he'd be locked up in a yard to live out his life barking as a "guard dog". That seems to be the fate of many dogs, and especially large breeds.

Dog training was confusing, complicated, all new because I started as a beginner. Tyler was my first dog since the family pet, Pepper, in the 1950s.

My first efforts were often embarrassing, it was expensive, it took a lot of time. Not having raised children I felt strange playing with a dog. Why does he enjoy tugging on a stupid piece of rope? Why must I toss his toys to play fetch? He looked intelligent but was as easily amused as an idiot.

Tyler revealed to me that I lived too much in my head, had forgotten the simple joy of play. Computers, work, living alone, had shriveled up part of my joy for living. In the months that followed Tyler rehabilitated me much the way Cesar Millan describes the way dogs balance people.
 "I think it's quicker to achieve connection with a dog than a human because humans think too much,...balance is happiness, harmony, ...endless opportunities to create whatever you want ...some people have lost that." [Cesar Millan]

Keep in mind that I only achieved this with the right professional assistance.

Let me stress the concept: owning one of these dogs and mastering how to handle it are as far apart as is buying an airplane and learning to fly one.

A professional trainer is not just any person who calls him or her self a trainer. First I checked out Petsmart but found the wrong vibes with that person. Then I took Tyler to 5 weeks of puppy class at a special "Big Dog" place. Not enough structure from the seemingly bored, burned out owner. His associate gave me her number was too flakey to even connect with. Cesar Millan on TV was helpful but not enough. Uncle Matty's VHS tape was not enough. Books were not enough.

Private lessons with Donna Soderstrom, followed by her basic obedience class, was the right ticket. Why? For me there has to be written material to provide structure. Donna was A+ in that department. Classes with people at my level of ineptitude provided necessary support. I'd learned the power of that effect when I quit smoking in 1991 by taking a 7 week course called "Freedom from Smoking" by the American Lung Association. The group support assisted me in quitting for good.

Donna's classes always have weekly homework. That means Tyler and I practice his commands daily. The cumulative effect has been very satisfactory.

The calm, patient Bobcat proved to be the true pack leader over Tyler. He studied "the dog." Tested out hissing, claw snaps, snout biting as means of control. Taught the excited GSD that he would only play when the dog was calm - or else Bobcat would leave.

I also learned to stay calm. Watching Cesar Millan taught me that. Month after month I stressed to Tyler the following messages—
"Cat friend. No eat cat! No chew cat! Cat is family. No chase cat! Bobcat friend. Yes, cat smell good. No bite! Lick OK."

Ludo, in Labyrinth, said "Rocks friends!" when he summoned them for help. His voice was so adorable  Rusty often imitated Ludo.

These comments (no eat cat) were never shouted in anger, only stressed in a concerned but friendly tone of voice. I wanted Tyler to see Bobcat as a friend, as part of his family.

Tyler often sat next to me as Bobcat rested between me and my computer keyboard. I'd pet Bobcat with Tyler watching happily saying "Bobcat nice cat, Bobcat friend."

I use a tone of voice to imitate Ludo, a Jim Henson puppet, from the movie Labyrinth. In response to his ability to summon rocks Ludo said "Rocks Friends."  It was so adorable I've adopted that tone of voice with Tyler when I say "Cat friend! Bobcat friend!"
The result of all this time, effort, and training?

See for yourself! This is trained behavior that required months of patience.

Tyler's natural prey drive has been replaced with acceptance of Bobcat as his cat brother. His friend.

I often compliment Tyler that he is lucky to have Bobcat as a friend. "Cat good friend!" I cheerfully tell him.

He lights up every time he sees his pal Bobcat. They play hide & seek around the main room keeping the excitement below the level that causes Rusty to warn sternly "NO CHASE CAT!"
How Tyler went into a Chinese restaurant
A novice dog owner is not a skilled trainer. All I knew about chain or choke collars was from watching a PBS Uncle Matty VHS tape in which he shows the angle to jerk the choke collar to make a "leash correction" to train a dog. But a highly spirited monster like Tyler can have his throat damaged with the frequency & intensity of such leash corrections. When I put a choke collar on him it did seem to work. He was better behaved wearing it—but if he went hyperactive (excited) I'd have to jerk so hard he'd yelp. I didn't like that.

The case for a professional dog trainer who is above average—an accomplished trainer
Yes, I could have trained Tyler with a prong collar at the "Big Dog" place. But the vibes never felt right and I should not comment further. What Donna did was custom fit a pinch prong collar link by link to the perfect fit. Being a novice I never would have understood that. Nor would I have understood how high up it has to be worn—right behind his ears. Now I believe a pinch collar, or a choke collar, should only to be fitted by a professional. The handler (owner) must also be trained in its appropriate use. But most importantly when NOT to use leash corrections. I now know that dogs straining on a chain collar are being mishandled, yet that is what I frequently see. It seems normal to everyone to choke their dog as it strains to pull on the leash.

The effect of the closely fitted prong collar on Tyler was a minor miracle. I have only used it a few times in the presence of the trainer to pinch Tyler (leash correction). Instead I simply put it on his neck when we go for walks. No leash is attached yet Tyler feels the slight pressure of the prongs like a pack leader reminding him "I'm here."
(right) True pack leader Bobcat demonstrates how to control the excited dog with bites and claws. He does not hurt Tyler, instead controls him much like during the Spanish Inquisition when the first step in torture was to "show the instruments." At that stage many confessed to avoid the pain of actual torture. Factoid: Galileo confessed when they showed him the instruments of torture.

Tyler does not eat Bobcat; he is calmed down by seeing the teeth and claws. The prong collar has a similar affect on Tyler's behavior. Bobcat doesn't bloody Tyler, and I don't yank a leash attached to the prongs. Bobcat teaches us that it is not necessary to draw blood.

A professional dog trainer (an accomplished one) must fit a collar and instruct in its correct use. The "correct use" part is still something I have to fully learn. But please read my experience so far as it may be invaluable to someone with a powerful dog that slips out of normal control.

THE DAY THE LEASH BROKE
I started out doing everything wrong.

• My first mistake was not putting on the prong collar in the first place.
• My seconf mistake was to allow Tyler to run out ahead
(excitement) as we began the walk, pulling on his leash. He was excited from the start.
• Within a mile an off leash dog ran at him resulting in the retractable leash breaking as Tyler lunged. That dog realized Tyler was twice his size so he became calm. I was able to recall Tyler with my happy voice -"Tyler! Come!". Whew! I tied the broken lead onto his harness.

Here is the amazing part
I ended the walk and went home. There I put the prong collar on him but still with no leash attached. Then we started the walk all over again. Soon Tyler was pulling in excitement because the dogs were barking from their kennel. (The neighbor was not home)

Near the barking dog kennel I made Tyler sit while I clipped the leash onto the pinch collar. Then we proceeded on and I asked him to heel.

My 12 pound cat taught me how to be the pack leader. His method of showing the claws is like the pinch of the prong collar.
The prong collar was like power steering
Scootering to the first intersection (200 yards) Tyler heeled so perfectly his tongue almost lay on my left knee! WOW! If he pulled ahead only the slightest pressure on the leash made him relax back, then I let the leash go slack. I never had to jerk it. At the intersection I stopped to praise him as the best heeling dog in the world! It was like power steering. Where did this perfect dog suddenly come from?  Tyler instinctively knew not to pull against a prong collar because it was like (figuratively) Bobcat showing his claws!

It gets better
I took the leash off the prong collar and put it back on his harness. Then we had a normal, but exciting, walk with Tyler sniffing & pawing at gopher holes through the almond orchards. Miles later we arrived at a strip center where the Supermarket is located. Hmmm...Chinese take out from a place called The Rice Bowl. Yum. I had not had Chinese food since moving to Oakdale from Mountain View over 5 years ago.

How could Tyler go into a restaurant?
I put a 6' leash on the prong collar. Tyler heeled perfectly into the Chinese restaurant with customers sitting at tables all around him. He sat perfectly—looking up at me (what we call "Look at me!") as I placed an order with the cashier. The kitchen doors swung open and closed as the cook went in and out. There were smells, sounds, all new to Tyler. But he maintained his sit. "Look at me!" I said and Tyler did. He voluntarily went into a down as I ordered a dinner. "Ready in 15 minutes, come back then."

I never had to leash correct him. Outside I took the leash off the prong collar to reattach to his harness. We played with his toy Dino the dinosaur.  Later, when we returned to the Rice Bowl the lady saw us scooter up and brought our order outside. The dinner was secured in the rear scooter's basket for the drive home. My heart was warm from the pride I felt by taking Tyler into a restaurant. He was a very good dog!  All that training had paid benefits.

SUMMARY
Bobcat showed me how to be the boss of a German Shepherd.  Not by bloodying him, but by being the calm, patient leader. The prong collar is like a Bobcat substitute. Maybe that's cheating, but when my dog is rock solid amidst distractions (like a Chinese restaurant) it is a joy to be his master.

Professional trainers are not equal. Check out the vibes they send to you. If something doesn't feel right inside they maybe you should take your dog elsewhere.

Bottom line
Can you allow your large breed dog to play with a cat? Can you take your dog into a Chinese restaurant, order dinner, and receive praise from a customer? (A customer held open the door for us then praised Tyler from her car.) I'm starting to really love this dog thing!
Prong collar vs choke collar
...equipment against which I warn is the plain choke collar...the guide must pull on the choke to the point of strangling the dog ...have seen dogs with necks strained and seriously injured ...never have I observed the dog with the tiniest red mark on his neck from wearing the ordinary training (prong) collar...The ordinary training collar...is the prong collar, an interlocking chain of blunt, metal prongs ...when tightened, evenly applies pressure around the dog's neck...a well-thought-out, cruelty-preventing device ...(however) the choke collar ...is an instrument of torture in the hands of the beginner...today, the choke collar is used (and abused) extensively, while ...the prong collar, is a controversial piece of training equipment that is misunderstood.
[From: http://www.nice2know.com/articles/dogs/2991]
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