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The worst dog ever, part one (of two)

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

We adopted Coco, a big mix breed dog, in a Spanish shelter. After many years working and travelling a lot, finally, I had the stability in my life to fulfill my dream of giving a second chance to an adult dog with low possibilities of being adopted. So I found Coco, put him in a crate and flew to Sweden to take him home.

The sweet, "well behaved", the submissive dog that apparently he was, soon started to show another face. Coco began to react with high intensity to everything and everyone: dogs, people, children, cars, bikes, cats, rabbits, you name it! He is a powerful dog (42 kg of muscle), and his constant leash pulling was unbearable. My dog bit some of my relatives when they came home to visit, and in the street, he snapped some dogs and "flipped over" several others. The moment of going for a walk was a torture ... I was very frustrated, overwhelmed and undermined... I realized I had adopted the worst dog ever.

I was desperate and urgently needed a quick solution: a magic collar, a magic leash, a tranquillizer pill, a straitjacket...whatever that could work to fix my dog! The logical move was to contact a dog trainer, so that is what I did.

This man was an experienced trainer, and his explanation of the problem was simple and straightforward: "your dog doesn't make enough exercise and is not socialized at young age, so he will not be able to meet and interact with other dogs ever. But don't worry because he doesn't need to as long as he has your company".

In a way, I was sad, because it didn't feel very natural that a dog -a social animal- did not need to have interactions with other dogs, but at least I received what seemed to be a very simple plan to reduce his anxiety and reactions: physical exercise and treat-luring.

So we started to work hard. I bought Coco a harness with pockets to carry 3-kilo weights and started to make very long walks, run every day, endless games to fetch the ball... But Coco was not improving. In fact, he was getting worse: when he reacted, the intensity was higher, even if the stimulus was lower. Yes, I could lure him with treats and get his attention from certain things, but we were not making any progress on the real cause of his fears. He was more anxious and more stressed. I was living in hell.

So what to do next? I tried to find a second opinion.

So I found another "reputable" trainer with more than 20 years of experience.

This person diagnosed that I "do not have enough leadership, and the dog does what he wants" because, he said, I "do not know how to control him".

As I arrived and got out of the car, he literally kicked one of his dogs approaching with curiosity to see who the visitor was. Then he put my dog on a slip leash and dragged him to the place where we were supposed to talk.

I was stunned by the words of that man. According to him, I should walk my dog as if I was carrying a suitcase. My dog was "a dangerous 'object'" that must not be allowed to have his own will, neither his own decisions. He said I shouldn't allow him to sniff, walk or pee wherever he wanted. To support his argument, he told me that we should not be afraid to correct him because dogs correct each other all the time, and in the wild the dominant ones bite the crap out of the others.

He continued saying things like "It is the same in corporations: if there is no leadership and employees are not told what they have what to do, then there are problems". By the way, at that time, I was leading a large team of people in a multinational company, and the truth is I was utterly horrified of hearing that nonsense. So I "had to be the alpha", he concluded.

While I was listening to all that, my poor dog was trying to escape and looking at me with disappointment and fear, Coco was not understanding that situation and was terribly scared.

The way back home was horrible. What had I learned? What had Coco learned from that experience? On the other hand, I was again left without solutions.

I am not saying that this person's methods would not work. In fact, if you want to force someone to do all you want, then yes: they surely would work.

These methods require domination, intimidation, chocking, pinching and objectifying my dog, and I could not do that. And not because I am "weak", but because these methods are against my values.

My dog is an individual with needs and emotions that must be taken into account. I do not believe in that type of leadership by fear in which you control or dictate to someone else what to do. I have been managing teams in my work for more than ten years, so if it is not about imposing yourself but about listening, cooperating, convincing and developing in your work environment, why should it be with your dog? Good leadership is not dictatorship; we no longer raise our children with pain and punishments, do we? Yes, we need certain rules, but they come with cooperation and respect and not with control.

Yet, I did not give up, but what else could I do?

Picture: Coco at the shelter before adoption

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