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A rescue dog’s year-long odyssey from fearful to delightful

Posted by on Jan 12, 2013 |

A rescue dog’s year-long odyssey from fearful to delightful

It was a cold day for the South. A gray, overcast sky threatened rain. It was the kind of miserable day that made you long for a crackling fire and mug of steaming hot chocolate.

It was not a day to be hungry. Again. It was not a day to be filthy and matted with mud. It was not a day to be lost, alone, running from everything.

But that’s how it was for 18-month-old Mazzie until the devoted Animal Haven animal rescue network found her. The community transported the starving dog to New York City, where upon arrival, a plucky, slender woman with a heart of gold took a liking to her. Her name was Tanya, a name of Russian derivation that curiously means “worthy of praise.”

Mazzie and Tanya were united, but the union’s beginning would test the limits of even this most-devoted animal lover.

Mazzie was not to be trifled with. She was a quivering, 75-pound mass of raw muscle spooked by mysterious demons of a cruel past. She tailspinned in the unfamiliar, chaotic streets of Manhattan.

Just days after welcoming Mazzie into her life, Tanya returned home from work to find her sitting atop a completely shredded 8×10 rug. This was how she told Tanya about her separation anxiety – and she had it bad.

Mazzie, a powerful rescue dog, Animal Haven, Who's Walking Who

On top of that, all things unknown and unfamiliar terrified her. Sadly, children fell into that group. Mazzie ferociously lunged at kids and homeless people and anybody with dark skin. Her fear deteriorated into intolerance of baby strollers, wheelchairs and shopping carts.

Understandably, Tanya was a little scared of what this behavior could lead to. But she was deeply committed to this dog and giving up on her never crossed her mind. She called Who’s Walking Who for help.

Who is Who’s Walking Who?

Stacy Alldredge formed Who’s Walking Who 16 years ago. In addition to group obedience classes, Stacy aimed to provide highly customized help for dog owners in dire need of getting different behavior from their pets.

Stacy hand-picks her staff and requires them to complete a three-year apprenticeship (how very old world). She estimates that 80% of her dog training is focused on the owner, not the dog. Most of her staff have rescued their own pets, many of which fall into the stereotyped “undesirable breeds.” All of them have a passion for supporting owners and dogs with difficult behavioral situations.

Mazzie, rescue dog, Animal Haven, Who's Walking Who

Stacy’s team doesn’t train for competition and they don’t train for protection. But they’re an invaluable resource for two primary groups of people: 1) first-time adult puppy owners who want a well-socialized and well-behaved dog, and 2) problem dogs.

For problem dogs, Stacy and her staff change and save lives. Mazzie may have changed Tanya’s life in a way she never could have anticipated, but it was Stacy’s team who made the change one for the better. Stacy assigned Sara Jarrett as the primary trainer to their case (Sara likes a challenge) helped by other team members, Sarah Mollo-Christensen and Pat Adams.

Who is Sara?

Sara hasn’t always been a professional dog trainer. Prior to 2007, Sara had been very happy in the magazine publishing world. But gradual changes she had no control over broke open the happy mold. She was frustrated and open to a radical career and lifestyle switch.

Around that time, Sara and her husband Ben adopted Porter, a mellow pit bull mix. When Sara went to work, Porter went to doggie day care run by Stacy Alldredge. He also went through obedience training.

Porter’s progress with obedience brought such overwhelming satisfaction to Sara’s life that she considered making a career out of schooling other dogs. She applied to and was accepted into Stacy’s apprentice program. Four months later, she quit her day job.
two brindle pit bull mix dogs, Sadie & Porter
Sara Jarrett eventually adopted another pit,
Sadie. She and Porter are pictured here.”

Three years later, Tanya’s desperate call came in. Stacy set up a consultation to meet Mazzie. Like Mazzie, Stacy is not to be trifled with. She’s unafraid of giving you a healthy dose of in-your-face honesty. She has a deep-rooted belief that no case is hopeless. She has high hopes of hearing the same from you.

Stacy told Tanya in no uncertain terms that this dog would be fine, but only if Tanya committed time, lots of time, and of course, resources.

Tanya never blinked. The answer was, “Anything for my dog.”

The beginning

In the beginning, Sara or one of the other team members worked with Mazzie every day. They started with the Pavlovian clicker, training the food-driven dog that the very peculiar sound meant food. No confusing or emotional vocal commands or other sounds accompany the click. Nope, it was just the click.

Once Mazzie made the connection that random clicks meant food, she advanced to having to do something to get the click. Sara rewarded Mazzie for calm behavior under stressful triggers. If her ears remained soft and her tail relaxed with a homeless person within sniffing distance, she got rewarded. But Mazzie had to figure that out and believe you me, it wasn’t obvious.

Mazzie, rescue dog, Animal Haven, Who's Walking Who

Sara says that many people worry about their dogs getting fat with frequent food rewards. So what? Dogs can only eat what we give them. Unlike bad behavior that lasts until it’s fixed, fear not a little doggie diet down the road.

Sara didn’t correct Mazzie’s bad behavior in the early days. Of course she prevented the dog from hurting anyone, but she was solely focused on rewarding good behavior. A year later, it would be a different story. Mazzie eventually learned what behavior Tanya and Sara expected of her, so any out-of-line woof or growl now gets corrected.

Sara made a point of treating Mazzie’s separation anxiety and fear of unknowns simultaneously. Fearful dogs lack confidence, something best rebuilt through obedience training.

To treat the separation anxiety, Tanya brought Mazzie to day care on the days she went to work (Mazzie had no issues with other dogs). A dog walker would bring her home a carefully orchestrated 20 minutes before Tanya got there.

Why 20 minutes? Sara and Tanya used various recording devices to determine Mazzie’s threshold. When they determined she could be alone for 20 minutes without raising a ruckus, they extended the time to 25 minutes, then 40 minutes.

A year later

A year later, Mazzie could be home alone the entire day that Tanya was away, less the time with her mid-day dog walker. Eighteen months later, she could pass most children, stinky homeless people with shopping carts piled sky high and people of any color without reacting. But her training continues, twice a week.

Tanya was a dream client for Sara. She didn’t let the dog down, not for one maddening, frustrating, scary second. She kept her end of the bargain, which was no financial bargain. She was – and still is – consistent with what she expects from the dog.

Mazzie, rescue dog, Animal Haven, Who's Walking Who

Tanya started with a potentially risky situation, being a slight woman with a fearful, powerful dog at the other end of the leash. But because she got the right training from the beginning, the worst she experienced was the loss of a rug, albeit a once-beautiful rug. She was true to “anything for my dog” from day one to today. She most certainly lives up to the meaning of her name, “worthy of praise,” for sticking by this dog.

Stacy’s team sees all kinds of unwanted dog behavior. Some of the most common stems from well meaning but inexperienced owners who don’t know how or won’t meet their dogs’ basic needs. Exercise tops the list. Safe things to chew is a close second. Giving the dog a calm, low-key greeting on coming home is critical. So is something as simple as leaving the TV or radio on when owners are away, something to replicate the environment when the owner is home.

For uncommon behavior, like what Mazzie started with, Stacy’s team is well-equipped to identify root causes and provide customized training solutions.

If you’re contemplating bringing a dog into your life, there is no more rewarding, unconditional love to be found. If you can adopt, do it. If you’re afraid of ending up with a social misfit, know that you can cultivate bad behavior in a five thousand dollar pure breed dog just as easily as if you paid to cover its shots at a shelter.

The dog behavior you want is learned. You just need to know how to teach. If you’re light on skills and you’re lucky enough to live in Manhattan below 100th Street, give Stacy a holler. Your first consultation includes an hour or so with you and your dog, a written assessment, homework, plus two weeks of email and phone support.

I’d say that’s money well-spent for well-behaved, unconditional love of the fur persuasion.

Who’s Walking Who
email Stacy Alldredge
Dog photos by Koren Reyes