It was summer time in Y2K. I lived on Long Island and had just met Kim, discount cialis recipe the girl I would marry 6 years later. We had met as friends through my sister Julie. She was funny, kind and surprisingly approachable. The first time we went out, I was to pick her up at her house. I had a glitch in my sense of direction and I found myself hopelessly lost. I called her up and bashfully explained my predicament. She knew where I was and decided it was easier to meet me at the gas station, where I had called from, and have me follow her back than to try and explain the complicated side roads. Ten minutes later she pulled up in a little silver car. Almost at once I noticed the small white dog, levitra riding shotgun. She rolled down her window and introduced me to the dog that would help shape my skills as a dog trainer. The dog who became my constant companion for the next 11 years, the dog who listened patiently as I practiced what I would say when I asked Kim to marry me and the dog that would be there the day we brought our daughter home from the hospital. She introduced me to Max.
At this point I was not yet a dog trainer, just an enthusiast who one year earlier lost his dog to cancer. I dealt with the loss by visiting pet stores and volunteering at shelters finding comfort in the company of dogs, sickness something I had done since I was a little boy. I followed her home cursing myself for having to face the humiliation of having her come fetch me from a gas station. She showed me around her apartment then excused herself to finish getting ready. I instinctively redirected my attention to Max. “So how long have you had Max?” I asked down the hall. “My brother adopted him in Minnesota a few years ago.” Turns out, max was between 4 and 5 when Kim’s brother Scott adopted him and was somewhere between 6 or 7 at this point. He was given to a shelter after he had bitten a little boy. While she told me Max’s history I was petting him and talking to him the way dog people talk to dogs. Looking back at it now, as a professional dog trainer, I’m sure Max’s body language was stiff and uncomfortable and I just wasn’t picking up what he was putting down. I began explaining to Kim how much I enjoyed dogs, and that I wanted to get into a line of work involving animals. I thought the big embarrassment of the day was behind me having gotten lost but then as I finished the sentence “I’ve just always been good with animal”, I gave max a big kiss on the head and he promptly sank his teeth as far into my nose as they would go (Lesson number one!). I dropped Max onto the couch and, trying to remain calm in hopes of salvaging any chance of still coming off as cool, went into the bathroom to assess the damage. I think Kim was brushing her teeth when I came in bleeding all over the floor. I got cleaned up and went out to dinner with bandages on my face. I can’t believe she agreed to go out a second time.
As we saw more and more of each other a few things became clear about Max. He didn’t like strangers or dogs or cats or squirrels or walking on leash, going to the park or having me sit too close on the couch or touch any of his stuff. The more I learned about dog training and behavior the more I tried to apply what I was learning to Max. I asked Kim if I could feed him dinner anytime I was coming over. I was slowly able to use lure reward techniques to teach max to sit and wait for his food. I then started asking him to sit before he was invited up on the couch. At first he was not too keen on my pushy need to be involved in his life but he eventually came to be excited to see me when I came over. He learned to walk on leash and not freak out at every dog he saw, although he never got over his distaste for his own species. He even learned to go to his place and do a down stay to gain access to his favorite things. This may not sound like a big deal but you don’t know Max. In those first years I learned to use non-aversive leadership practices to gain not only his respect but also his deference. I learned that no one tool works for all dogs as I tried everything from no pull harnesses to tiny prong collars to try and get him to stop lunging at dogs and kids. I found that when it came to Max, nothing worked except using food to change his response around them. This took a lot of time and patience and embarrassing moments when people recognized me as Dogboy while my dog was trying to murder them. About 2 years later he could walk around the farmers market and hang out at the pub with minimal outbursts.
As the years went by Max lost most of his eyesight and I had to develop new skills for communicating with him. A few years after that he also lost most of his hearing and again we relearned how to communicate. In August of last year I became the father of a beautiful baby girl and my very old, blind, deaf dog adjusted like a champ.
Max has taught me that there is always an answer to a problem as long as you don’t give up and that no two dogs are the same. Although there are basic blue prints to how dogs work every one needs to be honored as an individual. He also taught me to manage my expectations about what is realistic and what is not. Max had serious aggression issues when he was young and was not going to be that dog in my classrooms helping train puppies no matter how much we worked together Therapy work was also likely out of the question. He showed me that every dog has a limit and that real progress is made when you recognize and honor that fact. He showed me how to work with blind dogs, deaf dogs aggressive dogs and old dogs.
In January Max was diagnosed with a type of cancer that can only be treated with aggressive, invasive surgery. He stopped eating and could hardly stand. We started him on a steroid and fed him by hand whenever he would eat. Miraculously, he bounced back in a few days and became as feisty as ever. And I imagine his final lesson to me will be to never underestimate a dog no matter how small or sick or old.