Kumbah the Presa Canario First Walk with Tim Frazier

Until today, 130 pound Kumbah thought a walk was him towing his owner along on the other end of the leash while he charged about full speed to investigate anything that tickled his fancy.

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A Lion at Grapevine K9

Sometimes we just have fun; at the expense of Wallace’s dignity.

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Rescuing Bruno

Bruno FrazierMeet Bruno, the newest pack member at Grapevine K9.

I adopted him today from the Grapevine Animal Shelter and Adoption Center where has lived for the past two months after being picked up on the streets with no collar or ID.  The shelter is nearing capacity and if folks don’t adopt some of the current animals  soon…well, some hard decisions will have to be made by those folks, so please help them out if you can.

Bruno is now microchipped and spending one more night in a kennel for neutering at Northwest Animal Hospital in Grapevine.

Tomorrow afternoon his world will change forever, when he comes to his forever home with a nice big yard, two other pack members, daily exercise and training regimen, and some of the best dog food on the planet, Merrick’s Buffalo Sweet Potato Recipe.

Once Bruno recovers from his little operation, he will undergo Grapevine K9 basic and advanced obedience training, and then start accompanying me as I make my rounds conducting dog training sessions all over the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex area.

I’ve visited Bruno for the last couple of days at the shelter and he has an outstandingly friendly temperament and loves people and other dogs.

What a Service Dog Is and Is Not

serviceanimalsI’m frequently asked to give training estimates for converting family pets into service dogs. And I always turn them down.

There are a multitude of dog trainers who will claim they can train your dog to be a “service dog”, and most of them are either ignorant of the regulations and legal requirements to title a service dog or are outright scam artists.
Service dog training can easily take two years or more, and requires an immense investment of time and money. Training dogs that are part way through their lifespan as service animals is typically a poor investment due to the few years of life remaining for the animal once the training is completed and official certification is obtained.

For example, if your dog is already four years old when you begin service dog training, and his/her total life expectancy is around 12 years, your dog may be six years old or more by the time you achieve a certification title. From that point, you have about six years of use left as a service dog, and in order to maintain a service animal you have to start over with training another dog within four years so it is ready by the time your first dog retires or moves on to the great pet resort in the sky.

We love our dogs, and many of us would love to be able to take our dogs with us everywhere we go. Many people assume that getting a service dog certification is the ideal way to gain government mandated privileges to take their dog into restaurants, on commercial airline flights, into hotels that otherwise ban pets, etc.

If that’s your reason for wanting your dog trained as a service dog, you are “barking up the wrong tree”.

Service dogs are animals that are medical necessities for people who have conditions that would otherwise limit there ability to leave their homes or engage in normal self reliance. They are dogs with specific jobs, to alert their masters or master’s caretakers of impending seizures, prevent anxiety, help persons with conditions like autism cope with social challenges, etc.

Seeing eye dogs are service dogs. Imagine the training time and expense that goes into one of those!

servicedogClaiming service animal status for a dog that is not a certified service dog is typically a violation of the law in most jurisdictions, and can be punishable by fines and even incarceration.

If you or a loved one have a dog that is relied upon for emotional support or other needs that do not rise to the level of the requirements for a service dog published by the ADA, you should check your state and local regulations regarding therapy or assistance animals.

Click here to read an excellent booklet from the ADA National Network that details the requirements for service animal designation, along with descriptions of other types of assistance animals such as therapy dogs which are not “service dogs” under the ADA regulations but may gain you access with your dog to some areas and businesses that allow these types of qualified dogs but otherwise ban pets.

That dog will bite you

Some of my most desperate clients find me because they have a dog that can’t be approached by guests.  Folks who love their pets, but can’t enjoy having visitors over for a barbecue or pool party without securing their dog in a crate or the garage for the duration of the visit.

The legal liability and stress of owning a dog that has or is likely to bite someone without what humans consider “provocation” leads many owners to give their family pet up because they don’t know that in most cases this behavior can be corrected.

My typical first interaction with these clients goes something like this:

Me: “I’m going to go through your back gate and introduce myself to your dogs alone.  Would you mind staying in the house while I do that and I’ll come back around to the door after I’ve finished evaluating how your dogs react to a friendly stranger entering their territory?  You can observe through a window if you like.”

Client: “Oh, that’s a bad idea.  He will bite you.  Nobody can go into that yard without me being with them or he will attack them.”

Me: “That’s okay, I’m used to being bitten.  I’ll be fine, and even if your dog does attack me there won’t be any liability on your part.  I’m taking full responsibility.”

Client: “Well, okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

A few minutes later I am sitting on a patio chair, curb, or even the ground, unharmed, no bites, and the dog is either right next to me being scratched behind the ears or just doing the usual sniffing around to investigate the interesting scents that tend to accompany me from my own dogs and others I might have had training sessions with that day.

The owners are often astonished.

Some twenty plus years ago, not long after I graduated from the police K9 academy, my wife and I were hosting a dinner and card game with our friends who lived next door.  These friends had a Chow-chow that would attack anyone other than the owners who came into the back yard.

Having experienced plenty of dog bites in my K9 training and learned to minimize injury by not flinching or trying to pull away when a bite did occur, I had lost my fear of being bitten.  I don’t enjoy being bitten, but I know it isn’t the end of the world if a dog bites me, and I know how to avoid being bitten in the face or on the hand where there’s a chance of losing a digit.

So I convinced these friends to let me enter their back yard and introduce myself to their Chow-chow alone.

They were astonished to find me sitting on their back porch, unharmed, moments later petting their ferocious canine, which was actually a very affectionate dog.

Since then the scenario has been repeated many, many times with different breeds, from pit bulls to mastiffs to German Shepherds, etc.  I haven’t been bitten yet, but I do carry a medical kit just in case and I can suture my own wounds.  Maybe some day I’ll have to use it, but that day hasn’t come in nearly thirty years so far.

The key to introducing yourself to most of these “aggressive” or “territorial” dogs with the lowest risk of attack is in the following combination:

  1. Making the owner stay inside, and away from the introduction area.
  2. Having the confidence to approach the dog with “no fear”.

Many times the anxiety of the owner at the thought that their dog might bite someone is easily sensed by their dog.  When a dog senses that anxiety, it has no idea that the anxiety is about it biting someone.  It just knows that its beloved human is upset, and dogs, being the intense empathy mirrors they are, become anxious themselves as a result.

Not knowing the level of anxiety the owner may have, a professional and experienced trainer will often keep the owner out of the picture for the initial introduction to a dog that is known to be aggressive toward strangers.

Anxiety and fear is the trigger that results in one of two responses in animals: fight or flight.  If the animal is in an enclosed area it will most likely fight.

“No fear” doesn’t mean being courageous and approaching the dog in spite of your fear.  Courage, in this case, is the same as foolishness and will get you bit sooner or later, probably sooner.  Any fear and lack of confidence on the trainer’s part is going to be sensed as anxiety or insecurity by the dog and its own anxiety or dominance tendencies will escalate as a result.

“No fear” means you know what a dog bite feels like, you understand there is a risk that you are going to get bitten, and you know that if that happens you can easily endure the pain without flinching, pulling away, or panicking.

The inability to remain calm during a dog attack is what turns minor punctures and bruises into massive lacerations, jagged rips, and sometimes fatal blood loss.

Staying calm and moving with logic and purpose to disengage an attacking dog will typically make these incidents relatively insignificant without any trips to the emergency room or animal bite investigations by over-zealous city officials.

Being mentally prepared for an attack without fearing the attack is the ultimate attack preventative, and the hardest skill for a dog trainer to master.

That said, if a dog has actually been trained to attack, all bets are off.  Professionally trained military and police dogs do not typically bite out of fear or anxiety.  They bite because it’s their job, they enjoy it, and it is nothing more than a glorious game of tug of war for them.  The more you try to disengage them the harder they will clamp dog and the more they will try to get a better grip.  In that case, your best way to minimize injury is to hold perfectly still and wait for the dog to release on its own or at its handler’s command.