FORT WORTH, Texas – It was a look of betrayal. Of broken trust. Or at the very least a broken heart.
The ruler of the house was now suddenly ruled, and she didn’t much care for rules. Or boundaries. And certainly not the pinch collar.
Our 5 1/2 -year-old English bulldog Miss Ellie was no longer dictator of the house. Ellie’s authority had been stripped by her owners and by a 7-pound baby girl whose main source of influence is a shrill cry. When Miss Ellie tried to jump upon that baby, our daughter Vivian McRae, we knew things had to change in our house.
Like any great dictator, Miss Ellie had no intentions of allowing this coup to be a success. But like any successful coup, the owners needed outside assistance. When we brought Vivian home, we realized we needed a Blackwater for dogs. Or better yet, our own “dog whisperer.”
The A&E television show was our inspiration. If Cesar Millan could keep other people’s dogs from jumping on guests, or snapping or urinating on the heirloom couch, then someone surely could help us control our own spoiled-rotten bulldog.
We called Tod McVicker of Redeeming Dogs, who walked in the house and poked Ellie with a forefinger in her hind quarter. The gauntlet had been thrown down.
“It’s not all about her,” McVicker said to me. “You’ve been her chew toy.”
It’s true. This adorable 33 1/2 -pound dog had pretty much been allowed to do everything except take the car out on a beer run.
As embarrassed as I was to have had an English bulldog bully me, it was equally humiliating that I had had to call McVicker to do what I clearly had failed to accomplish – teach my dog to be a dog.
The root of the problem wasn’t so much the dumb dog as it was her dumb owners. Give a dog too much slack on its leash, and pretty soon there is a role reversal. Miss Ellie is not alone – lots of pets these days rule their own Taj MaDogs.
“It used be the family dog just roamed the neighborhood – maybe they even ate at the neighbor’s house and just came home when they came home,” said Steve Hotchkiss, owner and president of Hulen Hills Animal Hospital. “That was how the dogs learned how to socialize with people and other dogs. Now, there are fences. Every dog is on a leash. They’re in a house all day. They have no idea what to do. Trainers have become invaluable.”
Problem was, Ellie wanted the attention and affection that had been exclusively hers. She wanted the same perks as the baby. At one point, Ellie stepped into the little carrier for Vivian. A cute picture, but not cute.
Step 1 in McVicker’s plan was to make an informal reconnaissance of Ellie’s living arrangements. Where she sleeps. Where she eats. What furniture she is allowed on. Where she is not allowed.
“I’m not judging,” he said.
Fine, I thought. But I am. It’s pathetic. The dog had more freedom than I did.
Then it was time for Step 2: To begin to make Miss Ellie feel comfortable with rules. She would bark uncontrollably at the vacuum, the broom, the attic ladder, pedestrians, etc. We found we had been able to live with all that, but we couldn’t live with her barking aggressively and jumping at Vivian’s crying.
“Ellie wants to feel safe, that you’ve got control of the situation and nothing is going to hurt her,” McVicker said as he positioned his body in between Ellie and a broom. “Dogs want discipline.”
McVicker taught us to keep doing whatever made Ellie bark until she chilled out. We kept the broom out. We kept drawing the attic stairs down and up and down and up until eventually the barking stopped. Ellie was learning that her former enemies weren’t threats.
Exercise was also an issue. We learned that it’s not for her to decide when and where and with what. It’s also not OK for her to try to leap onto something to pull down her favorite toy.
And walking? I was to walk her from now on, not vice versa. This is where the dreaded pinch collar came in. But in just a few minutes, she was getting the hang of it.
Of course, once McVicker left, my wife and I had to become our own Blackwater unit. Ellie wasn’t crazy about taking discipline from her former chew toys, either. A few snaps have ensued.
To date, it’s a work in progress. The good news is that Ellie is growing increasingly bored with Vivian. She is also responding favorably to certain sounds that mean “stop.”
Dog whisperers really work, I’ve learned, but only if you follow the advice they give and actually practice what they teach.
We are hoping that our coup will soon be a success, and that the dictator has been permanently ousted from the couch to the floor cushion.

1. Don’t expect one visit to fix your dog
A dog trainer is only effective if the dog owner takes the advice and practices the instructions on a daily basis. One visit by a trainer will not change a dog’s behavior.
2. Be prepared to spend
No “dog whisperer” is cheap, so be prepared to shell out $100 per hour. At least.
3. Don’t find just anybody
Finding the right trainer for your needs is key, and it’s hard to do that by just guessing from a phone-book listing. Ask friends who have used and had success with trainers. At the very least, call your vet and get a recommendation.
4. Have the trainer come to your house
This will cost more, but having a trainer visit you and your dog in your home makes for a better session. The trainer gets a more accurate assessment of the dog’s life and environment, and the dog does not have to acclimate itself to a new place as it is trained.
5. Make sure the trainer is accredited
Recommendations from friends are great, but you don’t want some dog lover who trains for fun. The IACP – International Association of Canine Professionals – is a good place to start. You can find a trainer on its Web site,
6. Interview the trainer before you hire him or her
Ask some specific questions about the training methods used. Does the trainer suggest crating? Does he or she require the dog to come to a place of business to be trained? Will the trainer come for multiple visits? Make sure the trainer’s philosophies are compatible with your needs.

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AP-NY-06-15-09 0607EDT

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