What's it like to be a dog trainer's dog? Well, you've gotta work for one thing. Tango, that handsome dude on the left, earns his keep from time to time, going to work with me.
You've got to know something right up front: Tango is my favorite dog. Ever. For all time. He's my guy. Dog people have a term for this, it's called heart dog. Tango is most definitely my heart dog.
So know that part of the reason he comes to work with me is because I love having him with me - he'd be my shadow 24/7 if I could somehow finagle it.
He also happens to be pretty good at keeping puppies in line. And yesterday he pulled double-duty, working a private, in-home training session and also attending group class training with me. In the private session, his job was to set very clear boundaries for a rambunctious (and sweet) puppy -- and enforce those boundaries. Tango's an excellent boundary setter, especially for puppies. He doesn't tolerate their antics, he doesn't think they're cute, and he's not afraid to let them know (1) where the line is and (2) when they've crossed it.
The one thing I don't have to worry about, though, is him hurting a puppy. Well, sometimes the pup's feelings get hurt when Tango tells them off, but they're never physically traumatized. In fact, he doesn't even have to put a paw or a tooth on them to get their attention. He's got pretty good display signals. Puppies sometimes either don't notice another dog's signals or they walk right through them as if they didn't see them.
Tango teaches puppies just how important it is to notice those signals. First, he's pretty calm. He lets the pup approach him and stands quietly, head off to the side or sniffing the ground. Second, his displays are very clear. Yesterday when the pup jumped on Tango's head to greet him -- not within polite doggie-manners -- Tango very clearly and very quickly told the pup that wasn't how dogs greeted. He gave a nice loud growl, then snapped at the pup. He never made contact with the pup, but he definitely got her attention! It happened in the blink of an eye, and then he went right back to sniffing the ground again, doing his best to ignore the pup. She eyed him warily -- good girl! -- and joined in the sniffing. Really good girl!
We took the two for a short neighborhood walk and the remainder of her interactions with Tango were very appropriate. We used verbal praise to help the young dog understand when her actions were appropriate and relied on Tango to tell her when her actions were not.
In group class, Tango makes for a good demonstration dog. He learned the material already and we've worked around distractions, so he's a good example of what level of success dog owners can attain. Sometimes, clients with their adolescent dogs just don't believe their dog will ever be capable of walking politely on a leash, ignoring another dog, coming when called...so it's nice that those students can see Tango doing those very things.
Does Tango know everything? Is he the perfect dog? No, of course not. He's got his warts, like all dogs (and people). But he earns his keep.