During the last few months, I’ve been approached by several frustrated dog owners trying to figure out how to solve simple behavior issues. Therefore, I considered it fate when Wendy Luby insisted I meet Emma Contreras, their new dog’s personal trainer. After just a few sessions with this amazing woman, Joey, the Lubys’ recently adopted adult Lab/Rottie mix, seemed a new dog. His newly learned social skills gave him more confidence and helped alleviate some less-desirable habits. The entire Luby family was pleased – especially Joey, who had fallen in love with this beautiful Puerto Rican “Dog Whisperer.”
Contreras has been training dogs all her life and uses a combination of traditional training and advanced methods much like Cesar Milan.
From watching Joey, I quickly invited Contreras to meet Hattie, my cocker-poodle mix with several annoying habits of her own – including jumping up on arriving guests, helping herself to anything on the dining room table and sometimes aggressively charging other dogs during our daily walks. Just a few minor bad habits, not only irritating to others, but some that might cost Hattie her life – such as the dangerous habit of racing across the busy Westshore-Wildgrove intersection to greet any dog out for a morning walk. Had she pulled this stunt when a car was traveling on Westshore, Hattie’s next excursion would have been to the emergency room… or the morgue. And I would never forgive myself.
Thus was the essential need for Contreras to get my darling little mop-head dog ready for either a White House visit, or hopefully, just invited back to the Luby’s home. After Contreras spent about 30 minutes with Hattie, she shared her observations:
“The very first thing I noticed about Hattie after I came in the front door is that she follows her nose. This is the sign of a balanced and trainable dog. She never jumped on me. She sniffed me, reading my vibe and knowing exactly what I required of her. She immediately went to her bed under the table and checked me out from a distance, giving me my space. She only approached me when I let her know it was okay by making eye contact with her.”
Contreras continued: “Hattie’s strongest quality is also her weakest. She is very sensitive and in tune to the humans in her environment.” So, like most dogs, according to Contreras, Hattie is not only extremely trainable, but a diamond in the rough. I felt relieved.
She further explained that dogs share our feelings through our touch and movements, which are easily transferred to their actions. This was illustrated during a recent morning walk with Emma and her dog, Papi, a Portuguese Cattle Dog with the eyes of a wise old man and a smile to match!
“Today, a day much like any other, I got up early, had a little breakfast, grabbed my dog, Papi, and hit the trail for a hike. About halfway through the hike, my usually sweet-natured, well-mannered boy was acting like a savage. At first I blamed it on the crisp morning air, but when he tried to bite the leash out of my hand, I knew it was something more serious than that.
“How could I, Emma Contreras, master dog trainer, have such a rebel for a dog? At first I thought, ‘He must be sick! I’ve done nothing wrong. I exercise him daily. He’s been trained for years now. What’s going on?’ The more I thought, the more I began to consider my own energy; my own ways. The last few weeks I’ve been very sad after the deaths of my mom and a dear friend. Could it be that my sweet dog, who comforted me in my worst moments of grief, senses my weak energy and is jockeying to become the leader of our household?
“Looking back on the last few weeks, I realized that I have been guilty of the very actions I tell my clients to be aware of: treating my dog like a baby or allowing him to become a spoiled brat. Love and affection are vital elements in the bond between parent and dog, as well as essential to the dog’s health. However, affection given at the wrong time and privileges that haven’t been earned can cause a smart, rambunctious dog like my Papi to believe he is taking over the world. And me.
“Over the last few weeks, I realized that I’d been letting Papi walk off heal on our treks and even feeding him from the table! Talk about backsliding! Although these habits may seem small and of little importance, in a dog’s mind, they are important battles – won by him. These battles often lead a dog to believe that we are giving up our power to him. Most dogs are completely happy to be followers to a good pack leader as long as that pack leader is kind and consistent with all rules.”
Contreras shared a few of her most important basic rules:
1. Daily exercise and mental stimulation releases pent up energy and decreases boredom. This is extremely important. A tired dog is a happy, non-destructive creature.
2. Insist on patience and discipline. Letting your dog win the little battles will make your dog think he’s king of your home.
3. Give affection at the right time and for the right reasons. There’s nothing wrong with cuddling, kissing and sweet-talking your dog as long as each is done to reinforce the behavior you want to encourage.
Contact Contreras to further explore your own dog’s behavior patterns to create a more harmonious and peaceful world! Emma Contreras, Professional Dog Trainer: