There Are Monks, Whispering Dog Trainers and Now The Dog Talker

 

By Carol Aspen
Collaboration with Mr Herzon, the “Dog Talker” for terminology and accuracy of principles used.

 

Our Mitzy is a 20-month-old female Golden Retriever, mind you not the “typical” Golden Retriever temperament as many “experts” including the breeder have told us, but none-the-less, she is typical of the breed in every other way!

 

Yes, she’s gorgeous and conforms to the breed standard, as both her parents have their AKC champion’s titles as a testimony to her superior genetic makeup, but “That temperament is just not what a Golden should have!” was an observation when she was a 5-month old by a well-recognized obedience instructor in our area. He referred to her as being “too hyper”, while the Vet says that she probably suffers from Separation Anxiety and our therapist says that she may be an obsessive compulsive neurotic!

 

“Bring her back in three or four months when she has settled down a bit as right now she will be too disruptive in this class.” The silver haired, Boca Raton, dog guru stated as he dismissed us from the first class out of what would have been the 6-Week Basic Obedience Course. At the time, we had no inkling that this dismissal from someone’s training class would be one of many.

 

On the way back home from that first rejection encounter, my husband and I were stone silent with disappointment as Mitzy sat in the back seat strapped by her safety harness to the car’s seat belt. Of course she was oblivious to our sad sack mood, as she was panting away as usual, looking at each and every car that passed or was passed by us.

 

By the way, that harness being one of many “special K-9” equipment that had been recommended by those in the “know”! Yes, those in the know had recommended an endless array of things that would work in house breaking, heeling, not chewing, not barking, not running away, not coming back, for jumping up on people, for running after cars, for pulling on the leash, for pawing, for nipping, you name it and there is a magic solution for everything that ails a dog and each and every one of those ailments seemed to have been concentrated on our golden child.

 

We know about dog paraphernalia, for in the last 20 months, we have bought everything piece of equipment and apparatus at the many Pet Market-type stores and through the many Internet websites dedicated to obsessive compulsive dog owners, not to mention every “great breakthrough tape and book” videotaped or written on the subject. Great viewing and reading but hardly effective when the dog can’t read or sit in front of the TV to watch the “Dog Whisperers”, the monks, the drill sergeant lady or any of the other famous and not-so-famous dog trainers perform their apparent canine magic.

 

Our latest dismissal came from one of those “In-Home Trainers”, the kind that come to your house and charge an ungodly amount of money and teach the dog to do several “tricks”! Of course they don’t refer to them as tricks they call it behavior modification.

 

Place” was his command and he would take Mitzy to a spot, make her sit and repeat “Place”, followed by “Stay”. No sooner had he forced her into a sit that she would spring into a stand, never mind the “stay”! Can’t stay if you aren’t still long enough.

 

This was repeated dozens of times and there did not seem to be any headway made whatsoever, as Mitzy was steadfast in having her way. Granted, the “In-Home Trainer” had tons and tons of patience as he reassured us that this was par for the course with some dogs. After half and hour of constant trial and error and error and error, he decided to move on to something else.

 

He tried another “behavior pattern exercise”, getting her into the crate on command. He explained about dogs needing to be in charge and how we needed to take that lead away from them. How we had to be in charge and how we always had to have our way and not give in to the dog.

 

“Never allow a dog to walk in front of you”, “Always enter through a doorway first”, “Make the dog wait for you to give it a command”, were all pearls of wisdom dispensed by the infinite-patient trainer.

 

He proceeded to walk her to the crate, one of many crates that we had purchased according to the conventional wisdom of whom we were listening to at the moment. It is our observation that “those in the know” abound as far as dog ownership is concerned and they are more than willing to share their infinite wisdom with anyone that will listen. Of course, those new to dogs will follow any and all advice in hope and desperation that something is bound to work with their own dog.

 

“Dogs need lots of room so that they don’t feel like they are in a jail!” was the advice of the “Lead Associate” at the Pet Superstore. So, in the garage we have a humongous crate sized for a Great Dane. Right next to that “doggy super condo” is a much smaller airline kennel cab that was recommended by another knowledgeable dog person who told us that they had used it to calm their dog down since “kennel cabs are not as open as the wire crates and provide more privacy!”

 

Inside the house was a smaller wire crate that was purchased because another person in the know said that dogs don’t need as much space in their crates and that close confinement causes relaxation. We can attest that neither the large, super bowl-sized crate, nor the moderate sized “comfort crate” were to Mitzy’s choosing. She hated the whole process of being in a crate, she howls and whines and barks the entire time she is placed in the crate.

 

So, finally here we were about to see how a “professional” was going to implement the use of the crate. To make a longer story short, he never could get her into the crate as she refused every trick he tried. He finally resorted to force, which originally he stated that he did not practice and he even lost that battle as Mitzy squirmed, twisted and pulled her way to victory.

 

The man was sweating profusely and even breathing heavily and after an hour and a half of going head to head with our golden banshee, finally said “I don’t think my training methods will work with your dog.” He then picked up his brochures, his briefcase and headed out the door as post-haste as post-haste will have it.

 

This had been our fourth rejection by a trainer/training class. Besides this last one and the first at 5-months of age, we tried one of those done at the pet store-type and after 10 minutes of the first class we were “excused” from the class because of “disruptive behavior and lack of control of our dog” then she recommended that we take the “Private Sessions” where a trainer could work with the dog.

 

We took her recommendations and signed up for the Private Sessions, that lasting all of 15 minutes because the trainer could not stop Mitzy from barking. All the shoppers in the store made their way over to the training area to see what all the barking was about. The “private” trainer was so embarrassed that she asked us out to the parking lot with Mitzy in tow. There she proceeded to refund us our check for the session and asked us not to come back.

 

So, being at our wit’s end, we hear about a local “Dog Whisperer”, local if you consider a 3-hour ride almost to Homestead Fl, local! Well, what’s to lose, just a full day of driving, not to mention paying $2.69 a gallon on the turnpike to go 180 miles one way! Why not make the call, we had tried just about everything anyone recommended and to very little avail!

 

A phone conversation with this “South Florida Dog Whisperer” was uneventful, as we heard the same mumbo jumbo, behavior modification, and leadership-take-charge language. We gave him our long laundry list of Mitzy’s evils, we told him of the rejections by different trainers, of all the different collars from pinch to prong, from slip to thong, gentle halters, humane harnesses, and every other contraption available. We expressed to him that we had tried all the books and tapes and all to little or no returns at all and he seemed to understand our plight completely.

 

We were not convinced, but were impressed with the none-sales attitude of the conversation. He said to go to his websites, www.labradorwell.com and www.chambraylabradors.com and research there for some of his writings and theories. Of course we had heard from many about his ways with dogs, about his easygoing training classes, we read up on the testimonial’s page about other people’s encounters with this trainer. We even contacted several of the people on the website that had their emails listed, each singing the praises for the trainer and his methods, more importantly his successes with their dogs.

 

All these pluses brought us some optimism, however there was the concern that he may have never been up against a dog as Mitzy and that we were doomed for yet another dismissal and even the end of the road with our attempts at having a well-behaved canine companion that we could be proud of.

 

Swayed by the fact that he was not at all concerned about all her “failures”, we made an appointment and made the trip to Kendall Fl, which is a rather sprawling suburb west of Miami. By the time we made it to the 5-acre farm, Mitzy was a total hyper-mess. The 3-hour ride was more than she had been used to, although we stopped several times along the way, those rest stops seemed to make matters worse as she created such a scene in being placed back into the harness in the back seat.

 

When we pulled up to the front gate at our journey’s end, the dog trainer was seated some distant away inside his property. He instructed us to leave the car right there and he would open the electronic gate when we were ready to come in. Needless to say, upon exiting the car Mitzy was ballistic, barking, jumping, pulling at the leash, scratching at the ground and generally being her usual self.

 

Looking into the front yard, there were a series of dog runs right next to where the dog trainer was seated and we could see and hear some of the dogs that were housed there. Mitzy was putting up such a fuss and the dogs inside the large front yard were all barking back.

 

Above the dog’s barking din, we heard a very distinctive “Quiet” come from the seated dog trainer. Suddenly, there was only one dog barking, Mitzy!

 

The trainer stood up from his seat and walked directly toward us. I could see that he was not tall in size; medium built, but carried himself in an imposing manner. We knew this was the trainer by his distinctive shaven head that we had seen on the website photos. He stood about 6 feet from the electronic gate and spoke directly at us in a very assertive, low-pitched voice. “Hi, I am Sandy Herzon”

 

“I am going to open the gate and when you come inside, I will close it behind you. Unclip her leash and let her loose.” He instructed us, and the tone of voice left no qualms about who was in charge here. Of course, I was concerned about Mitzy’s running away behavior and told the trainer that we would not be able to catch her if she was let loose.

 

He pressed the electronic button and the gate opened up slightly enough for us to enter the property. “Unclip the leash from her collar and let her loose.” He re-iterated and then added, “She can not escape from this front yard.”

 

 “Please follow me to those chairs and we will sit and talk for a while” he seemed to be reciting “Let your dog do whatever she wants, let her experience this new territory, do not call her or engage her in anyway!” his voice seemed to change and there was more insistence in the tone. 

 

We made our way to several chairs some 80 feet away from the front gate; right next to those pens that housed some of the most beautiful Labradors we had ever seen. Not only were they beautiful, they were all calm, although intent on what Mitzy was doing running around the rest of the front yard.

 

Eventually Mitzy made her way to the runs and incited some of the dogs by barking at them. Several of the penned-in Labradors barked back at Mitzy and Mr. Herzon gave out another “Quiet” command and sure enough those dogs settle back and did not bark again. Mitzy however continued her rampage from pen to pen and when she got no response from the dogs there, she made her way to where we were seated.

 

To my amazement Mitzy totally ignored us, she went right to where Mr. Herzon was seated and stood before him in a relaxed mode. His demeanor did not change and she took another step towards him and gently brushed his leg. She held that pose for a while and he finally acknowledged her by stroking her on top of her shoulders. In a very low and firm voice he spoke to her by saying, “That’s a good girl” as he continued to stroke her about the shoulder area. She sat right next to him and she seemed to have found some inner peace, enough to relax for what seemed to be a long time.

 

He dismissed her with “Okay” and she then roamed around us in a calm manner, all the while keeping an eye on Mr. Herzon. There was a look of complete satisfaction from the dog trainer as he explained about pack mentality and how it was important for the individual dog to express their innate personality within a pack of dogs. Furthermore, he explained that Mitzy had a normal pack personality, since she had read all the signs about this pack of dogs and whom the leader of this territory was. He explained that these were all great signs to him about her temperament and personality identity within a pack of dogs. That she knew exactly who she was and who the leader of the pack was and this was all “good”!

 

He further explained that her individual temperament and individual personality drive was one that was very hard to live with in small confines since her prime directive was “high activity driven” and those types need lots of room to satisfy their inner cravings to roam, to chase and to investigate everything that moves and puts out a scent. Compounding the dilemma was the fact that most of what had been tried on her as training, was not conducive for her “high activity drive”. In other words all dogs cannot be trained using the exact same methods and expect to achieve the same rate of success, as there is no “generic personality” so that there cannot be a “generic training method” that will work completely on all the differing personality drives.

 

 

He further explained that he was going to set boundary parameters for her using something he calls Perimeter Training and from there he would work inward, whatever that meant! I looked at my husband and we both knew that this was going to be a treat watching him as he tries to catch her to begin with!

 

Mitzy was about 20 feet away as Mr Herzon stood up with her leash in his hands, he then called out her name and immediately I could see that far away look in her eyes. We knew what was coming next, “the run and catch me game”! A game that had replayed itself out countless of times, a game she relished and would repeat as soon as she was let loose or managed to get away from us, which by the way, she was a master at. She was merciless with us in making us run after her and it didn’t matter how much scolding we did after she was caught, for as soon as she could get free, she was off to the races once again! Did I say countless times, more like scores and scores of times!

 

Sure enough as the sun will rise each morning, no sooner did the trainer take his first step in her direction, that she bolted away and ran off into the middle of the yard. Mr Herzon turned to us and told us not to move or say a word and little did we know that we were about to witness a miracle.

 

He folded his arms across his chest and proceeded to follow her every step. Mitzy’s greatest game was about to be spoiled, but she had no clue what was coming. At first she was happy as a lark avoiding the capture. She ran out to the end of the expansive yard and dared the trainer to catch her. He followed her step for step and never changed his body posture, his speed nor did he yell at her.

 

Both Bob and I could feel the embarrassment coming, for we knew that this could go on for an hour or so. Boy we never would have anticipated what was to occur next.

 

After about a minute of following her or “shadowing” as her conqueror calls it, she started to become worried and not as confident as all the hundreds of chase games from before. Then all of a sudden she stops dead in her tracks and waits for Mr Herzon to approach her. Her head is lowered, her tail dropped straight down and she is as calm as we had ever seen her. The trainer comes right to her and touches her shoulders and tells her “Over here” and proceeds to walk in our direction.

 

Mr Herzon takes several steps towards us and Mitzy attempts to walk in the opposite direction. “Ahhhh” the trainer exclaims firmly, folds his arms again and turns towards her. She freezes, turns towards him and walks back with him to where we are seated!

 

I then exclaimed with awe, “You truly are the Dog Whisperer!”

 

Mr Herzon then assured me that he was more like the Dog Talker as he wasn’t the whispering kind and that he could talk with the best of them! I knew without a doubt that she could understand everything he was imparting to her. Dog trainer, dog whisperer, or dog talker, hallelujah someone had finally figured our beloved Mitzy out.

 

For the next hour we were dazzled by Mitzy’s response to the Dog Talker. They seemed to understand each other as if though they had known each other forever. She followed his every lead and he exclaimed how “dog intelligent” she was. Something about her knowing precisely who she was within a pack of dogs.

 

In a 10-minute session she had stopped pulling, stopped barking incessantly, stopped jumping up and was paying undivided attention to the dog messiah. He allowed her to go off leash several times and after a short break would summons her back with “Over here”. Only once did he have to cross his arms and threatened to shadow her again.

For the first time in her 20-month life she was actually coming when called!

 

I could see that right before me was the dog I always wanted! He was holding her leash with his pinky finger and she did not want to pull and run off. He would tell how good she was and she would wag her tail and not jump all over him. He would say, “let’s go” and off she went with him. He would say “easy” and she would circle back to within the length of the leash.

 

He then proceeded to lead her to a crate and she went in with a simple “inside” from the Dog Talker with a little manipulation underneath her chest. Something about deciding whether she wanted to go in by herself or with the little manipulation. The second time he commanded her into the crate, she went willingly! He had her sit in the crate for about 2 minutes and then opened the crate and had her “wait” as he shut the crate door on her until she relaxed. He allowed her out once she settled down. What a joy to be able to use a crate!

 

Oh my gosh, a miracle indeed! I could not contain the joy from within and the tears were flowing freely.

 

“Now comes the difficult part of the training!” the newly anointed Dog Talker proclaimed.

 

Bob and I listened intently as we were told that the training was going to be 25% canine training and 75% people training. Yes, we would have to change our entire approach to dog ownership and dog training.

 

He asked us if we thought that something was wrong with her and we could very well see that it was not the dog that was off cue, it was our entire lack of knowledge about who she was and how we were to treat her individual personality that was at fault.

 

We absolutely love who she is and what she is capable of doing once we become endowed with the knowledge to be able to co-exist with her, we both agreed. We now have a game plan and cannot wait for our next session at the end of the 180-mile trip to the Dog Talker’s little paradise near the Everglades.

 

Mr Herzon explained that the effects of his influence with her would last about 2 or 3 days and that she would “slide back” as we go through the learning curve of how to deal with her. He further explained that each time he worked with her and us, that she would retain more of the training, something he calls “adjustments” and that these adjustments would last longer and longer with her as she learned that this was the behavior that was appropriate as set up by the parameters that he/we had set.

 

The Dog Talker told us that this was not a quick fix, but rather a continuing education by both canine and human counterparts. He explained that each and every issue of “inappropriate” behavior with her would have to be addressed individually, with parameters set and a “correct course of action” defined by us as her leaders.

 

He emphasized that without us accepting the roles as leaders that she would return to her seemingly uncontrollable ways, that we had to make the choice of assuming leadership and insist on her to follow our lead without bargaining, debate or remorse on our part.

 

He pointed out that all her inappropriate behavior was a result of her not being able to make good choices in our very structured “human” society, so that we needed to be in charge and make all the choices from now on. Our attitude had to be the crux or turning point of the matter and with that in place the training was going to take a decidedly positive turn.

 

Well, I can tell you that the ride back home went smoothly, as she slept most of the way strapped to the seat belt harness in the back seat. Her first couple of days back home went by like a dream, actually exactly as the Dog Talker predicted. After several days, slowly she began to take liberties as we were slipping back to losing control with her. However, now we know that the training does work and that it is us that needs to learn more.

 

Our second session is scheduled this week with our newfound “alpha leader” and we cannot wait to see the effects of his “adjustment” with her, more so we can’t wait for Mitzy to fulfill her mission in life as a well-adjusted, social member of our pack.

 

 

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