By Jennifer Broome, QK Owner
It’s safe to say that COVID-19 affected all of us, both personally and professionally, in one way or another. As quickly as the world slowed down this past year or so, it has picked up pace even faster. As the number of vaccinated people continues to rise, so does our business here at Quinebaug Kennels. We are very fortunate to be so strong in business today, let alone at all, after such a difficult year. Our kennel and training facility was able to survive and thrive despite the challenges of the pandemic because of our loyal clients and beloved dogs, and we are endlessly grateful.
Over the years, we have adapted to the changes, demands and interests of our clients. Currently, we have made a decision to accept new boarding clients on a very limited basis so that we can accommodate our current clientele. With a rapid escalation in travel, we felt it was only fair to provide a reliable boarding facility to our loyal and repeat customer base. After all, it is because of these dedicated dog owners & QK fans that we are still in business!
The team also felt that the dogs (& owners) who had grown to know and love QK from past visits would best thrive with us, having a foundation of QK obedience and previous understanding of our high level of care, exercise and socialization during their stay. For those familiar with the QK campus, we have transitioned “The Lodge” into the training building. The previous smaller training building, now called ”The Cabin,” is currently being used for boarding.
As boarding is gradually on the rise, it feels that training has been a vertical hike to the top! With upwards of twenty new assessment forms a day, we hired a customer care employee simply to answer all of the email inquiries for training. While limited with space and trainers, since our ratios are about 8 to 12 dogs per trainer per day, our training is currently booked out into July… Gratitude is the word that best sums up how our PAQK feels about all of this incredible business!
While quite often what accompanies the ‘pros’ are the ‘cons,’ our biggest struggle currently is actually something many of our future and potential clients can help with! As a back story…
The team members at Quinebaug Kennels work diligently day in and day out, with endless grit and an unwavering passion for their craft. Because of this, the QK name is well known up and down the East Coast, especially in the New England area. Many of our new clients have learned about us from word of mouth referrals, like their veterinarian or a close friend, but more often than not, they simply saw a very well-behaved dog and spoke to an owner that raved about our services, training and care! These well-trained dogs are walking billboards, and when a fellow dog owner is witness to the result of this proper training, they seemingly want the same for their own dog. While this is wonderful, sadly, this is not always possible.
I have had the pleasure (and often pain) of reading ALL of the Assessment Forms and lately, I find myself shaking my head at the answers to these thoughtful and purposeful assessment questions, more so than ever before. If you are easily offended, please don’t read ahead, but if you welcome a dose of reality, please carry on…
While Doodles can be incredible dogs, the puppy mill breeding of these designer mutts has become an epidemic in the canine world. What the average consumer envisions as a cute, fluffy, cuddly puppy more often than not becomes a little snarky wall of teeth. Quick to bite and bark incessantly, these designer dogs are genetically skittish and unfortunately, mentally unstable pups.
It may be easy to go into a pet store and buy a puppy based on looks, or order a puppy online with a credit card and have it shipped right to your doorstep… but welcoming a new canine companion into your life should not be an instant gratification kind of shopping experience.
Would you marry someone without seeing where they lived? Meeting their parents? Understanding how they were raised and cared for? Learning about who they are as a person? The simple answer is no. It should be no different with a dog. If you have not interviewed the breeder, visited the living conditions of the breeding dogs or met the dam and sire of the puppy, there is a mistake being made that will only impact both the owner and dog’s quality of life. Due diligence on the buyer’s part is imperative. It is crucial to learn the standard of the breeding facility, as well as the health, wellness and living conditions of the breeding dogs in order to be well educated on the pet being welcomed into the home as a member of the family for the decade or so.
As a very experienced and competent trainer with decades of dog speak, I’ll say this most ardently… I cannot fix what you brought to me already broken!
- If a puppy has an unstable temperament based on genetics, I cannot magically fix that.
- If you neglected the early imprinting and behavior shaping training for patience, I cannot magically fix that.
- If you failed to introduce your dog to new people and other dogs for socialization, in new situations that were environmentally enriching and mentally stimulating, I cannot magically fix that.
- If your pup was coddled, sheltered and you neglected early behavior shaping, then training could prove to be a nightmare, and I cannot… well, you know the rest. True success behind well-mannered, stable dogs consists of a variety of factors.
GENETICS + TRAINING + SOCIALIZATION + ADEQUATE EXERCISE + PROPER HEALTH CARE & NUTRITION = A HAPPY, HEALTHY DOG
We are facing more and more failures in our program simply due to the unrealistic demands of our clients, both before and after training, as well as the quality of dogs that are being sent to us. An example:
A high-energy Australian Shepherd, built for herding, has a tendency to nip and bite. That is what they were bred to accomplish. Because of this, they fundamentally need intense exercise and must have extremely strict, consistent rules from their owner(s). Within a four-week training, we’re able to correct many of these behaviors with strong leadership, only to then have the owner not enforce the rules when returning home. In short… what is the point?
In addition, if you have no knowledge of your dog’s genetics and they come to us with hip dysplasia, severe allergies, skin sensitivities, gut/GI issues or other health problems, then how can I ask them to perform and work if they are uncomfortable, in pain or unable to do simple obedience tasks?
Because of this, we felt it was best for all of our training dogs to have an onsite visit with veterinarian Dr. Kristen Williams, so she can assess and identify a variety of potential medical issues. While she cannot do X-rays or more intense tests to ensure there aren’t severe underlying health issues that would affect your dog’s ability to meet the physical and mental challenges of our programs, a general overview of your dog’s health and wellness proves to be very helpful from a training perspective. Unfortunately, many of these issues arise when we start training and what we often initially think is resistance or aggression is simply the result of a fight response to physical pain from unknown health problems.
These are only two of the many examples we are seeing from improper and inexperienced dog ownership. From a trainer’s perspective…
If you’ve never utilized crate training for patience, isolation and manners work, then how can I fix your pup’s separation anxiety in mere weeks? Separation anxiety isn’t just missing you and chewing the corner of a couch leg as a result when you leave them at home… At QK, it often means a pup that barks themselves sick, into a tizzy, where they not only emotionally shut down from stress, they weaken their immune systems with this kind of response, triggering physical sicknesses (irritable bowel, upper respiratory illnesses, skin problems and more).
If you drive down our driveway with your pup on your lap and she is babied, coddled and loved with more emotion than rules and structure, how can she thrive in a cage suddenly and be expected to be happy and healthy in boot camp, surrounded by other dogs and unfamiliar faces?
If you bring a dog to us that is already over 1.5 to 2 years old and has learned to bite, has developed high reactivity or severe behavioral issues that were never corrected, how can we possibly be successful if the ENTIRE family is not on board and committed to the training? This means that everyone comes to the go-home lesson, each family member is consistent and held accountable for the crucial changes that need to happen when the dog returns home. A dog will only rise to the occasion and be a willing partner to people who are truly invested in the training and willing to change themselves.
Also, why did you wait until your dog was well into adulthood (over three years old) to realize that now he needs to be trained? At this point, behaviors are ingrained. Most likely, if YOU allowed these behaviors, then you are as much of the problem as the dog…
If our children go to school for 17 years…. How can I ‘fix’ your dog with simple 2-week leash training? Leash training means just that, we work on leash skills… We teach and enforce heel, sit, stay and go for a solid two weeks on-leash to shape new & improved behaviors with leash lightness, politeness and communication.
This does not and should not mean that it magically transfers to off-leash. If your dog did not respect your immediate rules on-leash, then why should he be expected to listen off-leash? This is why we encourage a true four to six-week off-leash program. We condition and nurture all of the leash skills to the light sensation of the remote E-collar communication in order to use this as your remote leash to immediately enforce commands.
We fully realize that many people today adopt dogs and help to provide homes for rescue dogs. That is wonderful in theory, but is it fair to you, your family and the dog? If you are a first-time dog owner, then it is very important to know your dog’s genetics so that you can provide the training, energy demands and leadership to match your dog’s needs. Not all rescues make good pets, and many can be dangerous for first-time dog owner families. Rescue dogs of unknown origin or rearing and older dogs present great challenges with training. Some may respond wonderfully (and successfully), more often than not, we must do our best and accept that this dog may never be able to be loose around other pups, is generally unsafe around children and must live a restricted life… because it simply cannot be fixed.
While we want to help train ALL dogs…..we just cannot accommodate the more challenging dogs, especially those who have been done a disservice from a very early age. We are limited with our space at QK and sending us a dog that nearly outweighs some of our trainers, and wants to attack other dogs, is a dangerous dog we have no interest in having at our facility.
As trainers, we are subjected to dog bites every day. To be fair, ALL DOGS BITE! However, when we are faced with tougher breeds, older and improperly imprinted dogs, canines over 60 pounds who never had to listen, their reaction to our leadership is flight (run away) or fight (attack us). While the little dogs are the quickest and seem to bite us the most frequently, the larger dogs cause the most damage.
The tone of this article has been one of frustration, but it is important to be truthful from a trainer’s perspective for past, present and future dog owners. More and more, we are experiencing incredibly spoiled dogs and having to work with owners who have enabled these behaviors. And as trainers, we are then suffering from the demand to miraculously fix them, in mere weeks. These same owners often message us throughout the day with questions like…. “How is Fluffy doing?” “Why does she look sad or scared in the video update that you sent us?” “What do you mean Fluffy bit you?”
It is with confidence that I say, if your dog fails our program because they are physically or mentally incapable of handling the stress of the kennel, the new set of rules and the demands of training, we beg you to be introspective as the dog owner before displacing blame. Lately, I have heard, “Well you traumatized my dog” or “Whatever happened at your kennel made my dog worse” or “My dog went through your program but obviously was not trained because they still do not listen to me”… The accusations are endless.
The simple reality is this… if you really want to have a happy, healthy and stable dog then YOU, the owner, must be held just as accountable as your canine companion is. Due diligence with puppy rearing requires a lot of work, from crate training, manners work, housebreaking and frequent socializing. If you send us a balanced dog, we can work wonders with our training! The dogs who serve as roaming billboards for us do so because their owners are diligent, proactive and actively contribute to the obedience.
The best way to learn about being a great dog owner is to attend one of our QK Owner Boot Camps. We offer these once every month, and we teach you about canine behavior, their needs and how to get started properly before you even get a puppy! Feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit us at www.qkdogs.com or give us a call at 860-546-2116.