My journey with Kayla began 5 years ago. I have always loved German Shepherds, and upon seeing a profile of The Monks of New Skete on a morning show, I decided to put in an application with them for a puppy. Thinking that it wouldn’t really go anywhere, I forgot about it until 3 months later when they emailed me accepting my application! It would be 2 years before I would get my new dog, and I had to fly to upstate New York to their monastery, pick her up, and fly back to California with her under the seat in front of me in a carrier. She cried the whole way.
Kayla was a very intelligent, energetic, and affectionate puppy; we quickly bonded. Now, I’ve grown up my whole life with Golden Retrievers that were breeders for Guide Dogs for the Blind. As they were trained by Guide Dogs as puppies, they were extremely well behaved and obedient, with mellow temperaments. This is what I expected of Kayla, and as I had never raised a puppy from 10 weeks old, I did extensive research and enlisted the services of a trainer. After a few in home sessions, I decided to send her to him for a puppy imprinting, basic obedience boot camp. $3000 and one-month later, she came home. She knew all the basic commands and responded accordingly, but pulled on the leash when walking, and was very dog reactive. The trainer taught me to “give her a job” like “sit”, and if she didn’t sit quietly to give her a firm “no” and a leash correction with a pinch collar. The problem is that she would sit just fine, but would still be reacting to other dogs. It got worse. Thinking she just need more time with the trainer to eliminate this, I sent her to him again for a month for intermediate training. Another $3000 later, she came back to me with distance obedience and some cool tricks, but still would bark and lunge at other dogs. She was a wonderful dog, but she was anxious, neurotic, and stressed out all the time. The behavior got worse and worse. It got to the point that the idea of taking her out for walks caused great anxiety and stress. I also hated the fact that I had to give her hard corrections all the time. One more time back with the trainer with no improvement and I had had enough.
I found Leonard online after a google search for a “dog whisperer”. Since the “dog trainer” couldn’t figure out or fix my dog, I knew I needed someone with a different expertise… I needed a dog behaviorist. After speaking with him on the phone, I got the immediate feeling I had come to the right guy. We setup an appointment for Kayla and me to come out to his ranch that weekend.
Before he even evaluated Kayla, we sat and talked for a long time about my experience over the last few years, her training, her behavior, and her aggression. Yes, aggression! I had never thought of her as an aggressive dog, but that is exactly what she was to other dogs. Once he met her, my education began. He was able to read her immediately and he explained all of her body language – her stress, dominance, insecurity, uncomfortableness interacting with other dogs, possessiveness over me. She was a dog that although knew how to sit, she didn’t know how to behave while she was sitting. She didn’t know what was expected of her, and most of all, she didn’t know how to be a dog. Leonard assured me that he would restore her to her natural self – back to a place of peace. Knowing I had come to the right place, I left her with him that day for boot camp. He explained that it would take 3-7 weeks but he would send pictures and videos. His methodology is to have a dog that is about to graduate rehabilitate her, and conversely once she was about to graduate she would rehabilitate a new enrollee.
Leonard sent lots of pictures and videos with him narrating her progress. I could tell she was enjoying herself.
Four weeks later he called me to come out to work with him. We spent most of the day with him teaching me on how to interact with her. She was a new dog! She was calm, confident, relaxed and happy. Gone were the days of giving her verbal commands, I had to learn how communicate through body language and non-verbal communication. Just as dogs read each other’s body language, she was constantly reading me. I had to learn how to read her. Kayla’s stress was a reflection of my own, and my anxiety only heightened hers. In the absence of knowing expectations, she felt she had to assume the role of leader, causing her even more stress. Her aggression towards other dogs was her feeling as if she had to protect me. She felt more comfortable knowing that she had a strong leader.
She stayed with him another week. The following weekend when I came to pick her up, Leonard had me work with other clients of his. He had me teach them what I had learned working with him. Having to explain to another person really helped me to understand better the concepts Leonard taught me. Kayla came home that day.
Kayla has been home for a few months now. She is truly a new dog – I actually look forward to our walks together! It’s taken a while for us to relearn how to interact with each other. At first she wanted to fall back into old behaviors, as did I. But as soon as I let my anxiety go over her wanting to react to other dogs, she didn’t react anymore. Where I used to feel that I constantly had to correct her, the more I relaxed and just let her be a dog, the better the dog she became. The more trust I give her, the more she trusts me. When I ask her to ignore another dog, she trusts that it’s my job to deal with the dog, not hers. We truly enjoy being with each other and I take her almost everywhere with me now. I even feel comfortable letting her off leash!
Leonard has an amazingly keen insight into dog behavior. He has changed my relationship with Kayla which, through the process has had a very positive impact on other parts of my life. I look forward to working more with Leonard to realize the full potential of my incredibly special animal.