Breakthrough K9 Training would not exist had a Rottweiler named Tug Boat not entered our lives! Having a passion to help people while working with dogs, I’ve been a pet sitter for 12+ years and my husband and I have been active in Rottweiler rescue for over 6 years. We both have had a fascination beyond just basic dog training, rehabilitating so many rescues, we’ve learned a lot firsthand about canine behavior and how to teach dogs what is acceptable and what is not. Our desire for Breakthrough K9 Training really was inspired from our own experience with Tug, the one dog we didn’t know how to reach!
Tug had everything going against him, from bad breeding being a product of a puppy mill, to owners who impulsively purchased him as a Christmas present when he was 12 weeks old, then provided no structure or training. After a year with no defined boundaries or clear expectations, Tug grew into a bratty beast. The only thing he did learn was to react. His owners yelled at him – he barked back. His owners shoved him in a crate – he snarled and snapped. After a year, they wanted him gone at all costs and dumped him at the shelter.
Being a part of the “sandwich” generation; both of us working, still having kids at home, and now having my mom move in with us, we had tabled our rescue efforts out of sheer necessity. Then out of the blue, I was asked to take in a young boy who was on death row all the way up in NY. No one else was willing to take him. I was told he was an owner surrender due to unpredictability, was highly kennel aggressive and suffered from severe kennel cough. Sounding like too much for us to take on at the time, I initially said no.
Then, I saw this picture of Tug, smiling in his kennel at the shelter. The smile in those eyes shared a glimpse of what lay behind his bravado, a good dog desperately yearning to breakthrough! I couldn’t let him die at the shelter, so we agreed to take him and evaluate him ourselves. At such a young age, he deserved a second chance! He was moved to a boarding kennel for a month where he was treated for his kennel cough. The only reports I would get on him was that he was becoming more and more kennel crazy. I still held out hope that once outside that highly stressful environment, he would settle down.
A month later, a 16 month old, 90 lb holy terror arrived from NY and our world was turned upside down! Full of anger and fear, Tug reminded me of Helen Keller. Stuck in a world that didn’t make sense to him, Tug’s behavior had become so bad everyone was scared of him including me! I thought to myself, what have I gotten us into? The first day was actually great, Tug walked well on a prong, went in his crate with no fuss and showed no aggression. The honeymoon was super short-lived and by day two, Tug was lunging and trying to bite me just for making him sit before going out our back gate. I could lure him in his crate with a treat, but as soon as I latched the crate door, he went Kudjo, posturing and barking ferociously. When putting his leash on, he would snap at our hands, once the leash was on, he would bite it. If we corrected him, he would lunge and snarl and bite at us.
We had to cancel his first neutering appointment because he was petrified to get in my car, putting on the breaks and not budging, even for the tasty piece of string cheese I had waiting for him and I wasn’t about to pick him up as I was just as scared his fear would escalate to biting! We had rehabilitated numerous rescued Rotties, as a pet sitter, I worked with many different breeds and had secured multiple injured and scared animals as a veterinary assistant, but nothing had prepared me for a dog like Tug. My first call was to Doug Poynter, trainer and canine behavior extraordinaire. With Doug’s help, we were able to start co-existing with Tug and his fear and anger started to dissipate.
Thankfully, Tug was highly food motivated, so in the beginning we used a lot of food treats to just keep things safe, but I wanted to graduate past just coexisting. Tug was learning to trust, but I wanted to gain his respect. I could teach him basic obedience commands, but without gaining his respect, I would always be subject to intimidation or carrying a butt load of treats!
I began feverishly searching the internet for trainers who worked with aggression cases and were more geared towards behavior modification than obedience training. I came across a video by Jeff Gellman of Solid K9 Training working with an equally bratty pit bull named Brick who was still waiting in a shelter. He was like the East Coast Dog Whisperer. From this one video, I gained the confidence that If this dog could change, there was hope for Tug! Thus began a marathon of watching Jeff Gellman videos gleaning anything I could to empower me when working with Tug. When I read about the opportunity to attend a training seminar with Jeff Gellman and his west coast contemporary Sean O’shea of The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation, we jumped at the chance.
Little did Tug guess he’d be making another road trip, past NY this time and up to Rhode Island. It was an amazing week, Lenny, myself and Tug bonded on a deep level. We achieved a true breakthrough with Tug after everything we learned working hands on with Jeff, Sean and Laura. After coming back home, Tug officially joined our family when we adopted him, how could we part from a dog who had inspired us so deeply!
To this day, we have to maintain the structure and routine with Tug that helped us reach our breakthrough. The very same method we teach to you and your dog. We’ve been there and want to share what has worked first hand for us, so you can achieve your breakthrough too!