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How a Dog Bite Changed my Life and Made me a Better Trainer

Updated: Mar 16

3 years ago a large aggressive ex street dog bit me in the face.

It changed my life.

I was a dog walker/sitter at the time and thought I knew everything about dogs. I thought I could handle anything and that my natural ability with them could overcome anything. It's why I got bit.

I had no idea what to tell the dogs parents, I had no idea how the dog could be helped, and all I could do was beg them not to hurt him and to hire a professional trainer.

I had honestly never even heard of "positive training" before but that was the sort of trainer that the rescue group the dog had come from set them up with. Seeing the changes in that dog I was baffled at how such non-dominant methods could possibly work.

But I wanted to learn more. I wanted to help dogs myself.

My search led me to the Victoria Stilwell Academy where I signed up for their Dog Trainer Program.

I remember thinking "a 12 month self paced program? Pfft. I know so much about dogs and I'm already so good I'll be done in 6 months easy."

I wasn't as good as I thought I was and it took me 13 months to finish. Thank Dog they were kind enough to grant me an extension.

To be fair it wasn't all because of my ignorance. The puppy that I brought home to be my school partner and first student turned out to have severe neurological issues including learning disability and problems with awareness and movement.

Nothing worked the way it was "supposed to" with her. I had to spend so much time researching alternate techniques and my blessed mentor had to spend a lot of our time together going WELL outside of curriculum.

But it worked out. The universe paired me with the right dog, the right school, and the right mentor. It was really hard but it made me a much better trainer.

But a very different kind of trainer.

When I first started thinking about what kind of work I wanted to focus on I wanted to do competitive obedience. I wanted to bring home ribbons and trophies. I wanted to do protection work and had fantasies about "proving you can do that force free".

But when my teacher would ask me WHY I wanted to do those things I always struggled to answer. And when I finally figured out the why I was pretty disappointed: it was my ego. It had nothing to do with dogs and everything to do with how I wanted to be perceived.

These days my thinking has changed so much. Not only do I have no interest in competitive obedience but when asked to teach things like a "competition style Heel" I try to talk people out of it. I don't like teaching dogs unnatural behaviors unless there is good reason.

When asked to teach something the questions I always ask myself (or sometimes the student) are: Why? and What's in it for the dog?

I'm not a high precision trainer. That's cool if that's what you're into but it's not for me. I don't care that my dog doesn't have a centered Front, can't do a sphinx style Down, and doesn't even remember what "Heel" means.

I help dogs learn basic manners so that they can live well with you. I help you teach them the skills they need to navigate your human world.

But most importantly I help dogs with trauma in their pasts recover and build healthy behaviors in place of the survival behaviors that they no longer need. Marketing aside, that's how I describe the behavior work that I do.

I do that while respecting their freedom of choice and emotional well being. I will never tell you to hurt or scare your dog.

And what happened to that dog that bit me? He's still around and doing great. He has loving relationships with many humans and even has some close dog friends. I see him all the time and honestly he is one of my best friends.

But I can't take credit for that one. I was never his trainer. If anything he taught ME the lesson.

If there's one thing I know for sure, if there's one thing that dogs have taught me, it's that I will never know enough.

I'm focusing now on finishing my CBATI-KA certification so that I will be better equipped to handle more serious behavior issues that these days I have to refer to others.

We'll see what the future holds.

Anyways, I guess that's who "I am" as a dog trainer, at least right now. Great to meet you. If you need help just tell me what you are struggling with!

We can figure this out together.

But how about you guys? Has a BIG experience with a dog changed/shaped you?

Check out some more of what started this line of thought:

Robin Wong is a certified dog trainer, a graduate of the Victoria Stilwell Academy, and the father of a Boerboel / Ridgeback mix named Nana. He founded Holy Sit to provide premium positive dog training in London Ont.

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