To Be a New Dog Owner

“I am not a dog person.”

That’s what I wrote in my journal on December 7, 2009. Less than a year later, I became a dog person.

Our family adopted a dog – a German Shorthair/Black Lab cross – from the Morrison County Animal Humane Society after hearing a three-hour car-ride cajoling from our youngest child on why we should have a dog. Not least among his arguments was that he had wanted a dog for a long time, years and years, back to the time when he was in kindergarten, although he had never asked for a dog then.

We chose a puppy from a group of three siblings. There were two males and one female in the pen, all of whom were black but had slightly different fur and ears and personalities. We were later introduced to another sibling, who looked nothing like the other three in terms of coloring. He was white with the typical black spotting of a German Shorthair. We let our son have the final say and he chose one of the all-black males, the one called Tom who didn’t have a collar. Tom was named Aleksandr by our son, who insisted on the Russian spelling of the name.

Aleksandr is the first dog we’ve had that I have formally tried to train. We had previously adopted a dog from the Humane Society in St. Cloud when our daughter was a toddler (before our youngest son came along), but we didn’t have the dog long because it was a biter. Between owning that dog and getting Aleksandr, we went from not having cable television or internet in our home to cable with hundreds of specialty channels and high speed internet. With dog training shows such as “Dog Whisperer” with Cesar Millan and “It’s Me or the Dog” with Victoria Stilwell, along with the ability to search for dog training tips online, my knowledge of dog behavior has increased. These resources allow me to find solutions to any dog-related problems that arise.

We have long owned cats and currently have three of them in the house. The difference between interacting with cats and dogs is immense, with dogs taking much more time. The most labor intensive task is walking the dog, which we do twice a day because Aleksandr is a high-energy breed. I do the bulk of the dog-walking in our household (hmm, who asked for the dog?), which has allowed me to see things around Little Falls that I never used to see.

Our dog is skittish around unfamiliar dogs and people, so I’ve gotten to be very good at reading dog signs on our walks. Scouting for paw prints, dog scat, and barking from backyards or in houses makes me feel like an urban naturalist. Based on what I’ve observed, there are lots of dogs in Little Falls. What surprised me, having walked Aleksandr almost every day through this very long Minnesota winter, was how few dog owners I saw out walking their pooches. I heard some awfully deep dog woofs coming from inside houses. Surely, those big dogs need exercise, even in winter. Now that it’s warming up, I’m seeing more dogs and their owners out for a stroll.

Another thing I do while on our walks is study the architecture of homes. I can spot older houses tucked among newer homes, which makes me wonder about the timing of development. Roof details, siding, windows, yard art, and exterior buildings pique my interest. My husband and I walked by a building that on first glance looks like a house, particularly the siding, but a set of double doors with a red warning sign and some odd vents and roof equipment made us pause. If this was a house, there were strange things going on there. A search of the Morrison County government’s property records online revealed that it was one of the city’s municipal buildings. Ah, the stuff one learns while walking the dog!

One thing we don’t have in Little Falls is a dog park, a neutral, fenced ground that allows dogs and their owners to meet each other while the dogs are off-leash. Dogs in the city are to be on a leash or behind an enclosure at all times, which is a good thing for keeping dogs from rushing up to other dogs or people, but not so good from a dog socialization standpoint.

The other thing I haven’t pinned down yet is whether there are dog obedience classes available in Morrison County. There are a number of things Aleksandr still has to learn, like how to properly meet people and dogs and how to stop pulling on the leash while we are walking. He’s a good 60 pounds to my 110 pounds, which means he can pull me wherever he likes. As a new dog owner, I still need help with certain training techniques, but it appears that the closest place to get that help is St. Cloud. With all the dogs in Little Falls, surely there is a market for some enterprising dog trainer.

We adopted Aleksandr on October 7, 2010, and have had him almost six months. In that short time, he has completely upended our household routine. In so doing, he has turned me into a dog person. I’m blaming it on his beautiful brown eyes and soft, floppy ears.

-Mary Warner

4 responses to “To Be a New Dog Owner

  1. calmassertive

    Skip watching Victoria Stilwell, and start watching more Cesar Millan. On Stilwell”s show you always see her getting dragged down the street by people’s dogs. On Millan’s show you always see a pack of his and other people’s dogs walking With him, usually following, calmly, offleash. Stilwell recommends euthanasia for behavior problems she can’t handle. Millan has never recommended euthanasia for a behavior problem in his life. Stilwell recommends drugs for dogs she can’t handle. Millan spends the time to rehabilitate the dog all the while shunning drugs. Stilwell gets jumped up on, even peed on, by dog after dog. Millan immediately claims his space, gets the dogs’ respect, and teaches the owner how to do the same. Stilwell tells people to turn their backs to jumping dogs. Millan shows how turning your back is advice that can get a child knocked down, and what to do instead. Stilwell didn’t get her first family dog until 2009, and still only has the one, a lab, which in 2010 she admitted in a washingtonpost blog that she couldn’t control. Millan has owned hundreds of dogs in his life, often dozens at a time. Stilwell is a fraud. Millan is the real deal.

    NatGeoWild has just started showing Dog Whisperer 5 nights a week, at 8pm. NatGeo still shows it 5 days a week, at 2pm. The NatGeo website has 25 full episodes available for free commercial-free viewing. That’s a lot of homework but your dog is worth it. If you haven’t mastered walking without a tight leashhold then you still have a lot of watching to do, as the most commonly shown item is how to walk a dog on a loose leash. Happy viewing…

  2. Gee, calmassertive, I never meant to cause a cat fight between Millan and Stilwell. I find useful tips in both programs. Millan is so good at what he does that he makes dog training look instantaneous. Unfortunately, I am not the great Cesar Millan, nor do I live anywhere near him. What I appreciate from Stilwell is that she stresses that dog training can take time, especially for those of us who are clueless, which is my state of being when it comes to dogs. We all have to start somewhere.

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  4. I have a ten year old terrier and a one year old terrier. The first was trained the old-fashioned way (punishment/reward), the second was trained according to Paul Owen’s method in his dvd and book. I achieved faster and more reliable results with Paul’s method than with the traditional way, while retaining more of my terrier’s happy-go-lucky nature. Though my first dog is well behaved, the traditional method was a longer, more stressful road for both of us.

    Paul’s method involves giving a command to the dog, then rewarding that behaviour. So, in the case where the dog is doing something you don’t want, like jumping on a guest, instead of saying “No Jumping!” and scolding, you say “Come!”, then “Down”, and bring the dog to your side. The theory is, instead of telling your dog what you DON’T want, have them do what you DO want, thus eliminating the undesirable behaviour. This way, the dog chooses to “be good”, instead of being forced or threatened to “be good”.

    I recommend it very highly if you are a looking for quick results while maintaining a close and equitable relationship with your dog. If you enjoy a more stern and severe approach involving domination-based punishment, and you are a very controlling person, then don’t waste your time. If you are a dog lover willing to put in some time and patience at the beginning in exchange for an obedient dog for the long term, then this method is for you. Paul’s dogs obey because they CHOOSE and WANT to, not because they fear punishment.

    One handy aspect to Paul Owen’s DVD is that you can select from different commands “Sit”, “Stay”, etc, without having to go throught the whole DVD. This was especially helpful because my terrier learned certain behaviours quickly while others took more time, so it was very effective to be able to access only the command we needed to work on.

    Also, to address the Cesar Millan issue, Cesar has never professed to being a dog trainer. He says many times on his show “I am a dog psychologist, not a trainer”, and his dog rehab program in LA is called the “Dog Psychology Center”, not a “training school”. Cesar rehabilitates dogs that have chronic, compulsive behaviour problems, he does NOT teach them to “Sit”, “Stay”, “Come”, etc. So comparing Cesar’s Way to Paul’s Way is silly, they perform entirely different functions and I appreciate both.