Doug said I could use his real name, so I will.
About a year ago, Ms. Pup and I started having problems. We’d had an awful year. My household had gone through housing hell (who knew that when you rent a place, you should make sure the landlord is actually authorized to rent to you?), and had to move twice in four months. My father, after fighting cancer for three and a half years, came up here to Boston for treatment and never made it back. Ms. Pup and I spent ten days at his bedside, and while I wouldn’t give back that time for anything, it was very difficult. We were there with him when he died. Ms. Pup and I were very, very stressed out.
Dogs are very, very attuned to what’s going on with their handlers, and they do their best, but they don’t always have a way to handle it. Ms. Pup became more woofy, more protective, more suspicious. She barked and growled at people unpredictably. She would never have hurt anyone, but it’s still really bad behavior in a guide dog. Even worse, GDF started having problems with many of their lab-poodle crosses. After a few years of work, a lot of them were becoming more protective and suspicious. In fact, they have stopped breeding the crosses for now, because while these are smart dogs with a very high graduation rate, they retire early due to behavior problems. When Ms. Pup barked and ran at someone at a bus stop one night, I got scared and called the school. They sent Doug up to assess the situation.
Doug was supposed to talk to me about retiring Ms. Pup, which upset me a great deal. (I was not upset with Doug – that’s part of his job, and Ms. Pup’s behavior was absolutely unacceptable for a working dog). But he worked with us for an afternoon, and we made progress. A lot of the problem was me; my technique had gone to hell, and I was getting sloppy. Ms. Pup is smart enough to know when she’s got a loophole and exploit the heck out of it. I was giving her a lot of loopholes. She was also seeing the stress I was under and reacting accordingly. Doug showed us some things to do around obedience, technique, that sort of thing. He had me mix things up a bit, because again, a smart dog gets bored easily and can figure out repetitive tasks quickly. He came back a few more times and worked with us some more. And eventually, he told us we had made great progress, and I wouldn’t have to retire Ms. Pup if I didn’t want to. I was incredibly relieved, and I think Ms. Pup, who knew something was up, was too.
Doug is patient and down-to-earth. He is non-judgmental, and he calls ’em like he sees ’em. I need those things in a trainer. I can honestly say that Doug has saved our partnership, and that without him, I’d have had to retire Ms. Pup, and I’d be using a cane for months waiting for a poodle. Ms. Pup and I are both much happier and safer as a result of Doug’s hard work and patience. He is now working with us on dog distraction, and it’s making a world of difference in our work. Best of all, Ms. Pup seems genuinely happier and more relaxed as we make more and more progress. I’m very very grateful to Doug, but he’s the kind of guy who would probably say it’s just part of his job.