|Hillary Hayward, a trainer at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, hugs her shelter rescue dog, Darlin. Hayward said Darlin was “too smart for her own good” when they met. With training and patience, Darlin became the perfect shelter ambassador.
Express photo by Roland Lane
Some days, it seems like everyone else in the valley has the perfect dog. When our own dogs are misbehaving, pulling on the leash and barking at everyone who passes, all other dogs seem to trot perfectly and obediently just to the left heel of the owner.
But many of these dogs were not always so perfect. Local dog trainers and behaviorists say they have turned many dogs around from furry terrors to confident, obedient companions with nothing more than knowledge, patience, dedication and some ground rules.
Feli and Wolf Funke-Riehle, former owners of Bigwood Bread, had no idea they were getting what Feli calls “the dog from hell” when they adopted a cattle dog mix from the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley. The couple had wanted an athletic dog that could keep up with their active lifestyle, so they brought Undi home from the shelter about a year ago.
“That was the beginning of getting the dog from hell,” Feli said.
Undi, whose name means “joy,” was named after a Sherpa climber who Wolf had met when on an expedition in the Himalayas. Undi soon proved to be about as adventurous as her namesake, dashing over berms and across highways and rivers in pursuit of her “prey”—mountain bikers, motorcycles, horses, chickens and cars.
The dog’s speed, coupled with what Feli felt was her lack of control over her pet, almost led to Undi’s surrender, either to the shelter or to a friend.
“Last summer, I spent a whole day doing beautiful portraits of her because I was going to put her on Facebook,” she said. “We felt that we were not enough owners for her, and we should find her a working ranch in Shoshone, that we should just admit defeat.”
Luckily, the couple didn’t need to. They had worked with dog trainer Barb Williams of Hailey before, and decided to turn to her for help.
Williams, owner of Dogs Play ’n’ Train, said she has worked with dogs with issues including near-feral lack of socialization, fear aggression, alert barking and, as in Feli’s case, owners who could not gain control over their dogs.
With obedience training and attention drills, Williams was able to give Feli and Wolf the confidence they needed to control Undi, as well as to give Undi jobs—apart from chasing things. Soon, Undi was a new dog, Feli said.
Williams and other local trainers say that while no two dogs are alike, setting rules and giving dogs outlets for nervous energy are often the best ways to turn misbehaving dogs into paragons of doggie virtue.
Hillary Hayward, Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley behavior and training coordinator, said her dog, Darlin, was so bad when she arrived at the shelter that none of the staff wanted to take her out of the kennel.
“It was the classic too-smart-for-her-own-good, too-much-energy-and-nowhere-to-put-it,” she said.
“I love the turnaround of a dog that was pretty much abandoned, who had too much energy and no obedience.”
Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley
Hayward began working with the dog constantly, teaching her tricks, basic obedience, whatever Hayward could think of to keep Darlin stimulated mentally and physically. Now, Darlin is what Hayward calls a “shelter ambassador,” traveling to schools and other areas to show local residents how great shelter dogs can be.
“I love the turnaround of a dog that was pretty much abandoned, who had too much energy and no obedience,” she said. “With someone committing to her, she became just a different dog.”
Hayward said dogs need structure in order to function properly. Dogs look for direction from their owners, she said, and tend to make poor decisions without rules.
“It takes the stress away from them,” she said. “It keeps them from living in chaos. The more rules, the less responsibility. It makes it easier on dogs.”
Of course, rules aren’t the only thing that guarantees a well-behaved pet. Hayward said exercise is a major component, too, as it gives dogs a healthy outlet for some of their energy.
Hayward said that while shelter pups sometimes are nervous due to previous trauma, they are more likely to be shy or rambunctious due to neglect or lack of exercise. Jill Bryson, who conducts agility training at the Sawtooth Animal Center in Bellevue, said teaching dogs to run an agility course can be a great way to help the animals blow off some steam.
“It takes patience and building trust, but it’s so rewarding.”
Dogs Play ’n’ Train
“What it is, is taking your kid to the playground under control,” she said. “They are out having a good time, and it gives them a job.”
The dogs are taught to wriggle through tunnels, jump over hurdles and climb over ramps. Bryson said the classes provide the dogs and owners a chance to work together, reinforce their bond and give the dog lots of positive reinforcement.
“In theory, the dog works a lot harder than the human, and you go home with a tired, happy dog,” she said.
Fran Jewell, certified dog behavior consultant and owner of Positive Puppy, said leadership is the most important component to a happy, adjusted dog. But she advocates a theory known as the “total dog puzzle,” which includes components such as overall health, exercise, commitment and consistency on the part of the owner.
“You have to work on all pieces of that puzzle,” Jewell said, adding that sometimes things like pain from hip dysplasia can cause a dog to display behavioral problems.
Sometimes, however, problems can be due to trauma. Williams said that one of her dogs, Kimber, came to her as a stray that found its way to the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office 12 years ago. Kimber went to several different homes in the county before Williams took her home and realized that early neglect and instability had created an unstable dog.
“Fear built aggression,” Williams said.
Williams taught Kimber to feel safe and to trust her, slowly working with her to instill confidence.
“It takes patience and building trust, but it’s so rewarding,” Williams said.
Hayward said shelter dogs, despite their reputation, are not inherently troubled. Sometimes they have been surrendered because the owners did not take the time to socialize them or did not set rules, but that doesn’t mean the dogs won’t become the very models of doggie decorum, often even during their stays.
Hayward said the last two dogs she can think of with more difficult behavioral issues were a goofy Labrador that needed guidance and a shy Siberian husky-German shepherd mix that had likely been tied to a tree for most of her young life.
Both dogs went on to find happy long-term homes, and the owners still update the shelter with tales of their pets’ exploits. Tallulah, the shy mix, even met Santa Claus over Christmas, and Hayward said Tallulah’s story is one of her absolute favorite tales of doggie rehabilitation.
“She still is a shy dog, and she still gets startled,” Hayward said. “But it’s a complete turnaround from the nervous little coyote that she was when she came here.”
|Kimber, left, and Mallie were strays before they were taken in by Dogs Play ’n’ Train owner Barb Williams. Williams said Kimber’s past made her so shy and insecure that she started to become aggressive. Now, Kimber has learned to trust Williams and look to her for guidance when frightened.
Express photo by Roland Lane