It's Me: Mary-Jo!
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
In my work as a professional dog trainer I talk all the time about the concept of connection. I am constantly saying to my clients, “stay connected to your dog,” or “are you two connecting?” What exactly does this mean? In my travels around the town I call home, or traveling recently to Los Angeles and to Denver, I see so many people with dogs. There are dogs on airplanes, in the airport, in hotels, at the beach, at outdoor cafes, in strollers, in front carriers, in backpacks. People love their dogs the best way they know how, but do they have a connection with their dogs? The connection that I am talking about is a deeper understanding of your canine pal. It is a true exchange of energy, respect and love. I like to say it is a perfectly choreographed dance. However, in order to get to that dance, you first must know the steps.
I’m sure the reason that this notion of connection is difficult to understand is because it is not tangible, therefore it makes it challenging to put into practice, or in my case, to teach. When I take on a new puppy/dog client we immediately talk about short term goals, and some goals for the long haul. Inevitably the list consists of sit, down, come when called, stay, walk politely on a leash, and maybe a roll over. It is extremely rare for a client of mine to say, “Hey, Mary-Jo, I have this little bundle of fluff and what I really want long term is to have a solid connection with her. I want to take her everywhere I go, and I want her to be a well-mannered member of the community. I want people to love seeing us out in the world.” Here’s the thing: it really has nothing to do with training! Odd coming from a dog trainer, no? It is the truth, though, and I can say this for sure because I am in the beginning stages of my own case study – a study of me and my beloved shelter mutt, Stevie.
My family and I adopted her about 2 years ago from ROAR in Ridgefield, CT. She was found after hurricane Harvey in Houston darting in and out of traffic on a very busy stretch of road. The story goes that she jumped right into the van of a rescue organization that was in Houston on a special mission to pick up a brand-new litter of bully mix pups and transport them back to their facility in Mississippi. She ended up in CT with a few others from the fall out of Harvey. I fell in love with her instantly and in about 45 seconds of knowing her, I knew she was going to be ours. Here’s the kicker: I have not done one minute of formal training with her. Seriously, not one. Yet she is the most tuned in, most responsive dog that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Why is that? It is because I spend a lot of time connecting with her! We just get each other. I have worked hard at our relationship, but it does not feel like work because we are just living our lives.
I consider myself to be a pretty skilled trainer, and I should be after all these years! I do reinforce a solid recall, I do consistently praise and/or treat behaviors I like, and I ignore or redirect behaviors that I dislike. But it is more than that. Stevie feels safe, loved, secure and confident enough to be a dog, do silly doggie things, but still knows the rules and the boundaries. She has a clear idea of what is okay and what is not. For me, there is nothing better or more gratifying. I want that for all of you, too.
All for now!