It’s Called ‘Dog Whisperer,’ Not ‘Dog Wrangler’

This summer, we conducted an unofficial (and involuntary) experiment: Take one unsocialized Rottweiler and see what five different dog trainers will do with it! When we first met three-year-old Molly at a local rescue group, she was wild and completely untrained, but she seemed sweet and longing to please. Apparently, this Rottie-mix had spent the first two years of her life just being chained up in a yard. The shelter volunteer called her a “junkyard dog.” She didn’t know what stairs were, a mirror, shopping carts. Every moving item sent her into a fit (bicyclists! Trash trucks!). A 10-minute walk with her was a full-body workout, with Molly darting in all directions. We had rehabilitated dogs before, but now we knew we needed professional help.

A rescue group recommended a resolute, but charming, trainer. Though she was expensive, after a thorough interview, her resumé with 30 years of experience, her promise to use “a holistic approach,” “the most modern training techniques from around the world” and “positive reinforcement” convinced us. We pictured our dog running happily on her ranch with 20 acres, socializing with other dogs and getting rewarded after learning tricks. We would have loved to visit, but were told this wasn’t possible.

Five weeks — and almost $4,000 — later, the trainer delivered Molly to our home. The first thing we noticed was how emaciated our dog was: her ribs were sticking out. Molly had lost more than 10 percent of her body weight. The trainer admitted that she didn’t feed the dog when it didn’t behave well. The trainer also showed us how to discipline our dog: When Molly pulled on the leash, we were to “karate chop” the pinch collar as hard as we could. “Harder, harder,” the trainer would say. When Molly inched her paws off the stationing mat, the trainer very forcefully kneed her in the chest. When Molly got a little excited before the walk, the trainer jacked up the shock collar to send Molly wincing and jumping. Dog forgive us, we had made a terrible mistake!

Things only got worse. Molly seemed listless, and spent the first days just sleeping. We were in disbelief of how calm she was, her lack of stamina seemed unsettling. When we took her for walks, she started limping after less than half a mile. Her hesitation to perform a simple command such as “sit!” or “down!” seemed more due to pain than to defiance, all her slow, ginger body movements screamed pain. After a week, a vet confirmed our suspicion: Molly had severe inflammation in both shoulders. The x-rays showed fizzled bone splinters. While the trainer had chopped, kneed and jerked the seemingly stubborn dog, according to the vet our dog had been in “excruciating pain” all along.

We couldn’t believe an experienced trainer would not have seen the many signs of illness Molly displayed: the frequent tremors, the listlessness, the limping. On top of it all, Molly’s fears hadn’t changed, on the contrary, some things had actually gotten worse since the training camp. She still panicked over everything loud, fast-moving or unfamiliar, especially other dogs. She lunged both at the vet and the surgeon. Later, we would learn that one cannot really train a dog unless the underlying issues of pain, fear and insecurity are addressed. Or maybe the pain caused her to lash out?

For the six-week rehabilitation period after a $5,000 surgery on both shoulders, our scooped up Rottweiler bounced off the walls in our apartment. We worked on her obedience and she became a perfectly well-behaved dog when no one else was around — but as soon as a stranger or another dog approached, she still channeled Cujo. We discussed returning Molly to the shelter, but we knew it would be nearly impossible for such a physically and emotionally challenged dog to find a home. When she had recovered physically, we searched for a different trainer. The first one never responded to our written requests for an explanation, let alone an apology.

Our neighbors recommended Kirstin. Though she was only in her 20s, she already had an impressive resumé and three generations of animal training experience in her family tree. Her grandparents had trained elephants for the circus. Blonde and long-limbed, Kirstin was a Hollywood trainer to the stars. She entered our house under Molly’s growling protest. She yelled at Molly to stop barking and growling — most dog trainers will be careful not to do this: you can’t correct a dog when you’re already the “target,” you need to build a relationship and some trust first. But Kristin asked us to put a muzzle on Molly, and then tried to “dominate” her by grabbing her “power points,” the muzzle, the ruff, the paws. Our dog morphed into Voldemort and gave a Hollywood-worthy impersonation of the devil. Kirstin diagnosed “severe aggression,” prescribed an herbal calmer for $200 (that proved to be useless) and prepared us for the worst: we might have to put the dog down. We broke into tears. The best thing Kirstin did was not to charge us for this piece of advice.

We are not ones to give up easily. Next, we went to a renowned training center at the other side of town. This, too, wasn’t cheap at $150 per hour. Tempting us with waiving the consultation fee, they urged us to sign up for a package of private classes and laid out a detailed training plan for socializing our dog with stable dogs at their center. They would also come to our house where we frequently encounter off leash dogs. We signed. They literally waited until the moment after we had forked over our credit card for the entire package to reneg on the training plan: No, our dog couldn’t be trusted to meet other dogs. No, they wouldn’t visit our home. We spent three visits mostly parading around their empty parking lot, with the trainers asking us the same questions about feeding methods and toy aggression they had already asked us during the initial interview — as if they didn’t remember anything we had told them before. Very little training happened. They seemed to be more afraid of our dog than interested in helping her. We saw that this wasn’t going anywhere and asked to cancel the contract. Surprise: The unused portion of the training sessions were nonrefundable under any circumstances. We should have read the small print.

After a short deviation with a fourth trainer who prescribed agility and attack training for dogs with aggression issues, but failed to show up for scheduled appointments, we felt we had heard it all: Every trainer had an entirely different approach, and the only thing they all agreed on was that the other trainers were wrong.

An unsocialized Rottweiler? Needed “a strong hand” (trainer 1) or “couldn’t be rehabilitated” (trainer 2). Handfeeding? Was “essential” (trainer 1) or “dangerous” (3). Tug of war? Was “helpful” for aggressive cases to let off steam or “really dangerous and making matters worse.” Collars? After the fourth trainer we had an extensive collection: tag collar, pinch collar, choke chain, Cesar Millan’s Illusion collar, three different remote electronic collars, a slip leash, a halti and a gentle leader. I stopped counting after 10. And our dog was still having a nervous breakdown every time another pooch approached, even a chihuahua!

Cesar Millan, Michaela Haas, Junior and Molly at the Dog Psychology Center

We learned that our experience was not at all uncommon. I am writing about our journey because since then I have met many dog owners frantically reaching for “professional” help that is too often unprofessional. The title “professional dog trainer” is not protected in America. Anybody can call themselves a dog trainer, whether they are qualified or not. And as we saw firsthand, while most dog trainers know the basics of obedience training, very few are qualified to handle a scared Rottweiler. They tend to either use undue force or shy away from handling the dog at all. And they defend their various methods as religiously as any political party. When a dog trainer tells you that your dog cannot be rehabilitated, show them the door. Fast.

We had been avid watchers of the Dog Whisperer ever since we had rescued and rehabilitated a badly abused Akita-Chow mix three years ago. But getting Cesar Millan to come to our rescue seemed impossible — maybe these days that’s a privilege reserved for the very rich or famous. I finally reached two trainers who had worked with him and used his methods. Cheri Lucas, often featured on the Dog Whisperer show, and Brian Agnew happened to be in our area, and they came to our house.

When Molly barked and growled, Cheri and Brian didn’t back off. They just stood their ground, calmly, neither shying away nor barging forward. They instantly diagnosed Molly as insecure, not aggressive. Cheri crawling into the playpen with our snarling Rottweiler would have been a neat opening for a Dog Whisperer episode. Call that confidence in your assessment! But this was even better: it didn’t happen on TV, it happened in our home. After 10 minutes, they had Molly calmly walking on leash. After half an hour, their own dogs, a pit bull mix and a Collie were relaxing in our living room next to Molly. They showed me how to correct Molly when she freaked out: Gently, but firmly. Strongly, but calmly. They pointed out specific warning signals in her body language and the right moment for an acutely timed correction — when she held her breath or tensed her jaw before the explosion. They used a halti, not a prong collar. When we sent Molly to Brian’s home for more socialization, he sent us instagram proof of Molly’s progress every day: Molly lying next to a pit bull puppy. Molly walking calmly with four other dogs at his side. We knew she was in good hands, and the progress she was making was amazing.

It wasn’t the end of the project. Molly is still work in progress, but we become a better team every day. And recently, Molly even got a chance to go to the Dog Psychology Center and growl at Cesar to show her appreciation.

Cheri and Brian laughed knowingly when we told them about our odyssey. “We hear that all the time,” they said, and joked: “The only thing five dog trainers can agree on is that they know more than their client.” And I wouldn’t even be sure of that.

Trainers Cheri Lucas and Brian Agnew with Michaela Haas and the pack
Photos: Josh Heeren


Books by this author


This Blogger’s Books from



Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West

Follow Michaela Haas on Twitter:

Pasco pit bull mix among top dogs in nation

— One visit with Hype and it becomes apparent why her owner, 16-year-old JuliAnna Munden of Pasco, believes her dog is the smartest, most lovable pooch on the planet.

Hype is a 3-year-old boxer and pitbull mix who is not only adorable but also an American Kennel Club champion who’s rated No. 16 in the nation in the AKC’s mixed breed junior division.

JuliAnna, the daughter of Scott and Christy Munden, said she’ll never forget the first time she locked eyes with Hype’s intense gaze.

“I heard barking in the backyard and at first thought it was our dog, but when I looked outside I saw this pitbull staring at me,” she said. “I wondered how she got into our backyard because we have a 6-foot fence surrounding it, so I went outside.

“She was very friendly but continued to bark and tried to show me something at the fence.”

So JuliAnna followed Hype and found a 6- to 8-week-old puppy there.

“I couldn’t just leave that baby there, so I brought them both in the house and fed and watered them,” she said. “I asked my parents when they got home if I could keep them both, but they told me I had to first see if the owners could be found.”

Hype was named because of her rambunctious nature. The puppy was named Tag. A week later the family contacted Tri-Cities Animal Control office, but no missing dogs matching Hype’s description had been reported and Hype did not have an identification chip, JuliAnna said.

Since Hype had no problem scaling a 6-foot fence, it didn’t take long for her to disappear again, but she returned a few days later with a couple more puppies, JuliAnna said.

All the puppies, except Tag, were returned to their owner, but mother and son stayed with JuliAnna and her family.

“Animal Control told us that if a (lost) dog is in your possession for at least 10 days without the owners coming to get them, you could claim the dog as your own,” Scott Munden said. “The owners at first wanted us to pay for her and her pup but, that never happened.”

The Munden family, which also includes JuliAnna’s younger sister Katie, loves all animals. Hype and Tag joined a menagerie of other pets including a dog, a few cats, two cockatiels, five parakeets and a couple of rodents.

JuliAnna, a 4.0 grade-point average student at Pasco High School, said Hype is her pride and joy. But this well-disciplined hound wasn’t always obedient.

She was unruly when she first showed up at the Mundens’ back door.

“I knew right off she was smart, and she loved to run and chase a ball,” JuliAnna said. “But it was a battle because I spent hours and hours playing with her, but it was never enough to calm her down.

“She would chew our furniture and destroy other things in the house. It was as if manners were the last thing on her mind. Heeling on a leash — not possible. Sitting when told — never happening. Staying put — hah! I tried that, too.”

But JuliAnna proved she’s as stubborn as her dog and started training Hype in April 2011 with the help of the Columbia Basin Dog Training Club.

“She has done an amazing job with Hype,” said Rhonda Riggle of Pasco, the club’s secretary. “Many of us in the club have been training dogs for years and haven’t even come close to what JuliAnna has accomplished with Hype in a short amount of time.”

Riggle also commends JuliAnna for tackling the training of a pitbull, even if Hype is a mixed breed.

“Not many of us in the club are brave enough to train a pitbull,” she joked.

Hype and JuliAnna will travel to Florida next month for the AKC Juniors Agility Invitational in Orlando.

Child attacked by a dog in Swindon

Child attacked by a dog in Swindon

By Josh Layton

A CHILD attacked by a dog in Swindon was flown to a specialist care unit at Bristol Frenchay Hospital early yesterday evening.

The youngster was rushed to the unit within 15 minutes.

The Wiltshire Air Ambulance’s air support unit wished the child a speedy recovery in a Facebook update.

A spokesman for Great Western Ambulance Service said a land crew had rushed the three-year-old girl to the helipad at Great Western Hospital within five minutes.

The child was given pain relief and conveyed to Frenchay Hospital where she was taken straight to a specialist unit needing plastic surgery.

Her condition was described by the spokesman as serious but not life threatening. The land crew requested air assistance at an early stage.

The GWH was used because it was the nearest available location for a landing in the dark.

Recent dog attacks in Swindon

A GRANDMOTHER suffered a heart attack in Swindon town centre when a dog seized her puppy in its jaws while she was holding it in her arms. Christine Kowalkowski-Cowling was holding the three-month-old Yorkshire terrier, called Pippa, when a pitbull-type terrier jumped up and bit the puppy’s face. The 60- year-old, passed out and her husband Jim tried to get the dog off while their five-year-old grandson looked on.

Two-year-old Keiron Guess suffered serious facial injuries after being attacked by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in June. He underwent hours of surgery and was in an induced coma at Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital. The dog responsible was surrendered to police and put down.


Dog on dog attacks in Swindon

TEENAGER Sam Poynter has been left too traumatised to take his dog out after a Rottweiler attacked his pet while he was walking near his home this week. The youngtser was walking Snowy, a Bichon Frise, in the green space near the children’s play area in Pinehurst when a Rottweiler, which was not on a lead, ran over to them. The dog picked Snowy up in its mouth and shook him violently, leaving him with two puncture wounds, nerve damage, a broken jaw and damage to his front leg.

A GREYHOUND was left fighting for her life after being attacked by a dog off it’s leash in September. David Jones, 72, of Upper Stratton, was walking their 11-year-old greyhound, in Meadowcroft Rec when a Rottweiler or bull mastiff-type dog appeared out of nowhere. Romper suffered a puncture wound in her side and had a chunk taken out of her back.

GUIDE dog puppy Grace, who was attacked in the town centre just weeks before finishing her training will never get to work for the blind.

The pup was guiding her trainer, Philippa Davidson, through The Parade in March when a Staffordshire Bull Terrier type dog bit her and held on for about 20 seconds. Philippa tried desperately to rebuild Grace’s confidence and get her to complete her training, but Grace had developed severe anxiety around other dogs that meant she could not safely guide a blind person.

GUIDE dog Lexie was attacked by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier as she and blind owner Glynn Evans stepped off a bus in West Swindon.  Luckily, Lexie managed to escape without any serious injury but Glynn was been left shaken by the attack.


Corona del Mar Pit Bull Shows Breed’s Gentle Side

Blamed for more attacks than any other breed in the country, the pit bull has a bad reputation as a dangerous breed, but two little girls in Corona del Mar consider their pit bull Kissi, just one of the girls.

Kissi, an 11-month-old American Staffordshire terrier, is arguably one of the daintiest pit bulls one will ever meet, but her owner Tonya Nicholson is committed to training her to be well-behaved. Kissi spends her days running in and out of her Poinsettia Avenue home alongside Nicholson’s girls, 7-year-old Tess and 4-year-old Tate, with a pink, bedazzled collar and painted red nails, but that doesn’t stop some people from being afraid of her.

According to Pit Bull, the breed was responsible for 726 attacks reported in news articles in 2009. Much of the bad rep pit bulls have, stems from incidents like one in Newport Beach when police shot two pit bulls after they attacked a woman and her son at the Marriott Newport Coast Villas in June.

“Contrary to what people think, Kissi is really calm and well-behaved,” Tonya Nicholson, Kissi’s owner, told Patch. “But she’s really had to overcome the stigma of pit bulls. She has to be twice as well-behaved as any other dog because she is a ‘pit bull’.”

In an attempt to make sure her pit bull Kissi gets a fair chance to make a good first impression, Tonya Nicholson has enlisted the help of Newport Beach dog trainer Vladislav Roytapel.

“We are training her to respect human authority, to stay down near the floor unless she is called up for a pat or a treat and things of that nature,” Roytapel said. “I believe in training dogs properly to prevent any problems from arising.”

Roytapel has his work cut out for him with Kissi, not because she is aggressive but more so because Kissi has a special bond with Nicholson’s little girls.

“I love when she jumps on our bed and snuggles with us,” Tess said.

Roytapel says although Kissi has proven to be one of the girls’ favorite playmates, she needs to be taught her place in the family.

“She is low on the totem poll in the family and that’s what we need to make sure she always understands,” Roytapel said.

And although Kissi isn’t known to be a troublemaker in the neighborhood, she does have to follow stricter rules when the Nicholson girls have company.

“When people come over, I will put a muzzle on her to help them feel more comfortable,” Tonya Nicholson explained. “But its not because of her behavior. She doesn’t chew things up or snap at people. It’s for their piece of mind.”

Nicholson says she hopes introducing the community to Kissi one neighbor at a time will help people understand the pit bulls themselves shouldn’t be typecast.

“Be afraid of how the owners’ train these dogs, not of the breed as a whole,” Nicholson said.

One dog’s journey out of the jaws of death

SOUTH FLORIDA – It takes a village to save a dog.

But first it takes one spark from the one person who plows ahead, heart first….the one who takes the lead, personally takes on the responsibility, puts things in motion even as her stomach churns and she’s wondering how it can be done, how it can be funded, and who will ultimately give this one a forever home.

Let’s start at the beginning….once upon a time, there was a dog with a backstory that no one will ever know. He was running through traffic and was picked up by Animal Care and Control with no collar, tag or microchip. Soon he was in their truck and then a shelter cage, now a ward of the county. He was given the name Buddy and he’d race the clock to be adopted before his time ran out.

Buddy was frightened and he didn’t even know the half of it. He didn’t know that over 50 dogs a day enter that kill facility, every day, and far fewer make it out. But he did know strange smells, too many dogs penned in, too much noise and anxiety here. He was frightened.

Levi needs a home to complete his rescue

So when the public browsed the aisles and passed his cage, he cowered against the dirty walls that smelled like dogs past. Sometimes he growled in self defense at the imagined threat. This was all new and scary and it was not good. He waited. But his demeanor was not lending itself to adoption. Staff said he was becoming ‘snappy’ with them as his allotted days passed. Soon he was on his very last day in this world as his euthanization date had come. Too many dogs, not enough space or funding or adopters….the reality of an animal shelter was upon Buddy.

Enter his spark.

Melissa Wu had this dog in her sights. An animal rescuer and the founder of Animal Matters and Pitbull Racing, she entered the shelter with a friend to rescue Buddy. She didn’t know what she’d do with the dog or even if it might bite her, but she knew she was going to save him. With determination, she opened her heart and her wallet, filled out the paperwork and waited for him to be brought out to her.

In the meantime, the two women watched 5 other animals being relinquished in the lobby. They wanted to save them all. They wanted to grab and shake the couple who turned in a beautiful 1 year old dog they’d had since puppyhood but “just couldn’t keep anymore”. They watched through tear-filled eyes as the couple walked out unaffected and the dog was walked into a building he may never walk back out of. But today was about Buddy. It was all they could do. One dog at a time…..just one. It was Buddy’s day.

Buddy was led out on a leash to Melissa, and he shook with fear as she covered him with the warmth of a big smile and sweet talked him. He would not die today. He was safe.

Buddy was wary but oh-so-lucky as he walked out of that kill shelter. He was given treats in the car, which he took ever so gently. Still without a forever home, he was first taken to be boarded with a dog-savy couple while Melissa and her friends searched for an adopter. He spent a week there and it was learned that Buddy was quite a ladies’ man. He warmed up quickly to the woman as she cooed at him, fed him chicken and rubbed his belly when he offered it to her. He learned to trust the couple.

Boarding was costly so when a two-week foster home was found, Buddy moved there. He was renamed Levi by Melissa. He was leaving his past behind and a new name was more fitting (cycling related..see Pitbull Racing). Another new living situation, but Levi faced it like a champ. He was coming out of his shell now, and he delighted the new foster couple with his silliness, playfulness, athleticism and most of all, his affection. They found him eager to learn and eager to please. He loved nothing more than to drape his 50 pounds across their laps and soak up all the love and belly rubs they’d offer. He licked every face that got close enough and he thought he was a lap dog as he lolled upside down on them with his goofy tongue hanging out. He even enjoyed a boat ride with them. He ran in their yard and did hilarious, huge LEAPS over the walkway. He made them laugh and most of all, he settled. Levi had learned to trust, to run, to play and to be a dog again.

When their foster time was up, Levi again needed new digs. Have A Heart rescue was next in the village to step up. He was moved to their rural-type rescue under the loving care of Rayfield Baisley of Alpha Dog Academy, a trainer with emphasis on behavior.

He has bloomed into a wonderful dog….


I know, you thought it was going to be a happy ending story. It’s almost there, but not quite yet.

This ‘gem-in-the-rough’ of a dog has come so far with the help of his village. He’s been polished and shined and he’s luminous now. Many of Melissa’s friends visited him throughout his various locations, bringing him treats and hugs and as much love as they could squeeze into him. Another friend, Chelsea of Chelsea Erwin Photography, lent her time and talents to take beautiful photos of him to spread his story and find him a home.

From shivering in fear in a cage to romping with other dogs and licking the faces of his village, he’s an amazing boy full of love and appreciation. His story, unfortunately, is not unique. Shelters are full of dogs beaten down by life who just need a chance.

But again, this is Levi’s story.

Just one dog.

Who needs a home.

Who has tons of love to give. Whose village is desperately searching for that special someone to do the final ‘step up’ for this boy. Might it be you? Do you have room in your heart and home for him?

Ask to meet Levi. He’s approximately 1 year old, up to date on his shots, neutered, and the most handsome auburn-colored boy ever, with golden eyes. He may have you at HELLO. Contact Melissa Wu @ Animal Matters, (561) 306-5192.

And now a huge thank you to Levi’s village thus far…..

To learn more about the athletes of Pitbull Racing, and their cause, click here.

For comprehensive dog training with an emphasis on behavior, rehabilitation and obedience, contact Rayfield at Alpha Dog Academy. He’s working with and loving Levi as you read this.

Thanks to Have A Heart, click here for more info and ways you can help, adopt, volunteer or donate.

Please share Levi’s story. You may be the share that finds his forever home. Thanks for reading and please remember to …

Adopt, Tag / Microchip, Spay / Neuter, and Love your pets for Life!

More articles by this Dog Rescue Examiner here, and follow on Facebook. Read and share the articles to raise awareness of dog rescue issues. Thanks!