Second Place Winner of Tails of Triumph Story Contest - Charlotte Mielziner
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Angela Peña, Director of Media and Public Relations
Updated Tuesday, December 16, 2008 : 2:28:42 PM
|It was 1994 and I was a new mom. Not in the usual way. Valerie age 3 1/2, came to us from St. Petersburg, Russia. Her world exploded from the four walls of the orphanage to the freedom of the United States, full of new foods, clothes, toys and animals. On the way home from St. Petersburg, we worried about what to do if she was allergic or scared of the dogs. To our relief, King our 4 year old Samoyed and Scruffy our 8 year old terrier mix, instantly adopted Valerie as the newest pack member. Valerie accepted the dogs with squeals of delight and followed them following me around the house.
At this time, I was working on a Companion Dog Excellent title on King. This new mom with only a few weeks of experience took our new daughter, a babysitter, toys, snacks, training treats, leashes, chairs and King and off we went to an obedience trial.
I remember the day so clearly. King performed beautifully in Open and as qualifiers were being called into the ring I heard, “Get your kid away from my dog!” I turned to see Valerie holding a large Bouvier Des Flandres by his whiskers and getting ready to plant a kiss on his nose as his frantic owner pulled at the lead. The babysitter was no where to be seen. I heard a low rumble from the dog’s throat. Prying her little hands off his flews, I thanked God and the handler’s quick action that she was safe.
The Bouvier’s handler was right. I should have had better control of my child. The outcome could have been very different and I knew it. Obedience training and a good handler probably saved her face that day. I thought of the potential physical and emotional trauma and my part in what might have been a tragedy. I could train dogs, but I really didn’t know that much about how they behave.
That night, I started researching dog bite prevention. I was shocked at the figures. Of the 70 million dogs in the United States there are over 4.5 million dog bites reported yearly. 50% of children are bitten before age twelve. 60% of dog bites occur in the home and most of those bitten are children. Most bites happen by the family dog with no prior history of biting. On average, there are about 12 people killed each year by dogs and 75% of the victims are children.
Noted behaviorists such as Ian Dunbar of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers felt that early and thorough socialization and ongoing obedience training are key components in preventing dog bites. The consensus is that education is needed and the first place to start is with our children. The second is to teach the owners good management and how to communicate with a dog. Dog bites are an issue that requires no expensive medicine or vaccines to solve, just education and management. As a mom and dog lover, I felt it was my duty to make dog bite prevention techniques as oft taught as stop, drop and roll to put out a fire.
Six months later, King, Scruffy, Jim and I presented the first Safety Sam Dog Bite Prevention Program at Valla’s preschool. We taught the children how to greet a dog and give a treat in the open palm of their hand. We impressed repeatedly to never pet a dog unless the owner says it’s OK. King, the vociferous Samoyed lifted his head and sang for the children. The teachers were so impressed with King and our presentation they referred us to elementary teachers. Safety Sam grew and grew.
At first, it seemed that a dog bite safety program was a “no news is good news” effort and that we would never know the bites we prevented. But, over the years we have heard numerous stories of children and adults that have used our techniques to avoid a bite. I’ve used these same techniques numerous times with testy client’s dogs and have been relieved to defuse potential trips to the emergency room. Years later, Valerie even avoided a possible bite from a German shepherd that was coming after her.
With the knowledge I gained from Safety Sam, I wanted to do more. I wanted to become a pet dog training instructor. I was a good trainer, but was I a speaker, teacher or more? Animal Behavior Training Associates had faith in me and worked with me to develop my lesson plans and be ready to teach at two of our local Petcos. I taught there for over six years and have wonderful memories of watching the human animal bond grow from the first class to the seventh. I particularly loved teaching puppy and tricks classes because they were so relaxed and happy.
Several years ago, I started working as an ABC Training Mentor. I deeply respect how ABC stresses safety first and non-aversive methods. The manuals are well thought out and continue to evolve as our knowledge base about dogs expands. The organization gives the much needed support that a new trainer needs for success. I know good management and socialization techniques are being passed on. Each and every ABC student is a privilege to work with. ABC students are so self motivated, open and willing to learn. I love watching them find their voices as instructors. They help me continue to stretch and grow as a canine professional.
Today, I teach private behavior consults and kids and k9s classes for the finest kennel and training center in the area. I’m working with a book shepherd to rewrite a dog bite safety book I wrote for visiting nurses into a volume with a wider audience. The working title is, “Good Dogs Bite, too.” I asked her if I had sufficient credentials to write this book. “Are you kidding?” she asked, “Of course you do. Look at all you’ve done. Why, you’re a trainer’s trainer!” So, I’ve gone from a little local dog bite safety program, to an ABC Training Mentor and that has led me to writing a book. Yes, ABC…what an opportunity. What a pleasure!