It’s been one year since I adopted Harlow and what a year it’s been, one I wouldn’t change at all. I’ve learnt a lot from Harlow, her crazy attitude and how to harness it to make the best from all the learning opportunities she’s had, her love of life and how she just loves to be in the moment, but most importantly I’ve been able to empathise with a lot of my clients through Harlow. It had been 7 years since I had owned a young dog before, Ralph, and he was a very relaxed and easy going dog from the start. Sure he destroyed things as all puppies do but his training was easy, he had no previous behaviour issues and he was taught to learn and listen from a very young age when I enrolled in Puppy Pre School with him.

Harlow was previously owned by a client, she was a crazy 7 month old pup when I first met her, she didn’t care what was happening and she knew she could get away with things. From the first time I met her I knew she was a smart dog that needed some guidance. Her previous owners tried their hardest to train her and teach her how to behave but they just couldn’t keep up with the demands of a puppy that needed supervision and a lot of mental stimulation so they contacted me to see if I knew someone who would be interested…… Well I love my Doods (Pooodle x) and I just couldn’t say no to her.

Harlow got a long with Ralph like a house on fire, he was her constant toy, she wanted to play all day every day and for the first two weeks she was generally well behaved. I didn’t quite believe that in her previous home she had chewed up the garden sprinklers, pulling out the plants, not following instructions, barking and running along the fence with the dog behind, bowling the toddler over etc. Over the years many dog trainers I respect have always talked about the two week settling in period and at the end of that period the dog has completely unpacked their luggage (prior behaviours), and pretty much to the day Harlow had unleashed.

I came home from work one day to find the backyard covered in plants she had destroyed, the broom handle chewed up, and a bucket in pieces. She’d had fun, I was annoyed to say the least. I knew then that I had my worked cut out for me. Catching a dog doing these behaviours can be hard when it only happens during working hours, the main problem my clients have when dealing with these typical puppy behaviours, but I set out a plan. I thought I’d try and set her up whilst I was home but nope Ralph had different plans and didn’t allow that to happen.

Harlow was training up nicely, the backyard was still being destroyed and I was doing everything in my dog training book to stop her but really she was a one year old dog, a teenager, that had got away with these behaviours for too long. I empathised with all my clients during this period and I could really understand the frustrations they were going through with their dogs as well.

After my summer break with Ralph in Melbourne I came back to Darwin and ready to train Harlow out of all these behaviours and it was working. I bought a tub of Vicks vapour rub, smothered it on the trees and anything else Harlow had decided was her toy. I was getting up early to walk her so she’d be tired during the day (even though I knew this wasn’t really going to work, I thought I should try it), I would walk her in the evening, take her for a run next to the bike and even looked at enrolling her in to Doggy Daycare once a week so she could expend some energy there, but in reality I knew all of this wasn’t going to change her destructive behaviours at all as she’d been able to get away with this for too long.

I came home from work one day and found she had chewed the cord through the outdoor freezer, gosh was I angry then, but very glad she was still alive. No I didn’t tell her off, I didn’t catch her do it, but I do remember looking at her and thinking “why aren’t you as good as Ralph at this age?” Then it dawned on me, I’d been training her, but not as much as I wanted to, she had 10 months of destroying anything in her sight at her previous home, she hadn’t had all the positive experiences as a puppy like Ralph, and she hadn’t really been taught not to chew things.

Harlows training program stepped up a notch from here, she was no longer going to get away with little behaviours and she was going to find out I’m the leader and she needs to listen to me when requested. Sure her behaviours didn’t stop straight away and I’ve had a few more trees destroyed in the backyard, I kept the freezer cord covered in Vicks for many months after just in case, and everything in the backyard was picked up and kept out of each until just recently. She’s gone through plenty of phases where I thought ‘woo hoo progress, she hasn’t destroyed anything for a while’, and then I’d come home and find a tree gone, and I’d go back to the drawing board. This is all part of the learning process and are often referred to as extinction bursts, but the time has finally come when she’s able to be trusted more, she’s close to being off lead trained, and she’s won me over completely.

Earlier on in the year I took Harlow to a friends little girls birthday in the local park by herself so I could do more training with her and I knew she loved little kids from her previous life. It was here that I noticed how amazing she was with kids and people in general, she wanted to be with them, she wanted pats, and most importantly she was gentle with all the kids coming up to, rolling on to her side and giving plenty of cuddles. This is the weekend I decided she’d make a great Therapy Dog, so I booked her in for a course later on in the year.

Two weeks ago I took Harlow down to Melbourne to complete a Therapy Dog course through Lead The Way and Alpha Canine Professionals. I did have a few minor concerns about her in some situations due to the previous work she had been involved with assisting Ralph at a few places we were already running Therapy Dog programs at but I knew the challenges she’d be put under. Harlow was a little star, she was fantastic during all the assessments and she lapped up every single cuddle she could get and earnt her Therapy Dog coat.

I’m a proud dog mum! In just under a year she has gone from an unruly dog at home that didn’t care what you said or did to her, an out of control dog at the groomers that was close to having to find a new groomer, a dog that didn’t listen at the beach; in to a beautiful dog, adored by everyone who meets her, a dog the groomer doesn’t mind grooming, and most importantly a dog that now has an amazing life being taken here there and everywhere.I’m so happy with how Harlow has grown and developed over this time, and all those destroyed trees was worth every second I’ve spent with her.