When Bark Busters’ Frank Oliver arrived at my home to whisper my dog Rose into sanity last week, Rose greeted him exactly as she greets all intruders: she barked like a banshee, growled, snarled, jumped up and down, barked some more, and generally offered the impression that his life was in danger. I’d briefed Oliver prior to his arrival, and offered to sequester Rose in a room until she could forget what she was barking about-as has become, sadly, standard operating procedure-but he refused. He wanted me to let her go at him just as she might the mailman. (Little did he know, Rose has received two red cards from the U.S. Postal Service-ergo the “Beware of Dog” sign on our front gate.) I debated having him sign some sort of insurance waiver, but then figured, he’s a professional.
It’s a painful fact every psychotic dog-owning person must accept: it’s not your dog, it’s you. Or, as Oliver put it when I asked what percentage of doggie behavioral problems are owner-related, “Well, maybe 85 percent, and the rest are medical,” he said, humoring me before cutting to the chase. “I like to say I’ve never met a stupid dog.” He let me do the extrapolation myself. Fortunately, when it comes to Rose, I’ve long since swallowed-and digested-my pride, so I was ready to assume the role of trainee.
Bark Busters, which began in Australia under the tutelage of Sylvia Wilson, a Dr. Doolittle-type protege who could break horses before she was even a teenager, operates under a very simple, gentle, natural philosophy that has no use for bribery or punishment: to train a dog, understand how it thinks. That’s it. As the head of the Australian equivalent of the ASPCA, Wilson had to watch “problem” dogs be put down. This upset her, especially because she so strongly believed that every dog can learn if only their people could learn how to think, act, and even speak Dog.
Oliver, who’s been with the organization for the three years since his retirement, underscores the point when he says, “Bark Busters is in 10 countries, and our methods are exactly the same in Japan, Israel, and Australia, and it all just goes to show that dogs don’t speak English.” A lesson I learn every day when I beg Rose, “Please fortheloveofgod shut the [expletive deleted] up!”
What it all boils down to is you have to show your dog who’s boss. More importantly, you have to know how to show your dog who’s boss. And therein lies the rub. “It’s not the person doing anything intentionally, it’s just what they don’t know about the animal that’s creating the problems,” explained Oliver. “Once you realize that you’re living with a real-life, perpetual teenager that’s going to test you for the rest of its life, then you get it. You just tell them what to do.”
Establishing the pack hierarchy is paramount in a dog’s world, and when that hierarchy feels wishy-washy, our poor poochies feel stressed, which manifests in everything from separation anxiety to aggression to digging to shoe-eating. By consistently letting them know that you’re in charge, and responding as an Alpha would to their constant tests, they’ll learn to relax and just be a dog.
This is all fine and dandy, but Rose is a special case, the ultimate litmus test for any canine corrector. I said as much; Oliver looked as though he’d heard it before. What followed was an in-depth explanation of canine communication, a discussion of Rose’s many, many issues, as well as her history-which explained several of her issues-and, finally, practice. By the end of the two-hour training session, I got Rose to stop barking-and sit!-when the doorbell rang, wait for my okay before inhaling a treat well within her reach, even heel on a leash. For the record, each of these accomplishments is nothing shy of miraculous.
A Bark Busters training session comes with a lifetime guarantee; all they ask of us-poor, misguided Dog People that we are-is to practice what we’ve learned, for 10 or 15 minutes a day. I think Rose and I can handle that-no, I know we can. Because I am the boss.
For info or to set up an appointment, call 746-0687 or visit barkbusters.com. Frank Oliver and his wife Ilse have also teamed up with the Santa Barbara Humane Society and currently offer six group behavioral training classes per year at the Humane Society’s facility. For more information on the Bark Buster Group Classes, contact the Humane Society at 964-4477.