Terra Colson- Co-Owner & Trainer
My love for dogs began when I was a little girl. Often, we have that dog as a child that helped us grow and develop that love for animals and Snoopy was that dog for me. He was a Fiest mix (Terrier) that spent his days running through the fields of Kentucky and I was usually right along with him. I was also the one sent out after him when he didn’t come home. In typical Terrier fashion, he was often found on a neighboring farmers land or harassing their farm animals.
What a different world and time it was then. Our dogs primarily lived in large outdoor kennels and never came into the house. I can remember my grandfather using a flirt pole over the top of the cage to get Snoopy and the others ready for hunting and I also remember not asking what meat I was eating for dinner. Veterinarians weren’t an option and I learned quickly that it was survival of the fittest, unfortunately so at times. Snoopy survived 3 separate gunshot wounds in his lifetime and I was the only one that was able to care for him during those periods. He would react aggressively towards everyone else. At times, I was his saving grace as he was mine. I was 13 when he passed at a ripe old age and no dog afterwards could replace him. We had various breeds from Newfoundlands, Malamutes, many Beagles and a few mixes but it just wasn’t the same. Even as a child I didn’t like the “high turn over rate” that we seemed to have on the farm.
As an adult I relocated to California and a few years later decided it was finally a good time for me to acquire my first dog. I promised myself it wouldn’t be like it was on the farm. Through local trainers I was introduced to a litter of Belgian Malinois puppies. I can honestly say, in hind sight, there should have been a much stricter criteria involved in purchasing this dog. Little did I know what I was getting myself into but boy would I learn. At 12 weeks old this puppy was growling, biting, challenging me for everything I was worth and it quickly became clear I needed help. I had to take a deep breath and remember that promise I made to myself, it wouldn’t be like it was back home. I had some catching up to do and fast. In my search for a trainer I learned, just as with everything else in life, everyone has their own opinions on things and their own techniques. It was like raising a child, which I was also doing at the time. All the debates of discipline or don’t, positive training or balanced… My learning curve ended up her learning curve as well. This bundle of fire, who loved me but disliked other humans went through many trainers. Good ol’ hindsight wishes that wasn’t so. I will say each trainer added tools to my tool belt along the way and while I don’t believe it was a waste of time, I see now that I don’t feel any truly understood her until Susan came along.
By the time I started training with Susan, I thought I had a pretty decent grasp on dog training. I had knowledge of basic obedience, protection training and detection training - but the things many of these trainers had missed were the “How’s and the Why’s”. No one had taken the time to explain dog behavior to me. We had tried so many exercises and games to work on Heidi’s anxiety and fearfulness but why? How were these things helping her? How was I supposed to see the progress if I didn’t understand why my dog was doing what she was doing? I had always learned a response to what was being seen, not the cause. Susan helped me learn and understand who Heidi is. I started learning to watch her body language and how to know when things got to be too much for her and how to handle that. I learned about things like recovery time, boundaries, timing, how to control environments and what to do when that’s not possible, finding good reinforcers and what -just by being present sometimes- is a negative reinforcer. Since we began, Heidi has improved far beyond what I ever expected. I have a wonderful ending to my story but not all first time dog owners will. I pretty much had to turn my love for my dog into a full time career to get to this point.
Along this path I also acquired a young Dutch Shepherd named Charlie (In the picture with me above). He kind of fell into my lap when his owner could no longer keep him. Charlie meant well but he was young, rambunctious and had never learned what to do with all his energy. He also was very reactive towards other dogs and wasn’t sure what to do with strangers just yet. Thankfully, I had just the partner to work on this project dog with. 2 years later, Charlie assists me daily as my PTSD Service Dog. He’s yet to meet a stranger and has come leaps and bounds with other dogs. You’ll often see him out working as the “neutral” dog for some of our clients dogs who now need that solid dog to learn from. I was thrown into the deep end of this crazy dog world and survived. Now I want to take my experience and team up with this wonderful behaviorist/ trainer and help others that are in similar shoes.