People think dogs are weird, but can you imagine what a dog might think of us? “I live with this noisy ape,” a dog would tell you. “They like to put their food in a big, cold box so they can eat it later. Why not simply eat it all at once? Sometimes when I take them on a walk we’ll see a squirrel, and they don’t seem even remotely compelled to kill it. Why, the other day I caught them watching a stranger walk past the driveway – totally ignored them. Didn’t scream at them once. Utter ... lunacy.”
The dynamic between dogs and humans is one-sided, of course. We’re the ones who buy the Kibbles 'n Bits, so they have to do what we want. And there’s the problem. Dogs certainly know enough to be dogs, but when it comes to interpreting the actions of noisy apes they can find themselves at a bit of a loss. “What does it mean when they yell at me while I am barking?” the dog ponders, thoughtfully scratching his chin with a dewclaw. “Should I bark harder? It’s worth a try, I guess.”
In essence, Marilyn Tokach of Pure Spirit is a translator. The Eden Prairie dog trainer knows how to present information to a pooch in terms their little pooch mind can comprehend. “Aha,” the dog who has worked with Marilyn will say to himself in an epiphany, “I will not jump on unfamiliar noisy apes who come into the house. I will sit on this carpet and let them come to pet me instead. Brilliant!”
“I got my first dog back when I used to drive across the country for work,” said Marilyn. “For companionship, mainly, but also maybe for protection if needed. My German Shepherd Gretta was a great friend. Always there for me, intuitive, and funny! If I was ever late coming home I would find her surrounded by her stuffed animals like she was holding court.
“Gretta was already a perfect lady when I got her at three years old. I continued to train her for fun, and also for the sport of Schutzhund – basically a test of obedience, tracking, and protection work. It wasn’t until I settled in Minnesota and got my Rottweiler, Maggie, that I really began competing in obedience. Rotties didn’t have a great reputation back then, so I had to make sure Maggie knew how to carry herself.
“From there, dog training became my great passion. I left my corporate human resources job in 2002 and have worked exclusively with animals and their owners ever since.
“People often say to me that their dog is stubborn. In reality, almost no dogs are. I can count on two hands the number of genuinely dim or aggressive dogs I have trained with, and I probably train about 750 dogs every year. Dogs simply need help understanding our expectations for them. You see, dogs tend to look at the big picture. They’ll hear you when you tell them to stop jumping on your grandmother, but they also see the way you’re holding your hands, the way your head is tilted, which way your eyebrows are raised. They’ll even smell your breath. With so much to take in at once they don’t know what information they’re meant to gather and what they’re then supposed to do with it.
“When your dog is doing something you don’t want them to do, it’s good to understand why they’re doing it. Say he’s barking at people walking down your street. Is he showing outward signs of fear that the mailman is coming to murder your entire family? Is he wagging his tail in hope the strangers will come and throw tennis balls to him? In either case you need to give him an unambiguous signal that it’s time to stop barking, like a hand gesture or a spoken command.
“Now here is the beauty of dogs: Whether they’re acting out of terror or elation, you can make them instantly switch gears by giving them a high value treat or other reward. In the case of barking at a stranger, it not only forces them to stop barking, but also to associate not barking with getting something good to eat.
“There are some dogs that are able to chew and bark at the same time, unfortunately. We call them Labradors.
“A lot of trainers practice animal communication but don’t realize it. Some people call it telepathy, which really only translates to ‘feelings over a distance.’ If you’re intuitive, compassionate, or empathetic, then you really can’t help but experience animal communication on some level.
“I learned how attuned I am to dogs’ feelings from my German Shepherd Conan. I would be in the front seat driving, and he would be in the back (because he was a dog and couldn’t drive). Conan wasn’t like the dogs you see happily poking their heads out of the window during a drive. Car rides made poor Conan nauseous.
“By around the fifth or sixth time Conan ruined my upholstery, I realized I was also becoming nauseous at the same time he was. Finally when I felt sick I pulled over so we could both stretch our legs. After a little break, Conan was ready to soldier on.
“I’m sure it sounds like I’m blurring the lines between science and the supernatural, but I really do experience what animals are feeling. And in my line of work, the more information I have, whether it comes from behavior science, canine body language, good listening skills, or telepathy, the better I can bridge the understanding between my clients and their pets.
“Before I begin training your dog, I start you off with a questionnaire,” Marilyn continued, no doubt having already sensed what I was about to ask next. “That helps you get all of your thoughts in order, and also prioritize the things you want to work on. This helps me as well, because I might learn you need to reprioritize a little. If you’ve ranked house training behind learning how to sit on cue, I can tell you that piddling outside always comes before doing tricks.
“I work with dogs in their familiar environments, because that’s where they are experiencing problems and exhibiting undesirable behavior. If they’re learning not to bark at your neighbors, it won’t do any good if your neighbors aren’t present. If they’re learning how to behave themselves around other dogs, we might train outside of a pet store. I do highly recommend obedience classes, but the majority of my clients need help addressing specific issues.
“I’m a mediator. I not only help your dog become a better pet. I also help you become a better owner. Once the two of you understand each other better, you’ll both be a whole lot happier!”
Marilyn’s relationship-based training approach is primarily focused on dogs. We only talked about dogs because I kept asking her about them. If you would like animal communication for your horse, bird, or kitty cat, she can help you with that, too – you need only visit pure-spirit.com.