JOLIET – Susie Mazzorana of Joliet, founder of Problem Solved! Dog Training, often receives frantic phone calls and emails from prospective clients that sound something like this: “We don’t want to give up on this dog. But we will if things don’t change.”
And Mazzorana often replies: “Things are absolutely workable.” But she doesn’t sugar coat it.
“I tell [owners] what they’re doing to contribute to it,” Mazzorana said, “and then offer solutions on how we can fix it.”
Starting Wednesday, Mazzorana will offer “Trainer Talk” at Joliet Township Animal Control. This free hour-long program on the third Wednesday of each month gives owners and prospective owners the opportunity to ask questions and learn practical solutions for common issues.
These may include aggression, anxiety, housetraining, destruction, leash-pulling, jumping, begging, barking, fearfulness, separation distress, inappropriate greetings and mouthing – all reasons why owners may “give up” on their dogs, Mazzorana said.
“I want dogs to be happy and I want owners to be happy with their dogs,” Mazzorana said. “A better behaved dog means a better life.”
Many people, said Sarah Gimbel, director of Joliet Township Animal Control, want information on training and understanding dogs. Mazzorana’s easy-going style impressed and intrigued Gimbel.
“She teaches things step by step,” Gimbel said. “I think people will be amazed at how much they will learn from just talking with her or by using one of our dogs as an example.”
Mazzorana, a lifelong dog owner who has suffered from an anxiety disorder and has worked as an in-home dog trainer for the past three years, knows that many canine behavioral problems stem from anxiety.
Make the dog feel secure and the undesirable behaviors will disappear, she said. Many owners see improvement after just a lesson or two, she said.
The first step, Mazzorana said, is “learning to think like a dog.” Owners often set goals that don’t sync with their dogs’ history – which may be unknown if the dog was adopted from a rescue or shelter – breed and basic personality.
“We have a picture in our heads about what we expect the dog to be,” Mazzorana said. “Owners will say to me, ‘I want this dog to be more social’ and I’ll say, ‘I think you want this more than the dog.’ What’s best for us is not always best for the dogs.”
However, dogs are stimulus-response creatures, Mazzorana said. If an owner teaches a dog what he expects and follows that teaching with effective rewards for correct behavior and appropriate consequences for incorrect behavior, the dog usually will cooperate.
Keep in mind, she said, “reward” to a dog is not always “treats.”
“When you let the dog get away with bad behavior,” Mazzorana said, “that is a reward for the dog.”
To accomplish it, everyone in the household must give clear and consistent commands, she said.
When that does not happen, the dog receives “mixed signals,” almost as if the “wife is speaking Chinese; the husband is speaking Japanese; and the kids are speaking Italian.
“The biggest question to ask is, ‘Does my dog even know what I want?’ ” Mazzorana said. “If we don’t tell a dog something is wrong, he will think it is right. Take time to show him what is acceptable in each instance.”
No method will produce permanent results if the household is full of turmoil, Mazzorana said.
If members are “petting the dog one day” and erupting in “explosive anger” the next, the dog can’t rely on predictable outcomes and his anxiety will continue.
“Sometimes we put our own issues on the dogs,” Mazzorana said. “I don’t judge. I want people to feel they can ask me anything, to learn what they might be doing that’s contributing to the situation and how they can change it.”
Although Mazzorana said she received her formal training from Canine Trade Group (www.caninetradegroup.com), Mazzorana also said her continuing education comes from working with clients and the dogs she owns.
One of those dogs is Vida, a “7- or 8-year-old good old American mutt” that was previously deemed unadoptable because of aggression, Mazzorana said.
“Vido had no obvious predictable outcomes in her life so I have to move at her own pace,” Mazzorana said. “We’re just in the initial phase. If I force things, I might do damage, so I’m the right person for this job for her.”
If you go
What: Trainer Talk
When: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of every month
Where: Joliet Township Animal Control, 2807 McDonough St., Joliet
Etc: Susie Mazzorana from Problem Solved! Dog Training will discuss common behavior issues and even demonstrate a few examples on a shelter dog. Information will be available for individualized training. No dogs allowed.
Cost: Donation toward shelter enrichment program
Contact Problem Solved!: 800-7697-SIT or firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Joliet Animal Control: 815-725-0333