DEL MAR — Last year, approximately 8,412 dogs were euthanized by the San Diego Department of Animal Services and local shelters, according to the San Diego Animal Welfare Coalition. Of those euthanasias, 4,185 were owner-requested citing “not healthy” as the reason, and 1,945 because dogs were determined to be “unhealthy and untreatable” by shelter staff.
The remaining 2,282 euthanasias were dogs of “treatable and manageable” medical and behavior conditions.
“So heartbreaking, so many great dogs are in need of training,” said Linda Michaels, M.A., and a Victoria Stilwell-licensed dog trainer. “Most dogs are abandoned because of a behavioral issue that became unbearable for the family.”
Ten years ago, Michaels was working on her master’s thesis when she began volunteering at the San Diego Humane Society.
“I thought I was going to be a behavioral neurologist, and then my world just stopped,” she said. “I discovered that dogs have a lot of the same emotional issues as people such as abandonment, fear, anxiety, stress and separation anxiety.”
As a volunteer, Michaels choose the most difficult cases to work with.
“I knew that if someone didn’t take an interest in a ‘tough case,’ the outcome for that dog would likely be euthanasia,” she added.
Michaels continued her education and became certified by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, an AKC-certified instructor and evaluator, an AKC star puppy trainer and a certified veterinary assistant. She was also in the first graduating class of the “Training for Trainers” program at the San Diego Humane Society.
Two years ago, Victoria Stilwell, host of “It’s Me or the Dog” on Animal Planet, began developing a network of licensed trainers. Michaels became the 11th of what is now a network of 50 Stilwell-licensed dog trainers worldwide.
“I was thrilled to be able to add Linda to the VSPDT team,” Stilwell said. “Not only does she bring tremendous academic credentials and extensive training experience to her work, but what really makes her special is her passionate devotion to helping the dog-owning community of Southern California understand the benefits and effectiveness of using positive training methods as opposed to flawed compulsion and dominance-based techniques.”
Michaels said she shares Stilwell’s belief that dogs learn best by using scientifically-endorsed, positive-reinforcement and nonaversive training techniques such as praise, treats, toys and harnesses. She added that shock, prong and choke collars can sometimes have the reverse effect, even resulting in aggression.
“I believe we can turn this sad situation at shelters around,” Michaels said. “Training should begin as early as possible, eight weeks for puppies and the first day in the new home for rescues.”
To do her part, Michaels offers a 10 percent discount to people adopting a rescue dog, and 15 percent if it is done within the first 30 days.
She offers these tips in considering a rescue dog:
1. Get a pre-puppy consultation to determine what type of dog will fit in with your lifestyle and family.
2. Arrive at decisions before you go to the shelter and bond with a dog.
3. Know what you are looking for, what is negotiable, and what won’t work for you.
4. Do a temperament test of your own, with your family present, at the shelter.
Michaels is often recruited to accompany, and advise, families visiting shelters and breeders.
Some clients hire her to combine pet sitting with training.
Sadie, an 11-year-old, purebred standard poodle has been training with Michaels this way since she was a puppy.
“You spend a lifetime with a dog and things change,” owner Dianna Huszar said. “Linda always has an answer for me and it always works.”
Michaels says that training-oriented pet sitting is one of the most effective ways of improving a dog’s behavior.
“I’ve lived with seven-dog families who were marking all over the house and still not housetrained, and with six barking Bichons,” she said. “I just taught ‘no bark’ in three minutes to a rescue dog.”
She added, “Dogs are smart. If we learn to communicate with them in a language they can understand, and by manipulating the resources they want, we get the results we want.”
For more information, contact (858) 259-WOOF (9663), [email protected] or WholisticDogTraining.com.
Michaels is also founder of San Diego Positive Pet Professionals. Visit meetup.com/San-Diego-Positive-Pet-Professionals/.