The Story of Rocky Junior's Dog Training Service
Moments in life can define us and change the very core of our being, bringing new passion to our lives.
October 4, 2006 was such a day for me.
After 16 years in law enforcement, during which I did my first professional dog training (helping train police dogs in Coos Bay, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington), I moved on to owning and operating small businesses in the Puyallup, WA area. That fateful October day I was the owner of Crusty's Transportation, a taxi company named after my cat, Crusty, and was spending the afternoon working on a taxi parked in my driveway.
I am a lifelong animal lover, and had already shared my life with many different, wonderful dogs and cats, doing some training with my own dogs before I learned how to professionally train dogs in 1980. Yet I'd never considered becoming a full time dog trainer - I trained and worked with my own dogs and those of friends, achieving very good results, but remained focused on other life pursuits.
What happened on Oct. 4, 2006 was a moment that would profoundly define and change me.
It was the birthday of my grandfather, Hugh Gilmore Salter, whom I'd loved with all my heart. He was a huge part of my life and a real role model for me. Grandpa had died 5 years earlier, at the age of 96, but I think of him frequently, especially on his birthday, and October 4, 2006, was no exception.
Suddenly I noticed that a handsome, yet fearsome looking Rottweiler had shown up and laid down in my front yard, very near me. The dog had no collar or tags, and was frightened, hungry, dehydrated and in very poor physical condition. Quite obviously he'd been neglected and seriously abused. The poor guy could hardly stand or walk, and didn't want to make eye contact with me. To be perfectly honest, he made me nervous.
I tried to shoo the big dog away, but he ignored me. As I continued to work on the car and keep an eye on the Rottweiler I started to realize he needed help, and for some reason had chosen me.
He'd decided I was the person to help him, and he wasn't going to go anywhere.
Over the next hour I brought him 4 big bowls of dog food and 5 large bowls of water. I had to set the food and water down 30 feet from the dog, so as not to scare him.
The reluctance and nervousness I'd been filled with vanished as I watched the Rottweiler.
I had called Pierce County Animal Control and learned they were closed for the weekend. There was no one to help this poor dog, and I knew I had to do it. Little did I know what was in store for me.
When he finished eating and drinking the dog got up and ambled towards me, limping badly. Sitting on the grass, I remained turned away and stayed still. As the dog got close I found myself frightened, envisioning the big beast attacking me and killing me - but I remained still, suppressing my urge to get up and run away.
Once he reached me the dog laid down, put his head in my lap and went to sleep.
I petted him lightly as he slept, talking to him in a quiet, soothing voice. Not only did the dog limp badly, he had open, infected wounds all over his body and his eyes were infected badly. The poor boy was a wreck, and he had either been dumped or had escaped his abusive, neglectful home. And here he was, asking for my help.
I used to wonder how, out of the hundreds of homes in the South Hill area, this dog had picked out the home where the dog lover and dog trainer lived, the guy who would help him. Since then I've learned how incredibly perceptive dogs are. This big, frightened boy knew exactly where to go for help.
The dog slept soundly, his head in my lap, for well over an hour. It was starting to get dark, and I knew I had to get him contained. I got up carefully and walked to the gate to my back yard. Looking back, I could see the dog watching me. I opened the gate, then turned and called out "Rocky! Come on boy, it's okay." The dog got up and limped to the gate, venturing out into my back yard. He responded so well to "Rocky" that I wondered if that was his real name. Or perhaps he was just responding to my kindness and positivity?
Whatever the case, this big boy, "Rocky" trusted me, as well as my dog Roxy. But there were problems.
Rocky wanted to kill my cats. The first time he saw them he ran into the rear sliding glass door, barking and growling all the way. I'm glad the glass held up! My cats scurried back inside, away from the door.
The weather was getting very cold at night. Thankfully I had a nice dog house in the back yard for Rocky. I knew I could not risk terrible things happening if I let him inside with my cats. Back yard Rocky it was.
I did everything I could to find Rocky's owners, all while attending to his medical needs. I learned Rocky had central progressive retinal atrophy, an incurable condition that would rob him of his eyesight. Additionally, Rocky had malformed joints and terrible arthritis, as well as infected wounds and a broken jaw that had not been treated. My vet said it looked like Rocky had been hit with a sledgehammer. I cried thinking of his former life.
No one ever called to inquire about Rocky. Not one call.
Rocky was highly reactive, as in BARK BARK! GROWL! LUNGE! to literally everything, people and animals included. The poor guy was a wreck, both physically and emotionally.
I started to sleep with Rocky in his dog house, to make him feel safe and loved. Several times neighbors spotted me crawling out of Rocky's dog house early in the morning, with my blankets and pillows. They thought I was crazy, but I knew what I was doing was the right thing for this terribly damaged dog.
Once Rocky's medical needs were met, the priority was helping him so he'd be safe with my cats.
I set up Rocky in my spare bedroom / home office, with everything he needed. Whenever I brought him in from outside, I'd hold onto his collar as I walked him through the house, praising him and giving him treats for not reacting to the kitties. We did the in and out routine several times a day for three weeks, counter conditioning and desensitizing Rocky to the cats. After three weeks his reactivity towards the cats was gone. I was able to move Rocky into the main part of the house, with his dog bed in the living room. The first time he laid down on it he was soon joined by three of my cats, and all he wanted to do was lick them and love them!
Now it was time to help Rocky with his fears and reactivity away from home.
I had no idea what to do. I'd never worked with "aggressive" dogs.
I began contacting trainers in the Puget Sound region. None could help. I'm not sure if it was a lack of knowledge, but no one was interested in helping us.
So I began to research, research and research more, reading behavioral studies from experts like Dr. Sophia Yin. I was already a force free trainer, and was firmly against using any form of correction or punishment.
What later became known as Behavioral Adjustment Training (Reactivity And Fear Therapy is what I use to describe my behavioral work) just didn't exist yet. It was a slowly emerging specialty field.
So, after two months of intense research, I developed a plan to safely counter condition and desensitize Rocky to all the things that he was afraid of and made him reactive (aggressive, as some would say).
It took 4 months of 3 sessions per day, without time off, for Rocky to recover from his fears. We began our work at Bradley Lake Park in Puyallup. Every day and week there was progress. After 3 months we were at a point where Rocky was only 30 feet from the nearest walking trail. Rocky started to whine, looking at me and the trail. I stood up and allowed him to walk to the trail, where he had a very friendly greeting with a German Shepherd and the dog's human. We walked the trail around the lake, meeting many people and dogs. Rocky was perfect, acting happy and confident and meeting lots of people and their dogs.
It was like a switch had been turned off in Rocky's brain and his fears were gone!
We followed up with indoor work at the nearby PetSmart. Rocky thrived, making friends with everyone.
Rocky even became a celebrity in the South Hill area. Everywhere we went people knew him and would call out to him. Countless times we were stopped in traffic, a car horn wound sound and we would hear people calling out "Rocky! Hey, how's it going?" and other enthusiastic greetings. Rocky had made a lasting, very positive impression everywhere he met, and as a result lived the life of a celebrity.
Rocky loved his life, and I loved the dog he'd become. Rocky's transformation from an aggressive Rottweiler to Ambassador for all dogs was amazing and so very satisfying.
Rocky and I spent an incredible 4 1/2 years together.
People who go through shared adversity and succeed tend to become very close, and the same is true of dogs and people who go through shared adversity. Rocky and I were as close as could be. We shared a bond that was so strong and intimate I just can't find the words to describe it. I loved Rocky will all of my heart.
On March 18, 2011, at the age of 11, Rocky became suddenly ill and I rushed him to the vet. I stayed at his side, thinking he'd be okay - but Rocky died within 45 minutes of arrival. I was devastated. I couldn't stop crying. My Rocky was gone. To this day I am overwhelmed with grief when I think of that day, the day my beloved best friend, my oh-so-special Rocky, left me.
July 31, 2011 changed everything for me, bringing joy and positive energy back into my life. I met and adopted a tiny mixed breed puppy, naming him Rocky Junior, in honor of my Rocky. The black cloud of sadness that had been hanging over me since Rocky's death was gone, replaced with sheer joy and thoughts of the future.
As soon as I met Rocky Junior I sensed something very special in him. In addition to regular training, we began to work with fearful dogs and their owners. When Rocky Junior was only 12 weeks old we began to work with a highly reactive 125 pound Rottweiler, Nikko. Rocky Junior just knew what to do, giving Nikko space so he could feel safe, and using calming signals so Nikko's human, Erika, could counter condition and desensitize Nikko to Rocky Junior. It was such an amazing thing to see!
Now, 12 years later, Rocky Junior has went on to save over 300 dogs from living fear filled lives. Instead, all of these dogs have become happy, confident dogs. Compassion and understanding are largely human traits, but Rocky Junior quite obviously possessed them. He's lived such a good life, and continues to help fearful dogs and their owners.
I know Rocky would be SO proud of Rocky Junior! But if it weren't for Rocky, we likely would have never been able to become experts in behavioral specialty, so our success is largely due to Rocky coming into my life.
Do you have a fearful dog? We are here to help, and will never hurt your dog.
Do you just need regular training? We would love to help!