A post from Dr. Becker’s daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, on how her childhood dog Scooter’s “bad behavior,” and the abusive approach taken by the trainer she reached out to, helped make her the trainer and dog lover she is today.
That photo brings back memories of not only rocking the 80s hair and denim, but of my childhood love of animals that was cheered on by my veterinarian father, Dr. Marty Becker. And the first time I experienced that love was with my first dog, a Wire Haired Fox Terrier named Scooter.
Far from being the sweet, cuddly lapdog my 5-year-year-old self dreamed of when I was saving up my money to buy her, what I ended up with was a dog full of personality, spunk, and trouble. But God knew what he was doing when he gave me Scooter, as it’s through her that I ultimately started on the path of animal training.
Somewhat ironically, my experience with how a training instructor tried to address my dog’s issues with harsh punishment is what drove me to make a vow as a young child to never train again, because I didn’t want to hurt my dog. Thankfully, what I didn’t recognize as “training,” and simply expressed through love for her, ended up being the type of training I do today — training built on trust, empathy, and the human animal bond.
Scooter’s behavioral issues were seemingly endless. Thankfully, my love for her was endless, too, as she caused quite the ruckus in our neighborhood and in dog class. Scooter was an infamous escape artist and door dasher, bolting at top speed as she pushed past or through legs at doors, fences, or escaping off her leash any chance she’d get. She’d run for all she was worth with me racing behind her, uncontrollably sobbing and unable to even see through my tears. I’d relive the fear over and over every time she’d run away that I’d never see her again.
At home, Scooter embraced her terrier side and was a notorious barker and a chaser of anything even remotely resembling a critter. She even bit the head off a Barbie doll I was holding in my hands after just taking off the birthday present wrapping. She took off with it, leaving me in shock and horror as I looked at the headless Barbie left in my hands! Our backyard also looked like it had landmines with all the holes she dug.
Scooter was also highly reactive and aggressive toward other dogs, which was very hard for me — still just a little girl in school — to deal with. I will never forget the trainer who came up after Scooter growled, barked, and lunged at another dog in class. The trainer grabbed the leash out of my hands, took Scooter right next to another dog, and as soon as Scooter got stiff and growled, the trainer did a leash correction so hard that it ripped Scooter off her four feet and caused her to spin in the air.
It happened so fast, and I felt immediately sick at what had happened. It was then and there after that class that I remember vowing as a little girl to my mom in the car that I would never, ever train dogs again if it meant that I had to be mean and make my dog hurt and feel afraid. And that was the end of us ever going back to that class.
Regardless of Scooter’s issues, she was my best friend and none of that mattered. We did nearly everything together, with her racing alongside my bike that I pretended was a horse, Scooter standing in as my make believe pony. I also taught her to be a show pony, and she’d perform her tricks like jump through the hoop and roll over, pulling a red wagon like she was a horse (or alternatively her loving to sitting in it while I pulled her on my bike. She also let me practice being a veterinarian and examine her, place vet wrap, and do everything my veterinarian dad might do during an exam. She seemed to love the attention and occasional treats that came along with all our fun together.
As our relationship deepened, my “problem dog” blossomed into an obedience champion, and we did it all without corrections or harsh treatment. Instead, we were able to accomplish it through the depth of our trust and love we shared with one another.
I will never forget when Scooter grew with me into my teen years and how I decided to give training and competition another try. Scooter actually went on to being grand champion of the 4H dog show not only in our age division, but as the overall grand champion dog in obedience out of all the participants there. It was a teary-eyed moment for me to accept that win with Scooter, as I felt so in awe that my dog with the label of “problem dog” was now shining as the “super dog” she always was.
Thankfully, Scooter’s other issues took a turn with time, too. When we moved up from southern Idaho to North Idaho, Scooter never again felt the need to run away or to even really patrol our yard. She got along with the barn cats, she always stayed close beside when we were outside even when she was off leash, she stopped digging, and she only barked momentarily when visitors were at the door.
When I walk beside people today as a certified trainer and behavior counselor, I do so with Scooter close to the surface of my memory. Having taken back my vow to never train again after I found a better way to motivate through love, trust, and rewards instead of fear, pain, or force, I now know training has the power to impact the lives of pets and people for the good.
The blessings, unconditional love, and support animals have the power to bring into our lives never ceases to amaze me. If you have a story or name of a‘life changing animal who made an impact on your life, I would love to hear about him or her in the comments below. Blessings, my friends!