ERRIKOS, THE FIRST THERAPY DOG
FOR THE SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND
For many years the people at the Blind School toyed with the idea of having a guide dog who would double as a help in the healing process. Only there were doubts as to how positively everyone would face this dog, as at the School there were people with phobias as far as animals in general went. Therefore, as a first step in this direction, there had to be an acceptance of the idea of the existence of a dog trained specifically for this purpose amongst them, a dog who would abide by certain "rules and specifications".
These "specifications" ended up giving us the image of a dog who would have to be the end-all and be-all of "perfection"! This dog would have to be calm, patient, not to bark- at least not at every opportunity, to be able to put up with confinement in small spaces like rooms with the door closed, not to be hyper, not to need to run in open spaces to get it all out of its system, not to react if an individual whose sight is challenged hits it by accident with their cane or steps by mistake on its tail, as this individual might not even know the dog is there. This dog should not jump of joy on people in case it scares them off, it should love having contact with people and should be patient and tolerant with their first attempts of getting to know it or giving it a cuddle. But all these prerequisites seemed to be in another dimension, they seemed totally unrealistic and unrealisable!
By a stroke of good luck a good friend put us in touch with Maria-Christina Patala.
I mentioned, or rather described at length to her our "dream dog", half expecting logically an immediate negative or sceptical reaction. Maria-Christina in a very serious manner asked us to give her time to find a dog with a "suitable character" and then more time so that she could work on this dog and work with it.
Four months later, Errikos was amongst us at the Blind School, who became an indispensable part of our lives. Errikos is a rescued dog from Argos Sanctuary shelter, not a pedigree dog, not such a good-looker, but a doggie who stole our hearts. Even the people who strongly resisted the idea of having a dog fell in love with him: he is such a sweet, calm, patient, affectionate, cuddly doggie, who has inexhaustible patience and a strong need for cuddles and hugs. The children are really crazy about him! Adults, who have been at the School for training, were lining up, making appointments just to spend a little time with Errikos! In spite of the short time he had spent at the School before the summer holidays began, he became everybody's object of affection and their little darling, indispensable to all of us. Even the visitors to our School are enamoured of him and many neighbours have repeatedly come to our doorstep and asked to see and have contact with Errikos. This dog is a small miracle and we are forever grateful to Maria-Christina who has found and trained Errikos for such a demanding job!
Thanks a million, Maria-Christina!
NICOLAS FAMILY AND CEZAR
Cezar is now a 6 year old male german shepherd. He grew up with lots
of love and affection within a family of 4 including two children. Effectively
he grew up with the children since we brought him home when children were 1 and 3.5 yeras old.
When Cezar was 4 years old he showed a few signs, on what we perceived as dominating/aggressive behaviour. He refused to obey commands to go outside the house, he bit a relative who stepped on him by mistake and bit a neighbour who hold him by the neck and would not let him go.
Although we tried to "legitimise" his behaviour based on cicumstances we felt uneasy with the situation so we called Maria-Christina in to check on the matter and guide us on correcting his behaviour. Maria-Christina had also dealt with the basic training the dog received earlier at the age of one.
She took the matter personally i might say ! She visited our house more than ten times having corrective sessions with the dog. The training included the whole family as well and immediately correcting any incompatible acts on the dog's side.
The effect of the training was immediately felt. Cezar's behaviour was soon contained, he became obetient and has been a lovely dog ever since.
We thank Maria-Christina for her support. She dealt with the matter with outmost professionalism yet with a personal touch we mostly appeciated and cherished.We are now a happier family!!!
PHOTIS, CONSTANDINA, BONO AND KEIRA
We have a Labrador retriever almost two years now. We are dog lovers already with a Jack Russell Terrier. But the timing wasn’t right. Keira was 3 months old when we introduce her to her new home. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to pay any attention to our new family member nor any training. “Keira” grew up copying attitudes and behaviours of Bono (the older member of our family Jack Russell). As a result of this partnership among with our physical absence from the house most of the time, many unpleasant results occurred. Keira became an unsocialised dog, frightened and without any limits. We couldn’t take her for a walk, we couldn’t invite people to come over and most importantly Keira grew up having no boundaries.
Maria-Christina came to our lives and took Keira for a training session over her premises.
At the beginning it was very hard. Keira was afraid and was not cooperating with
Maria-Christina. After 3 weeks time she came back home. A big change. A totally new Keira. Very good attitude, knowing her boundaries. We are very pleased for
Maria-Christina’s contribution to Keira’s training. Maria-Christina kept coming over the weekends in order to keep the training on track and with her advices and her guidance helped us become good dog owners. Now Keira walks on our left hand side, she knows where to go and sleep, she knows that no games are allowed in the house, she is very good with other people and with children as a Labrador that she is.
For all of you thinking taking your dogs to Maria-Christina I have to tell you that she will do her best for your dog and she will succeed, but there is a lot to be done from your side. You are the one who is going to be spending your life with your dog and you need to be trained as well.
Thanks a lot Maria-Christina for the effort and for the transformation of Keira from a frightened dog to a friendly companion and an adorable family member.
CHRYSANTHOS, OLGA AND CARLOS
We have an 8 year old dachshund called Carlos. Dachshunds are known for being lively and playful and they often bond with a single person. We had him since he was a little puppy and so he feels much attached to us. We noticed through the years that every time we would pack our suitcases for a trip he would become very nervous and sometime he would sit stubbornly on one of the suitcases. Last April the signs of anxiety separation became more intense. Every time we would leave the house he would start barking incessantly (resulting in hoarseness of voice), throw things (like the toys off our son, baby chairs) on the ground. Even when we were at home he wanted to be next to us and felt distressed if we left him alone in a room. The worst thing was when he started peeing on the kitchen floor every time we left the house.
Maria-Christina helped us deal with this dreadful situation, by explaining the reasons that caused such a dog reaction and by helping us to contain this behaviour. We started by giving treats on anything that signaled our departure (i.e. keys of the house, our son’s school bag, personal bags) and also pretended leaving the house for a few minutes, entered back to the house and gave him a treat when he stop barking.
Also, when leaving the house we left the radio on, so that he would not feel alone.
As Maria-Christina explained we had to be patient and she was right. We had our good and our bad days, but now the situation is under control. Thinking back when this problematic behaviour started, I never believed (as Maria-Christina constantly told me) that things would get better. Nowadays whenever we leave the house Carlos sit’s on “his” armchair feeling relaxed. Of course we continue with the training.
Thank you Maria –Christina for all the support you have given us!!!
Chrysanthos and Olga Papachrysanthou
GEORGE, THEKLA AND BRUNO
“He will always be unpredictable and unreliable”
“He cannot recover”
“He is too old for training”
When we laid eyes on Bruno for the first time we decided to adopt him without second thought. He was living in a small cage with four other dogs looking miserable and desperate for a family to take him in and provide a loving home for him. We thought that he would be so happy to get away from that dirty cage that he would love us unconditionally just like in all Sunday doggie movies. He would stay in a comfortable apartment with carpets, expensive dog food, a luxurious dog bed, a bunch of dog toys to play with, treats, long walks to the park and play dates with other dogs. In general the perfect dog family house after 11 months of physical and verbal abuse by the lady who “took care” of him. Isn’t that right?
NO NO NO! Four months later, he was lying in the couch not letting us reach out to him, hiding in the corners behind the couch when we tried to talk to him, barking at us when we moved around the house, sometimes howling like a wolf during the nights and barking schizophrenically at all visitors. For four months he wouldn’t let us approach him not even for treats. His toilet habits were limited to a diaper in the middle of the living room which he used sometimes with fair results. Since he wouldn’t allow even us to get near him in a distance shorter than 1 meter from the couch, there was no chance of walks even for his toilet needs
or bathing. Basically we were living with a very smelly fearful stranger in the house. All carpets were removed, we forbade everyone from our family and friends to come and visit us since
we were ashamed on behalf of “our” dog. Moreover any accidental visits aggravated him even more. In the meantime we decided to get professional advice from various dog trainers and vets. A dog trainer told us to grab him and bite him in the ear. Another one suggested grabbing him and throwing him off the couch to show him who is the boss. A third one told us to leave him hungry for 48 hours and throw him sausages to make him come to us. We did nothing of the sort! The most sane suggestions we got was to completely ignore him until something miraculous happens or to give him food whenever he had a positive behaviour, which we did for several months but again with no luck. We contacted every professional we knew, repeated the story dozens of times and asked them to give us an honest opinion if Bruno had any chance of rehabilitation at the age of 15 months old. A quite pessimistic opinion we got was that in the unlikely event of Bruno reaching a minimal level of rehabilitation, he would always be unreliable and unpredictable. After long conversations it was clear that no one believed that Bruno would recover but rather he should be put to sleep to get him out of his and our misery.
Well, almost no one. When our dear friend Stella suggested inviting Maria Christina for a visit, we had already decided that Bruno was “a dead dog walking”. We were promised an honest evaluation by Maria Christina and although we were hoping for the best, we were expecting
a repetition of everything any other dog trainer told us. Maria Christina came to see him and observed quietly his behavior for several minutes. After the evaluation we asked her directly whether there was any chance of rehabilitation. The answer we got was disarming:
“That depends on how willing you are to work on your dog”. She then explained the methods she uses in dog rehabilitation and training. All methods were based on positive reinforcement theory which essentially means rewarding the dog after acts of normal behavior without any sort of verbal or physical punishment or weird practices like biting or grabbing. Positive reinforcement in dog training is now considered the most advanced and effective method worldwide.
We followed her instructions by the book and two weeks later Bruno had already started to change. He started following us in the house from a distance and although he was still fearful and stressed out, it was obvious that every next day, was better than on the previous one.
He was still unapproachable and Maria Christina explained to us what to expect and made sure to resolve any exaggerated expectations on what not to expect in such a small period of time. She then drew a training schedule for us to follow with specific training techniques in a four month time frame. She explained to us literally everything about how we should treat him, starting from his meals timetable and procedures, to our body posture when we attempted any physical contact while lying on the couch. Her methods were specific and fun and can be summed up into these three Rs: Reinforce – Reward - Repeat. During that period Maria Christina was in touch with us on a very frequent basis either by coming to see him, or by calling to learn about Bruno's progress and guide us step by step.
Four months later
Bruno is currently sitting in the reinstalled carpet in the living room waiting for us to get back from work to go for his walk. His walk includes jogging with us at the park, sitting for a coffee or a drink at the local coffee shop, socializing with other dogs and cats on the street, doing all sorts of doggy stuff a confident dog would do. That includes some stupid stuff like trying to make friends with irritable cats. People come to visit without any implications and we are currently following Maria Christina’s directions on how to deal with minor behavior issues with every day improvement. Our life has changed too! Having a troubled untrained dog in an apartment means worrying every single moment that while at work he will start barking with no apparent reason. Additionally the lack of social life has had a direct impact on our quality of life. More importantly dogs should be a source of joy and happiness for their owners, someone they can play with and take care of, receivers of affection and loyalty, instead of causes of stress and trouble.
We are sure that there are a lot of good and qualified dog trainers out there. We are just very happy that we managed to find one of them!
Bruno will be joining Maria Christina’s classes this Autumn so everybody will have the chance to meet him in person.
Maria Christina – THANK YOU!
Giorgos – Thekla - Bruno