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Others See Dead People, I See Dog Fights

By Kathy Santo | Updated: May 13 2019

Rounding the corner of the DOG TREAT aisle at my local Major Pet Supermarket Chain, I come upon a scene that most people would find heartwarming. Two people are engrossed in a conversation about the recent dog food recalls while their dogs, who are on leashes, are sniffing each other. Other people are walking past and smiling, seeing a friendly interlude. I’m rooted to the spot, anticipating a major problem.

Others see dead people. I see dog fights.

I can’t help it. I’m a dog trainer.

Unlike in cartoons, where superheroes actually change into capes that identify them as experts in their fields, I tend to walk up to ordinary people, looking like, well, an ordinary person. Sometimes there’s time to explain who I am and what I think is about to happen between their dogs and what they should do to prevent it from happening. Sometimes I only have time to instruct them (“grab your dog’s leash NOW!”). Sometimes there isn’t time for words, just reactions. From me.

Which is exactly what happened here. As soon as the facial expression of one of the dogs changed, I rushed towards them, saying “AH! AH! AH!”, which, loosely translated, means “Don’t do it!”. Just as the larger of the two was lunging at the other, teeth bared and hackles up, I managed to grab the leash and prevent an altercation. Both owners were staring at me in disbelief. “It’s ok,” I said “I’m a dog trainer.” The owner of the still growling and lunging dog said to me “He was just playing” as she petted his head and consolingly said  to him “It’s ok, baby, you’re a good boy”. Translation to Good Boy: “I love that you lunge and growl at other dogs.  Keep up the good work”. The other owner had problems, too, as his dog was pinned against the back of his legs, quaking in fear. His response was to push his dog towards the other dog, admonishing “It’s ok, you big sissy, he was just playing, get back out there.” Translation to Big Sissy: “I can’t speak dog, so I have no idea that you’re heeding the other dog’s message to ‘stay away or be killed.’

As kindly as I could, I translated what each dog was saying, and encouraged the owners to find a qualified trainer or behaviorist to help them address these issues. In the meantime, I mentioned that they should keep their eyes on their dogs, to prevent something like this from happening again. My hope is that they will do just that; my gut tells me that they don’t see what just occurred as a problem.

A few minutes later, while waiting in the checkout line, a large dog in front of me starts to sniff the carry bag of the little dog in front of him. The woman owner of the large dog coos “Oh, he just wants to make friends with your little baby dog.” Loud growling from the inside of the bag sounds like a mini chainsaw has been started, which prompts the small dog’s owner to say “Oh, he loves big dogs! He’s saying “Hi, my name is Luigi. Do you want to play with me?”.

But I know differently. I see dog fights.

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Kathy Santo has spent her entire career as a dog trainer and handler, training dogs and winning over 500 obedience, agility and Canine Good Citizenship titles. Working with her own dogs, she has achieved every competitive obedience title the American Kennel Club (AKC) has offered and earned the prestigious AKC “Obedience Trial Champion” title (OTCh) multiple times.

In Ramsey, Kathy teaches classes, private lessons, and oversees the training of her student’s dogs using her extensive knowledge, experience and intuition to handle problems from the benign to the serious. Her engaging personality has won her the respect and friendship of her many students, who now consider themselves part of her extended family.