Joy Magazine

Whispering to your best friend

Sit. Roll over. Heel. If this is how you communicate with your dog, then you are missing out. And so is your dog. Follow the lead of Applegate Valley dog whisperer Jill Breitner, and listen rather than talk to your canine companion.

It's not a miracle or a mystery. I read the dog's body language, and teach others to do the same," says Jill Breitner. "Basically, dogs are domesticated pack animals." When a dog is a member of the family, the family, in turn are also members of his pack. The human must be the leader of the pack, and the dog must follow. When practicing this natural type of dog training, Breitner acts as leader of the pack, using that status to assess the whole scenario and make adjustments. She gets a dog-eye view of the situation.

She first learned of the concept of animal whispering when she was a child. Animal whisperers are rare and talented people who have an innate understanding of a particular type of animal. Often they use this level of communication to reach the animal in a way different from veterinarians or members of the dog's own pack or family. These abilities are difficult to teach as they are more of a talent than an acquired skill.

Food for thought

Inadequate nutrition causes or worsens many canine issues. "When there's a physical problem, it manifests in behavior," says Breitman. Feeding higher quality dog food is important, she adds. The fillers found in lower-end foods don't provide nourishment. She says spending $40 a bag rather than $15 a bag for dog food, will probably keep you out of the vet's office.

Inexpensive dog foods carry another risk — food poisoning. Many are manufactured outside of the United States where safety (and chemical) standards are not as rigorous. "We've had a huge scare. Commercial foods are still having recalls," says Breitman. Read the ingredients and check with your animal care practitioner regarding diet-related questions.

When she was 9 years old, Breitman realized she wanted to hone her special relationship with animals after she learned of the groundbreaking work of Jane Goodall. Goodall immersed herself in gorilla society and gained incredible insights into their pack and herd behaviors. "She's really been my mentor of 40 years. I've heard every lecture she's given," Breitner says. And like Goodall, Breitner uses her observational skills to evaluate dogs and their packs or families.

Her skills have caught the attention of animal lovers throughout the country. The longtime animal trainer has appeared on Animal Planet's "Emergency Vets," VH1 and TNT's Family Channel Dog Training television shows. She's worked with canines along the west coast, including numerous four-legged friends of Hollywood celebrities.

She's often called when there is an issue with a dog's behavior. She remembers one call where a dog had been to two trainers and was sent away as "stubborn." The problem was solved by listening and looking for clues that lead her to the resolution. After minutes on the phone, Breitner asked if the dog's hearing had been tested. It turned out the dog was deaf.

Christine Parker, owner and trainer of Medford's Manners for your Mutts, says becoming a leader is important. Teach the dog simple commands — sitting while you put on the leash, or waiting while you pour food into the bowl. Spend time with your dog, first working on obedience and then playing catch. Starting training early, lays the groundwork for respect and leadership "¦ important concepts for pack animals. Each time you give a command — or feed the dog — you continue to reinforce your status as leader. She says that with a look or a nod, you give positive reinforcement. But, being a leader doesn't mean that you harm the dog or that you're ever cruel.

While all dogs respond differently, no matter the breed, consistency is the key. Parker and Breitman suggest teaching basic behaviors to your dog as early as 8 weeks old. They agree that one-on-one time with a trusted trainer is more advantageous than time in a "cookie cutter" group obedience class. "You can't work individually with each dog and each person's personality," says Parker.

Like Sherlock Holmes, Breitner looks for clues to understand dogs' behavior like the dog's posture and head stance. She'll observe the dog interacting with members of the family and other animals. Once she's identified the situation with the canine, she'll teach the pack how to identify the cause and treat the situation, using understanding, communication and respect. And don't forget to add a lot of love!

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