Marley with Brittney and David Morissey and trainer, Ken Mathews. Photo by LCGross
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Marley, Mathews and Me

Good Dog! David rewards Marley for good behavior while on a training exercise in the Fry’s parking lot in Globe, where he and his wife, Brittney meet with trainer, Ken Mathews each week. Photo by LCGross

It is a story often repeated: a family with love to give and all the right intentions to provide a good home for a shelter puppy finds themselves in a quandary when their adorable puppy turns into a monster-in-the-making.

The puppy, which had seemed so cute jumping with joy in response to attention and nipping at fingers with little puppy teeth, grows into a terror who lunges at strangers and jumps up to grab an arm to get attention. 

 Brittany and David Morrisey of Globe were at their wits end after six months of watching their newly adopted pup, Marley, a gangly, jet black shepherd-mix, grow into an out-of-control menace whose friendly bites had broken skin and made Brittany scared of him hurting her or their kids.

Initially, she explained, his jumping and biting seemed like ‘puppy’ ways to get attention and seemed no more than an annoyance, but as he grew bigger, the bites began to hurt and the jumping got more aggressive.

Marley found himself locked in the backyard when visitors came around so he wouldn’t ruin the couple’s visit with friends. And on walks in the neighborhood, the unruly pup would strain so aggressively on his leash at other dogs that it worried  Brittany and David, who say they had to be careful where and when they walked him. 

By the time Marley was six months old, something had to be done.

The couple says they were seriously considering giving Marley up.

“We had looked into dog trainers,” says Brittany, “but the ones we found wanted so much – sometimes thousands,”she explained, “and we just didn’t have that.” 

After talking with Cheryl Brazel at High Desert Humane Society in January, they reached out to Ken Mathews, who has trained dogs for forty years and briefly lived in Globe several years ago.When he lived here, he volunteered his time at the Humane Society socializing some of the problem dogs so they could be adopted.

Now living in Sierra Vista, Ken nonetheless agreed to work with the couple and Marley, if  and Brittany would commit to doing the work it would take to bring the “good dog” out of Marley. It would require working with Marley every day and meeting Ken once a week in the Fry’s parking lot for a hands-on lesson. 

They agreed. 

In addition to a lesson in the parking lot, the couple began working with Marley in their backyard, where there were fewer distractions and a failure to heed their commands did not result in a failure to achieve.   

Mathews taught them to work with Marley on a completely slack leash to teach Marley to pay attention. He showed them how to simply turn and walk in a new direction when Marley sprang ahead of them, forcing him to reverse course to catch up.

Soon the rambunctious Marley learned to pay attention and stay next to * side.

When he did, he was rewarded with a small treat and a pat. 

When he surged ahead, he was not reprimanded or jerked back into compliance.

In fact, there was no response from David except to change directions.

Marley got the point on his own terms.

He learned to like walking by David’s side.

When the pair graduated to walks around the neighborhood and Marley would get distracted with smells or the sight of another dog and react, again, David would reverse directions and force Marley to follow him instead of the perceived threat across the street. 

Mathews says that when owners demonstrate they are they are in charge — that they (and not their dog) can determine if something is a threat or deserves attention —it is calming for the dog.

Another key, Mathews explains, is to always reward good behavior and ignore the bad.  Too often, bad behavior by a dog means the owner finally pays attention by talking sternly or yelling, or waving their arms wildly. To a dog it may seem like a game. At the very least, it means they’ve done something that finally gets attention.  

The result is more bad behavior — not less.

Working with a dog, giving the dog purpose and building a relationship with him or her takes time, but as David and Brittany say, “Not all that much time!”  They both point to Marley, calmly laying at their feet as shoppers walk by.“It’s worth it.”

Just twenty to thirty  minutes a day is all it took, says David, who says they first started by walking him around the back yard, and then the neighborhood. And then setting guidelines around the house, like making him sit before we gave him dinner. Or to wait at the door before going out.

Little limits and lessons add up.

After just a few weeks, Marley has learned to relax around strangers and take his cues from Brittney and David. Photo by LCGross

An event with friends really drove the point home early in Marley’s training, when Brittany and David had friends over for dinner one night, and this time, they didn’t lock Marley in the backyard.

As Marley rushed in and jumped on his friends, David told them not to pay attention. To just turn away. It was surprising how quickly Marley got the message. He learned he got more treats by staying down and sitting for the guests than jumping on them.

Mathews smiles when he hears this. This is exactly what he likes to see. A willingness to take these events as teachable moments.

Learning moments like this build upon each other.

Marley is now a year old, and while David says he can still be rambunctious, he is “ten times better” and will listen to commands. He doesn’t ‘jump off the leash” at anyone he sees, he plays well with kids and gets to spend more time in doors.

He is a true family dog now. One which is a joy to be around, and not one which must get locked in the backyard.

As for Ken, he is back in Sierra Vista, but says he is willing to make the drive up to Globe and work with anyone who is willing, like the Morrisey’s , to put in the work necessary to succeed. He can be reached at 218-341-6127

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