February 2013, in walks Samson, a 20 week old rescued Hovawart…a Hova WHAT?? How do you spell that? H-O-V-A-W-A-R-T. The only thing I knew about Hovawarts was what I learned from my best friend.
She was born in Berlin and had a Hovawart growing up. She said, “It was the smartest dog we ever had.” Smart? Yes, so smart that he knew exactly how to manage me while I was clueless on how to manage him. He was this adorable ball of fur. I saw that he was always on guard, always investigating and assessing his environment. I knew he needed both mental and physical stimulation. He out smarted me daily. I thought I knew how to raise a dog. After all I had one my whole life. I always taught them to sit, down, stand, stay and yes, really stay. I could take them anywhere I went. Well, not this time! I knew I had a lot of work to do…..but I didn’t know exactly what it was that I should be doing. I searched and searched for information to find very little. I found what I already knew….’these dogs are different, they think and act independently, they are very sensitive you can shut them down if not handled properly, they will work with you but not for you.’ Yes, I already saw all of that but nowhere could I find information that taught me how to effectively work with the dog. I loved my little dog that was growing rapidly but I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my lack of success. I began to question if I was the right owner and perhaps I needed to find a better home for him.
I had so many questions and no answers. I decided to find other Hovawart owners, hoping they could tell me why this breed is so different and how to work with him successfully. I found HCNA, The Hovawart Club of North America. They were wonderful and encouraging. Telling me “you must be patient, these dogs are slow to mature. They will be better once they are 3-4 yrs old”. Oh my….will I survive that long? Will Samson survive with me that long? Samson knew commands, the problem was that he only did what HE wanted to do. If we were in the house he would listen, but the minute there was any distraction, I mean ANY distraction, I could not control him, he ran to do his own investigation. My friend who trains and competes in agility and sheep herding said, “he just does what he @#!$%* well pleases! I was a frustrated owner, with a sweet but out of control dog….this is not a good combination.
Debbie and Pepijn Driessen suggested that HCNA bring Angelika Balk to our next show and event to help us learn how to work with our Hovie’s. It could not come soon enough for me!
I counted the days. Finally it was planned. May 2014…..The BIG EVENT! The few monts before the event there were many thoughts going through my mind. What if Samson was the only dog that misbehaved? What if he gets stressed and bites someone…especially a child…he does not trust children because he was mistreated by a child in his former home. He is so strong willed and so easily distracted. He is 100 lbs, so fast and powerful, what if I cannot manage him with all those other dogs there?
In hindsight now, I realize that I spent a full year trying to teach my dog ‘English” and communicating in my language. It worked for all my other dogs. The only place it got me with Samson was frustrated. He knew what I meant but with each command it was as if he would say, “yes, I hear you….I will think about it…..and I will get back to you when I have made a decision.” Sometimes he was perfect and sometimes he was not! Did he have hearing loss? Was I using the right treats? His timing was perfect. He always knew exactly when and how to get away with misconduct. It was exhausting. I was thinking, if all the other dogs behave like mine, how will the team of experts manage all of us?!?!
Alas, we arrived in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The night before the event started, a ‘meet and greet’ graciously hosted by the Driessen’s gave us the opportunity to meet with judges, trainers and other participants. Eva, Ans, Tine and Angelika were all so warm and engaging. We talked about families, homelands, and of course our Hovie’s. They were so delightful! What a great way to begin the event.
Samson is the black hovawart sitting on Angelika's left.
Day One. The conformation show. Ans was wonderful! Helping you feel comfortable moving your dog in the ring. Especially for those of us who had never experienced this before. She can tell you how nervous I was! She was clearly thorough and methodical in her assessment of each dog, taking the time to educate everyone on the strengths, weaknesses of each dog, being careful to point out the breed standard. This information was very helpful for those who are interested in breeding. It will be helpful when choosing good candidates for purposes of breeding to aid in building a strong gene pool and maintain the integrity of the breed.
Day Two. The temperament test with Eva. A great opportunity to observe how your dog responds to various stressful situations. It was helpful for me to see my dog in different situations so I might better be able to predict and understand his behavior. I believe the test demonstrated his loyalty to me, his ability to evaluate a challenging situation and act appropriately. It allowed us to strengthen our bond and build confidence in each other.
Days Three and Four. Time to train with Angelika, Ans and Tine. Tine worked with the puppies and Angelika and Ans worked with the adolescents and mature dogs.
In just two days both Samson and I were transformed! Angelika showed me how to manage his energy, how to keep him calmer and prevent his energy from escalating. I came in feeling a bit anxious. I knew he had a quiet, sweet demeanor yet it could escalate in a heart beat. I felt inadequate to fully manage his behavior.
After training for just two days with Angelika I learned how to change my method of communication. I learned to speak in his language instead of mine. It was amazing how it immediately removed the power struggle I felt with him (you know, the one’s you have with a toddler or adolescent). We were given insight into how a Hovie thinks and why they behave as they do. Angelika was masterful at explaining her concepts using stories and word pictures so that everything made sense and gave you good understanding. Because of the exercises and drills, I am now better at reading his body language and can make the necessary adjustments. I have finally begun to capture his attention and respect. He is incredibly responsive to the techniques that Angelika taught me. He now turns to me for direction more than he ever did, his eye contact is more frequent and more definitive. He is calmer when I bring him to daycare, he is no longer a food thief, he is better when entering/exiting the house or car, he is getting better when someone comes to the door, and more responsive when I tell him to stop the barking.
My communication and leadership skills are so much clearer, meaningful and effective. We are still a ‘work in progress’ and I know that we have a lot of work to do. However, for the first time, I am empowered with the right tools to move forward beyond frustration and toward a wonderful, mutual relationship, where I can effectively communicate with him, manage his behavior, grow our bond and truly enjoy living together in harmony. Samson wants to thank Tine for teaching us the ‘end of day’ ritual of total body massage. He is very grateful for her instruction!
Angelika, you have imparted such great tools and knowledge. You have given me confidence in myself and confidence in Samson to help us overcome our challenges. You have taught me how to speak ‘Hovie’ instead of English. Everything is so much clearer for me and I can finally ‘connect the dots’. I love you Angelika Balk! All those who are lucky enough to work with you are truly blessed. Samson and I are forever grateful for your selfless giving and sharing. Your incredible wisdom and insight is invaluable and has fostered a closer bond and relationship with our Hovie’s. You are a gift to us all. We are better owners because of you and our Hovie’s are better because of you. I hope you will all will return soon to help take us to the next level of learning and handling. We welcome you with open arms!