I had the pleasure of interviewing Lily Crytser, one of my longtime and repeat dog training clients from the Spokane area. Lily’s dog, Falco, was one of my favorite behavioral rehabilitation cases.
1. Lily, back in 2016, you sent Falco to us for a behavioral rehabilitation board and train when he was an older dog. Why did you decide to send him to us for training?
When I first got Falco in 2012, even though I had lived with family dogs my entire life, I knew very little about dog ownership or what to look for in a dog. So, between rescuing him and beginning training with Valor K9 Academy, I was a very poor leader, and it had a huge impact on Falco’s behavior. He had a bad upbringing with his previous owners, but I also did not know how to read his body language or advocate for him.
This led him to be very aggressive towards people and other dogs. He was unpredictable even with friends of mine he had met successfully in the past. He attacked my mom’s sheltie mix badly in 2013 and the injuries resulted in over $1000 worth of vet bills. The next year I moved in with friends and Falco was the only dog there, until one of my roommates needed to bring his pitbull mix home. She was also very unpredictable and aggressive, so we had to keep them separated in the house, which was a huge stressor for everyone. Eventually, someone left a door open, and they ended up face to face in the yard. It was the most traumatic dog fight I’ve ever witnessed.
Afterward, I was at the end of my rope, I didn’t want to rehome him and so my only option was to seek actual help. I did my research, and no other company came close in my mind to the level of knowledge, professionalism, and results that Valor K9 Academy displayed.
2. Did you have any reservations about doing a board and train? Did those reservations turn out to be valid?
I did have reservations about doing a board and train! First, I was concerned about the cost and skeptical that the results would be worth it. For me, especially then, it was a huge financial burden to try and work out. But I knew that what I would be paying for was relief for both myself and Falco. So, we made it work. It ended up being the best money I have ever spent, aside from the wonderful results we had with Falco, it led me to discover a method of dog training that has changed the way I interact with the world around me.
I was also uncomfortable leaving my best buddy with people I had only just met. I am pretty type A and had become very controlling about my dog, for the safety of him and everyone around. It was difficult to give that control over to someone else and not fear that there might be a slip up that could result in something really bad happening. However, the environment at Valor and Amy’s personality put me at ease immediately. We also got updates all the time and were in constant contact either through social media, texting, calls, or visits. When he needed vetting for an ear issue, they took him in, and he received the best care as soon as possible. All of these points really made me feel like he was in the best hands.
3. What was Falco like before training?
Falco lacked a lot of confidence before training and had very little formal obedience. While he was very smart and focused on me, he really didn’t know very much! He was always easy in the house, kind of a Velcro type dog and never destructive. But I think how easy he could be kind of worked against us since it made me feel like he didn’t need help for his actual issues. I was probably in denial, honestly, thinking that he was just protective or something. When really, he was scared, didn’t know what was expected of him, and didn’t trust me to protect us. Our world before training was very small and shrinking every day. We couldn’t have anyone over to our house, we couldn’t go on trips because no one could watch him, we couldn’t walk him during the day for fear of a reaction, and we couldn’t consider getting another dog. It was an awful lot of barriers preventing us from really living our lives.
4. How did training transform Falco and give him a better quality of life?
Meeting Falco during and after training was a real night and day difference to how he was before. Before training, he would go crazy lunging and barking at people and other dogs. But after training, he was able to demonstrate obedience, herd sheep, and do agility. He knew all the little things like reliable sit-stay, down-stay, heeling, focus, and recall, but he also just had a different attitude toward life. He wouldn’t avoid grates in the sidewalk and even had more confidence to go lay out in the yard by himself. He had amazing results and I’ll never forget the feeling I had when we got him back. A few months after his graduation we enrolled in a group obedience course with Valor, and he excelled in a room with handlers and dogs and all the hustle and bustle that comes with group training. He did amazing and I was blown away every week. But I would say the biggest “win” we ever had was about four years later when we brought a new puppy home and he accepted her right away. I never would have considered it before training with Valor.
I feel like I should say that I also had a huge transformation. My attitude toward dog ownership and dog training has changed so much over the last five years. I have grown to understand what a dog needs and how I can advocate for whatever dog might be in front of me. I have a better understanding of dog body language and behavior and have grown to truly love training and spending time with my dogs in a more intentional way. I understand that every day is an opportunity to make progress and also that no dog is perfect! Falco wasn’t perfect every day, he would occasionally let out a grumble or turn his head at a dog flipping out in a backyard. But I never wanted a perfect, robotic dog, what I really needed and wanted were the tools to handle the imperfect.
5. What kind of relationship developed between you and Valor K9 Academy as a result of training?
My relationship with Valor K9 Academy and friendships with the trainers has been such an incredible gift. I feel very lucky to always have professionals in my corner that are willing and ready to answer questions and provide support. I am able to share wins and losses with a group of people that really are cheering for me and my dogs and that has given me a huge sense of peace.
6. You were recently gifted a new puppy and you enrolled her in training right away. Why?
With Falco, I knew that some of his issues stemmed from my poor leadership, but I also knew that he didn’t have a good foundation before I rescued him. More than anything, his resulting behavioral problems were something I never wanted to struggle with again. So, when we got Freya, I wanted to ensure we had guidance right away. I love German Shepherds, but something I’ve learned (the hard way) is that they need as much training as you can give them. We enrolled in the online puppy class, which I really loved. Jenna was amazing and answered all of our puppy questions with ease and confidence. The sense of peace I felt during those critical weeks, knowing that we were on the right track was priceless. When Freya was about 6 months old, we signed up for 8 private lessons, right around the time when we introduced a training collar. This was so important, I had anxiety about the transition and Freya is a very sensitive dog, so having a trainer with us at every step was the best thing we could have done.
7. What is something you learned from Falco’s training that you were able to apply to Freya’s training?
I think the main thing I learned from Falco’s training that has been on my mind most is not to set Freya up for failure. If I put her in a situation that I haven’t prepared her for, that’s on me, not her. I can’t expect her to recall off a squirrel if I haven’t practiced recalling her off her flirt pole or from playing with other dogs. I also take advocating for her very seriously, so that she won’t be put in situations that would lead to failure or discomfort. For example, we went to an outdoor family gathering a couple weeks ago and I knew a small child was going to be there. Freya has so far loved children, but she’s also a 75 lb., 1 year old German Shepherd with a lot of energy! So, before the gathering I talked to the child’s mother about if she might want me to leave Freya at home and made it clear I didn’t want the baby to approach Freya. She ended up coming with us and I kept her leashed and had her lay at my feet the entire time. The baby was close to us, but never got an opportunity to tug on an ear or a tail, and Freya was quiet and polite. And no babies got knocked over! Both the baby and Freya walked away from the gathering with nice socialization around each other. I was so proud of her.
8. We are so sorry to hear of Falco’s passing. What’s one piece of advice you’d have for someone with an older dog who’s on the fence about training?
When we brought Falco to Valor for training in 2016, he was 7 years old and at the time I really wondered if we were trying to teach an old dog new tricks. I doubted that he would be able to experience lasting change, or that maybe it wouldn’t be “worth it”. I was so wrong, training with Valor made the last five years of his life so much better, and he really deserved that. He loved training and working on obedience right up until his last. My advice would be that it’s never too late to train. Whether there is a real behavioral issue to work on or not, training is fun, and an older dog is going to enjoy and benefit from it as much as a younger one.
9. Tell us one of your favorite memories of Falco.
I think my favorite memory with Falco would just be him and Freya sleeping together on our couch when she was small. I could never believe my eyes that he would be so relaxed and at ease with another dog, even after all the years of training and seeing him succeed so many times. It was just another level for him to have a wild and crazy puppy in the house, and I was always bursting with joy to see them cuddle or play. I remember, maybe a few days after we brought Freya home and they were still adjusting, I decided to vacuum the house, I looked over to see them laying in the middle of the rug bonding over how much they didn’t like the vacuum. Still makes me laugh to think of it.
10. How has your overall experience been with Valor K9 Academy?
My overall experience with Valor K9 Academy has been beyond positive. We have done a board and train, in-person group class, stay and play boarding, online group class, and private lessons, over five years and multiple trainers, with no negative experiences. One of the best things about Valor, in my opinion, is that I can know that no matter who I am working with or what we are working on, I am in the best hands. Head Trainer Amy Pishner has extremely high standards for her trainers, and I trust her in all things related to training dogs. She has also become someone I consider a friend, and I know that my next puppy will be picked out by her and trained using her methods. I will always be thankful I found Valor K9 Academy in my time of need, and I know they are out there helping dogs every day.
Thank you so much, Lily. Falco had an amazing life thanks to your dedication to his well-being and training, and now Freya has hit the jackpot with you!