Those mournful brown eyes captured my heart, the ones gazing tentatively up at me from the concrete floor of her shelter cell. They were set in perfect symmetry on an adorable red-and-white beagle face attached to a red basset hound’s body with white pointy bandana markings around the neck. All this cuteness poised on top of short little turkey drumstick legs capped with oversized white socks. She was calm, still, quiet amidst the crazed chorus of barking, jumping, pacing. The tag on the gate read, “Twinkie”.
“She’s the one,” I squealed. Don nodded his agreement, clearly hypnotized by those sad hound-dog eyes. Twinkie’s velvety ears perked up. Her white-tipped whip of a tail gave a quivering, hopeful thump.
The eyes get me every time.
Twinkie was clearly thankful to be in her new adopted home with air conditioning, a soft bed and consistent mealtimes with tasty Pacific Salmon-flavored grain-free food. And for the first couple of days, we kept her in our little apartment while she got accustomed to her new surroundings and her new people. She got a clean bill of health from the vet. Once she warmed up to us, her cute, bouncy, perky personality was absolutely hilarious. She was a powerhouse — a knee-licking, head-ramming, 45-pound wiggling belly flopping bundle of muscle and sheer stubborn basset-hound determination.
All was right with the world on our honeymoon with this new dog. Until, that is, she was finally allowed to go into the B&B and make herself comfortable.
And then the doorbell rang. And a canine alarm sounded in response. Loudly. With zeal.
Outside in the yard … the same. She was a fence-dwelling, people-chasing yard guardian — trumpeting dire warnings to anyone within 100 feet of the fence. Nobody came anywhere near her yard without a good old-fashioned talkin’ to.
Absolutely perfect for a bed and breakfast, right?
Twinkie chillin’ in her “Twinkie Pose”
She also proved to be a “leash lurcher”, which was unfortunate because she lives to go on walks. Wrapping the leash around our hands multiple times to keep her under control, our hands morphed into swollen purple sausages. It was relentless, her lunging — toward smells, toward sounds, after squirrels. Oh, and the cats. She was obsessed with cats. She poured every fiber of her 45-pound being into lurching, determined to get to whatever irresistible attraction was just out of reach. She was a strong little thing. And when she finally took a break from straining against the leash, ready to move on, she strutted and bounced, smiling, happy as a clam. Our little junkyard dog owned that sidewalk.
Cute as the “junkyard” side of her personality was, if we were going to keep her at the B&B, we had to teach her some manners.
So we decided to enroll her in a basic training course at one of the local pet supply stores, where she did okay for the first couple of lessons, even acting like a model pupil, the teacher praising her and setting her examples by her. That was, as soon as one of the Rottweilers in the class picked a scuffle with her and, without warning, nipped at her nose. The run-in shut her down. She started misbehaving for the trainer. She refused to obey a single, solitary command. Each time we returned for a lesson, within 10 feet of the pet store Twinkie became visibly stressed, drooling, panting, pacing. We pulled her out of the program the week before graduation. She was our primary school dropout.
Twinkie’s “going for a walk?!?” face.
Enter Nick Rangel with American K-9 Academy.
Desperate for a permanent fix for Twinkie’s less-than-welcoming behavior, I found Nick on the internet. And after a lengthy phone conversation about expectations and costs (she was, after all, 5 years old — an advanced age for training), we set up an appointment to take Twinkie out for an evaluation.
As we drove up to the training facility, on several acres of open land in nearby Gravette, we were somewhat alarmed to see several large dogs in the fenced-in dog yard. Because after Twinkie’s run-in with the Rotweiller, we and Twinkie saw all big dogs as a potential threat. The German Shepherds, Labs and other dogs curiously watched as we unloaded Twinkie from the car. Not one of them barked. And when Nick gave a command, they all snapped to attention and did what he said.
We were amazed at his command of the dogs, and after her initial evaluation, we were quick to enroll her in a 4-week K-9 basic-training bootcamp.
Nick delivered. He put Twinkie and her class of canine companions through the ropes that month. To help desensitize the dogs to people and kids, he loads the dogs up and takes them to local parks and trails and ballgames to train them around people. They roam his grounds and go on hikes and get one-on-one personal attention every single day. He corrects them firmly when they do not obey.
Two weeks into the training, we were allowed a visit. Already Twinkie was a different dog. She listened to us. She obeyed our commands. She walked on the leash without lurching. She waited for permission before going through a doorway.
Two weeks after that, Nick brought a newly transformed Twinkie to our house. He worked with us for a couple of hours, a train-the-trainer session. He gave us a printed manual to study, outlining training plans for the coming next weeks and months. He visited a couple more times to check in.
Smiling after her nightly walk.
And it worked. Ask any guest. Twinkie is a better version of herself. Around guests she’s a mellow, laid-back dog. She’s still a perky little spitfire around her mama and daddy when we’re alone. She is a little shy around some guests, but she lets them enter her home without fanfare. She does greet people at the door (so be prepared to get thoroughly sniffed on your way in.) She picks her favorites and, at times, even positions herself outside her Chosen Ones’ doors so they’ll know she wants her ears scratched. But don’t worry, she waits for permission to go into rooms (and she’s not allowed at the breakfast table). We get daily compliments on her good behavior, and she gets daily kisses and pats from the guests.
And did I mention that we can walk her off-leash now? It’s amazing! She stays right with us, always keeping us in the corner of her eye, pausing when we pause, turning when we turn. We do still have to leash her at events and in crowds, though. Too much distraction.
Thanks to Nick at American K-9 Academy, our relationship with Twinkie has a much easier, more relaxed dynamic. We know what to expect of one another and we have a nice little routine that works for all of us. She’s now the perfect B&B mascot rather than the apartment-dwelling junkyard dog. And our guests get the ideal Hostess Twinkie treatment. Cheers to doggie bootcamp!