Almost immediately after Andrea Horikawa adopted Vinny Love from a shelter in southern California, she had doubts. The Chihuahua mix with a dizzying tail challenged every dog to cross his path. She contemplated returning him to the pound, but realizing his days would be numbered if she did, she redoubled her commitment. As a result of three years of diligent, consistent and positive training, Vinny is now a well-mannered pup with an impressive arsenal of more than 20 tricks, including a handstand that would make a yogi jealous. (See the video at the end of this article)
We often hear stories about shelter and rescue dogs who shed serious baggage—neglect, abandonment, abuse—to rise above expectations. We decided to feature some of these special pups—and by extension their faithful people—as Bark Rescue Wonder Dogs because they make us rethink what’s possible. We begin with Vinny and Andrea. We asked the 22-year-old Laguna Hills resident how Vinny landed on his paws with such poise.
Bark: Are you a trainer?
Andrea Horikawa: No.
How did you have this kind of success with Vinny?
I went to private consultations with six or seven dog trainers around the area. I was hoping I would find a trainer I really liked and then I would start taking classes from them. But I didn’t really find any trainers I liked. So I just took in some dog training tips from one trainer and some tips from another trainer and they kind of all meshed and I used what worked for Vinny and me.
What kinds of things were a good fit for you?
Mainly, redirection. If he aggressed, I would redirect him, make him do something I wanted him to do and praise him for that.
Do you use treats? A clicker?
Treats and praise. I didn’t use a clicker. He’s very food motivated. But when I first got him, even if I had treats, he still lashed out at other dogs.
So you’d be walking him on leash and he’d lunge and bark at other dogs?
Now when you see another dog, what happens?
He’s fine. In the beginning, I would see another dog and I would have Vinny look at me, not at the other dog because what he used to do was look at the other dog, fixate on him, and then challenge him by barking and lunging. By avoiding eye contact, he stays quiet. Now looking is OK; if he fixates, that’s not good. He’ll usually look at the other dog, and I’ll say “Vinny” and he’s quiet and he’ll walk fine.
How much time do you spend working with Vinny?
About 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes at night.
Does that include exercise time?
What have been the most challenging tricks to teach him?
The handstand. I first saw it on YouTube.
How long did it take?
He has to build up muscle strength. It took us probably five months for him to fully do it.
Have you considered a future in movies for Vinny?
We’ve actually talked to an animal training agent. But they ask a lot of money upfront. If I had that money, I would use it for rescues and other things.
Why did you post Vinny’s tricks on YouTube?
I wanted to show people that, one, even if you have a dog with behavior issues, if you take the time to train them they can make wonderful companions and even do a lot of tricks and, two, there are a lot of dogs who have no issues in shelters and I want to become an advocate for animal rescue and adoption.
What do you think is ahead for him?
I don’t know. We perform at a lot of local dog shows that are fundraisers for animal shelters and rescues. We’ve been able to persuade a lot of people to look for their next pet at animal shelters and rescues. And because of the videos, we’ve had people contact us from around the world tell us we’ve inspired them to adopt or get involved in their rescue community.
What would you say to any Bark readers who might be struggling with a dog’s behavior?
I would tell them to be patient and stay committed and never give up on them. But be realistic about what you want to achieve. I think, for a while, I wanted Vinny to be a dog park/dog beach, very social dog. And that’s just not who he is. I can’t change him. He’ll never be a really dog-social dog. I have to accept him for who he is.