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12/26/2005 Payton was known by many of you, as he was with me prior to my move to Colchester, and the creation of the DOGHOUSE. Payton was actually with me prior to the start of my dog training career. My master plan was to graduate dog training school, and then find a dog to work with. But two months before classes started, Payton was in the Hartford pound, where all dog's days are very limited. I took him because he was an incredibly impressive looking dog, even though I had virtually no dog experience other than the few I grew up with. The first walk we took together on that December, 1993 morning didn’t even make it to the end of my icy driveway. Payton, at the time a young adult, took off like a rocket and pulled me off my feet, snapping my leg when I came down on it. As I lay on the ground in considerable pain, he repeatedly jumped at me while barking. I’m pretty sure he was saying “Get up you wuss!, this walk hasn’t even started!” I owe a lot to Payton. Payton made me think I was a good dog trainer, long before I really was. Without that confidence, who’s to say that I wouldn’t have walked away from the business early on. A lesser dog would have revealed me for what I was, a very inexperienced dog trainer, without any real direction or plan. Payton kept that secret to himself, and in spite of me, was one of the most intelligent and responsive dogs I’ve ever known. Of course, at the time I thought it was due to my skills, and that is what inspired me to continue on with the business. I now know better though. Payton changed, and saved, the lives of many dogs. In addition to the confidence that he gave me, he also made me a better trainer by working with dogs while with me. I lost count of how many aggressive dogs that I dealt with, early on in my career, that I truly hadn’t a clue as to how to handle. Payton, while always gentle, reserved, and dignified, took guff from no one. Every aggressive dog that I dealt with, was put in their place by Payton. Amazingly he did this without ever injuring a single dog. But the end result was always the same. The formerly aggressive dog walked away with tail tucked, having been humbled just enough to adjust his attitude. And while tough when he needed to be, Payton would leave a private lesson with me, having just knocked the aggressive dog down a notch or two, only to go on to the next lesson with a shy, submissive dog. Now Payton took on the role of gentle leader. He would roll on his back, and gently paw at the shy dog, encouraging them to interact and play with him, even allowing them to climb on, and bite him in play. Those dog’s confidence was forever improved, after being able to mock dominate a 95 pound Doberman. Certainly the countless dogs that I rescued from pounds, brought to my house to rehab, and then adopt out, all left with a little of Payton in them. Payton taught me how to talk to, and more importantly, how to listen to dog’s through non verbal communication. He was the master. All I had to do was mimic him. All dogs seemed to respect and follow him. He also taught me a great deal about myself. He showed me my temper that I carried early on. When I raised my voice, or yanked roughly on his leash, his ears would pin back and he would just look through me. He never cowered, or became defensive. He just looked disappointed in me. Every time it happened I felt ashamed, and unworthy of him. He, more than any other living being, inspired me to force myself to control the temper that I had carried with me from my youth. He taught me to forgive and forget. In spite of my brief schooling, I am basically a self taught dog trainer, although with several notable influences in the field. Basically it has all been trial and error, and unfortunately, most of that trial and error was on Payton. He put up with choke chains, pinch collars, and a shock collar, before I finally found my way with positive reinforcement and behavior management. That was a joyous day for Payton! Through it all, his attitude towards me never wavered. His mannerism’s were consistent, regardless of my ever evolving education. He did give subtle hints when I was starting to get things right though. For instance, when teaching a week 1 basic class with a choke chain, he would wait off to the side of the room until it was time to demonstrate, which he unfailingly would do, always making me look good. But when I switched to food and reward based training, he lay at my side throughout the entire class. I’ve had many dogs in my life. Payton, I always felt, was the one who held a mirror up for me to see myself clearly. I often said that Payton was royalty in a past life, and came around this time with the same brain, except in a dog’s body. He was the epitome of class and dignity. Always playful, but never goofy. Always tough, but never aggressive. Always fair, thoughtful, and intelligent. Dozens of female clients over the years wished aloud that he were human so they could marry him! Men said he looked like a U.S. Marine. Not many dogs have the opportunity to have a direct impact on so many lives, human and canine. Payton did. My life was dramatically changed for the better, because of him. I am eternally grateful for all the gifts that he gave me. Payton was 13-14 years old, an amazing run for a dog his size. To the end, though riddled with arthritis that we managed with pain medication every day, he was active and playful. His play bow, which at one time involved him lowering his massive chest to the ground with his butt in the air, was reduced to lowering his head to initiate play. Every morning before breakfast he would take a brief tour of each of the neighbor’s yards, before coming home and climbing the handicap stairs that we had built for him. On Christmas eve, he was up and about, greeting every visitor at our party, eyes sparkling with excitement, and occasionally the fur on his back standing straight up when he wanted to play. His movements were slow and clumsy, but his spirit never wavered. When Sherri, Conor, and I came home Christmas night, Payton couldn’t get up. I carried him outside, but it was no use. I lay with him until 1:00 a.m., when he tried to get up again. With some help, he did, and made it outside. And in true Payton fashion, on barely functioning wobbly legs, he promptly headed off for the neighbors house! And there I am, barefoot and in sweatpants, chasing after him! I finally convinced him to turn around, and we made it back inside. At 6:00 a.m., he could balance himself if I helped him up, but didn’t have the strength to walk anymore. Sherri and I brought him to the hospital, and spent some alone time there with him, watching him enjoy a steak & cheese bagel as his last meal.


Thanks for everything buddy. Our lives, and this business, will never be the same.


John Gagnon 

Good Bye Payton