Friday, February 20, 2009

If you want the perfect dog...

...keep trying. I know. Such a misleading title. I'm sure you were heavy with anticipation, "LOOK! HOW TO HAVE THE PERFECT DOG!" Well, sorry. Perfect is sometimes farther away than you think...and I'm guessing along the way, you begin to change what you think perfection is.

My dog, B, as many of you know, is dog-reactive. She and I have been attacking (no pun intended) this problem head-on since December. As many trainers will agree, there are good days and there are bad days. Today was yet another bad day.

We successfully passed three dogs without so much as a bark in their direction when I decided to head to the tennis courts for some safe, off-leash fun. B got to play a fun game of chase with the stick. J and I did tag-team recall drills - sounds less fun than it really is. B loves it! She gets to run back and forth between us as fast as her little legs will carry her to the piece of chicken each of us is holding. That's when I saw our next challenge: the neighborhood pug. I know this pug - she's not really a threat at all. She kind of bumbles, if that's really a verb. So it was little surprise that I was able to redirect B's attention after a couple huffs towards the pug. Success!

That's when I noticed how successful we really were up until that moment. Just on the other side of the tennis courts, there are kids playing tackle with their parents (B doesn't like kids running around...probably because they resemble little dogs), there are three other kids flying a HUGE orange kite (B loves to chase birds, especially pterodactyls!!) and everyone is screaming during all this afternoon play. To put myself in B', I often close my eyes and take in all the sounds. Then I try to imagine that multiplied by a factor that I honestly just made up because I can't begin to imagine how well dogs must hear. It's amazing how many senses they employ at once and almost all of them are beyond our capacity. So this helps me empathize and understand her small successes. I realize she's truly taking in much more than I give her credit for. Good job B.

Enter: the proud Scottish terrier.-complete with a fresh haircut and snazzy red coat. This Scotty was all B needed to end her successful streak. The chicken no longer means anything to her. The Scott needs to be put in his place and Big B has volunteered for the job. I can't get her attention, I can't redirect her, she's practically choking herself in her wild and ambiguous display behaviors...I'm spilling chicken everywhere, the leash is getting tangled around my legs, my nose is dripping from the freezing's too much at one time and I lose it. Thankfully, not on B. Nope, I manage to escort her across the tennis courts to let her (and me!) deflate. I can feel the rage building inside me, making my veins hot and my eyes sting. WHY CAN'T I HAVE A NORMAL FLIPPING DOG!?! WHY DID I GET STUCK WITH THIS ONE!!!??? IT'S NOT FAIR! EVERYONE ELSE GETS TO ENJOY PEACEFUL WALKS WITH THEIR DOGS AND I HAVE TO ENDURE THE EMBARRASSMENT AND CONFUSION FOR THE BOTH OF US!! I leave the courts and fall to the grass and cry...B still tethered around my wrist. Boy. What a leader I am. I'm sobbing uncontrollably (quite a site, I'm sure) when B's gorgeous brown eyes look at me and she shoves her face in to my chest. It comforts me to think she does that to console me. I'm snotting all over myself as I beg the question aloud "WHY??? We try so hard...when will there be something to show for this??" That's when J reminds me the importance of B's position in this family.

If B was the perfect dog, I would never have called the trainer/behaviorist I now study under, L, at Smart Dog University. I might not have discovered my passion and potential for dog training. It's B's high needs that drove me to "fix" her. I wanted to understand her but more importantly, I wanted her problem behavior to go away. The main thing I'm learning on this journey is: it might not ever go away. This might be who my B really is. Talk about unconditional love. Isn't that why many people are dog lovers in the first place? Because they feel dogs offer unconditional love? So how ironic is it that instead of finding it flowing freely from my dog, I'm learning that it's me who loves my dog unconditionally. B might never be "fixed"...some days, this is too much for me to bear. On good days, though, it keeps me creative. I have to think of ways for us to enjoy each other's company that doesn't involve frustrating situations. She's taught me patience and compassion - although I'm far from being the Dali Lama. She's helped me realize my dream and every day encourages me to be that much better. All she asks for in return is food and somewhere soft to sleep at night. Okay, and the occasional free petting.

So, before giving up on yourself and your troubled pet, evaluate how deep your love and respect goes for that animal. If you want the perfect dog, you're going to have to work [hard] for it.

"To err is human:To forgive, canine." -- Anonymous

**this blog is in no way a substitute for a professional trainer or behaviorist. If your dog has signs of aggression, it is suggested that you seek the advice of a professional**

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