I'm not ashamed to admit I’ve come a long way in my training and dog ownership practices. I’ve changed with time, knowledge, tools and experience. I’m happy to admit this because it means I’ve learned to change based on new information; client’s and dogs who have left an impression on me! Mentors and continuing education and the will to be better have kept me motivated to never stop trying to be better. We’ll never be perfect and there are always exceptions to the rule of thumb. I LOVE those! The ones who prove previously assumed laws to be wrong! If you say I can’t, I’ll try to prove you and myself wrong! Its this annoying personality trait that I have.
My training approaches have come from mostly aversive out of ignorance, to balanced and mostly motivational. I’ve realized how much stronger the relationship can be when it is approached with respect, more than dominance. I would much rather my companion be working with me because she WANTS to, rather than she HAS to. The enthusiasm and eagerness is so much more rewarding. Don’t get me wrong. I have house rules. Using your teeth on me or other dogs is still not allowed. There will be consequences because these actions will be the death of you. I will never be ignorant to societal obligations. I will always try to be gentle, yet clear. I will be more aware of what triggers and precursors are there and how I can help them make better choices. See, you can have rules and still have compassion and respect. I will always remain open minded to others also, because the only way to honestly debate a subject is to really understand both sides. In my life I have hard rules and soft rules. Don’t ever put your teeth on my skin for play or correction and I will promise to try not to set you up to fail. You can look cute and beg within reason. Don’t poop in my house. Don’t bark unless someone sketchy is outside my car or door! You can sleep in my bed when invited. No bullying behaviors in play or house interactions. No roughhousing inside. I will teach you how to settle and willingly be calm when needed. Some clients and friends think I’m a doggie drill sargent but honestly I don’t think these are very unreasonable rules. In fact, I’m sure most people have these rules in one way or another. One big thing that I am an advocate for…
“I will love you for your life. I will not give up on you until all avenues are exhausted and I will try some more. I will advocate for your space, choices and instincts. Even if that means managing and protecting you from harming yourself or others. I will enrich and continue education throughout your entire life. I will not give up on you for inconveniences, age, or lifestyle changes. If I’ve failed you; if you become unstable, a liability or a menace to society I will personally love you until the day you die, even if it means tragically and still lovingly, laying you to sleep. I will not pawn you off to someone else and expect them to live with your demons.”
The general population is not as educated in animal behavior and husbandry as I am and its unreasonable of me to expect they do so overnight. After all, I was raised and had many of the same learning moments as my family. I just actually went to school for that silly stuff and realized how lucky we were to have such easy and biddable dogs growing up, without guidance. I’ve come from thinking Pit Bull Terriers were great for every home to realizing as abruptly as I couldn’t live with a border collie, other homes can’t live with a pit bull. And they shouldn’t have to! We’ve created hundreds of breeds, some still unknown, to accommodate different duties, lifestyles, families and preferences AND finances. Don’t pick one out of a hat (or hastily at your nearest pet store!) but choose one who will complement your daily activities and goals. Be an educated consumer! If you want a strong status symbol then read up on how to contain this working breed and how to satisfy them. If you can’t, be honest and move on. Sometimes, someone just wants a lazy, average sized soft creature to sleep in their lap while they read the newspaper and accompany them on their morning walk! I would have a hard time suggesting my breed to most families now. Ignorance is bliss. Until is isn’t. Knowledge is power!
I’ve come from thinking dogs should be bomb proof, to every animal has a right to defend itself! Expecting animals (our dogs and companions!) to endure physical and emotional trauma for the sake of ignorance and provocation, is down right wrong! Scroll through YouTube lately? Yeah! 9/10 videos will be of a child doing something completely inappropriate to the family pet, while onlookers are laughing and encouraging it! Trust is a two-way street and animals don’t follow our human code of ethics. They are reactionary creatures from generations of wild/predatory/survival instincts (something our proud population wants to believe we’ve tamed in a few measly generations. Silly human!) Own up and never forget you are bringing an animal into your homes and lives. There will always be risk. There is risk in a car ride to work or school. There is risk in the 5 day leftovers I’m still picking away at. Did you know that some dogs will kill other animals or cats? Did you know that some dogs will attack other dogs out of predatory instinct, fear or territory; dogs who may have lived together their whole lives! All horses will kick, and have a breaking point. All dogs will use their teeth if provoked or encouraged. Regardless of size, training or breed, ALL dogs have the capability. All decisions and responsibility shouldn’t be placed on the child, dog, car, tiger, gorilla or gun. The responsibility is on the adult human who was supervising in the moment. Accidents happen, but own up, don’t blame something else, and learn from it. Better yet, we could, as a society, be proactive and assume the risk may happen and plan accordingly. Use the motto, Be Prepared! Just ‘Stahp’ being surprised when a dog uses its teeth!
I’ve gone from thinking we can ‘save them all’ to realizing, like some sick humans, some dogs are too sick to be fixable. Dogs wouldn’t be in our care, in our society, domesticated to perform tasks, if we didn’t breed ONLY the best to the best to increase our odds. The old school rule was if it does its job, it gets to procreate. If it didn’t do its job or was a harm to the family or the affiliations with the job, it was sterilized or killed. Now, uneducated homes (unsuspecting and uneducated) and down right apathetic breeders are throwing dogs on the streets as trash, placing inappropriate dogs in unsuspecting homes, and breeding known health conditions and traits despite the mental an
d health risks. Then, well meaning, but burnt out animal welfare advocates and rescues are putting a naive twist to some of these extremes to save every life it can. They high five and wash their hands of the future of that pawned off animal for their own agenda. I call this passing the buck. Now a prospective adopter/buyer comes along, less than ideally educated about what they are paying for, and end up with a dog that may be a risk to society, or have a health condition so severe it affects this animal’s quality of life and reactions to life. There ARE great rescues and shelters. There ARE great breeders and they made these dogs we so remarkably love. Learn how to tell the difference and stop negating each other and work together. Our society has created a vicious circle of homeless pets and it's not one person's fault. Oh, and humans? Let’s not forget this is another life you have agreed to take under your responsibility. Be prepared, and aware of the commitment, training, money and time that may go into this companion and the risks that are involved. All I ask is that you are very aware of the work it takes and the benefits you will have when you do it right. There will be bumps down the road but learning how to live with and care for other creatures is a very humbling and fulfilling experience!
I’ve gone from thinking dog sports/shows/activities were trendy and snooty, all about ego, to realizing how beneficial they can be! I am now aware of the lessons and blessings; even if you never make it into the ring, and only train for that goal! The relationship built with that companion, the sense of accomplishment even if we didn’t win and the camaraderie of others who share in similar quests is indisputable. The sheer diligence and effort (blood, sweat and tears) that is put into preparing and training for competition, that only one who has experienced it can appreciate and describe. Believe me! It’s way more effort than just feeding a pet! It is the kind of feeling that teachers, coaches and parents (I assume) can appreciate when they’ve left an impact! This same feeling has been with me since I found the sense of belonging to clubs, sports and activities as a child. I wish more children had what I had! There are a lot of techniques and a lot of opinions in the dog world. One thing we all have in common is we brought these creatures into our lives for betterment and enjoyment. Lets never forget that and lets never lose that!
These are only a few things that I’m aware of how my opinion has changed (and I’m sure it will again and again!) and my techniques have complemented these realizations. I will continue to learn and change my approach as science encourages me. I will always strive to be better. When I think I’m there, I’ll keep trying. I'd like to think that I've made my dogs what they are, but in reality these dogs, have each impacted me enough to make me who I am today. I will always strive to find the right way, without passing judgement on others who are on the same journey.
Now, go out and train your dog!