Saturday, March 2, 2013

Confessions from your dog trainer...

        Yep, you heard right.  We are not perfect, nor do we have perfect dogs.  Sure, a lot of the time we have them trained to do tricks, or just enough things to make us look good. (or if we are smart, we have a breed that is prone to being obedient)  However, let me tell you the secret to a really good dog trainer.  She (or he) has spent a lot of time with their own problem dog.

The first dog I got as my very own was a husky.  Let me tell you what, he was the best dog I have ever had, but I would never suggest a husky as anyone's first time dog!  However I did learn a lot from him in the short time I had him, and for a time, his brother.
I did just about everything wrong with him from the get go, and he still turned out to be an excellent therapy dog a few years later. I was an irresponsible young adult, you know the kind, the one that loves animals.  I even worked at a veterinary office, which may have been my saving grace in a lot of ways.  I at least made sure he was current on his vaccines, and found a trainer that introduced me to the clicker training method.  I loved the fact that he was a very independent thinker, but I wasn't so happy one afternoon to find that bean bag that he loved to sleep in with a large hole in it and the "bean" scattered all over the backyard.  Let me tell you, it's not fun trying to pick all those up out of the grass.

 This cute little guy grew fast.  By the time he was four months old he was starting to venture out of the backyard or dig holes...
 He had started teething and chewed the bottom basket of a stroller that belonged to the neighbor upstairs.  I still can't believe how much they put up with concerning me and that dog.  Things that I didn't know were happening, and I would find out weeks later... I loved him to pieces, but there was no denying I was ready to pull my hair out at times.  Yet he was actually really well behaved for his breed, I was just to inexperienced to know exactly what to do with him all the time.
I even rescued his younger brother here a few months later and then re-homed him after getting his legs fixed up.....
I often let Pippin run off leash with me when I went horseback riding.  One ride he went behind a tree and I lost contact with him for just a second, and that's all it took.  He was gone.  We were riding in the foothills, half an hour later I heard him yelp!  We combed the hillside every day for eight days, put up posters, and walked miles of neighborhoods asking people if they had seen him.  Finally someone called, they had found him.  He was skinny and had been sprayed by a skunk, but he was home.  A couple years later he later learned to open our chain linked fence, and was hit and killed by a car on a highway we lived near.  Broke my heart.  It took me years to get another dog.
However,
Fast forward a few years....
This little girl came to us from someone who could no longer take care of her, she was underweight and for a month I had watched her sit in a 4X5 dog run with little or no attention (I doubted that she was even fed every night)  I worried that she had enough water in the hot summer sun, and felt very bad for her.  I had however just lost my own Mini Aussie only a month before to a moldy walnut, and was not quiet ready to start looking for another dog just yet. When I said I would take her, I had every intention of getting her trained and then re-homing her too.  I thought, she is so sweet, and just loves kids, I know I can find her a good home....
Well, two screen doors later (and the third with a hole in it that we just didn't care about anymore), I started to see that whoever we gave her to would really have to stay on their toes to keep her happy.  She had separation anxiety to the point where she would demolish anything in her way to get her back to the loving family she had just found, and she was built in just the right way to have tons of energy, she is like the energizer bunny!  So unlike my last Aussie, she needed to run off her energy and a nice walk wouldn't cut it.  She was also extremely smart, which meant that whoever got her had to be able to stay one step ahead of her...
Needless to say, I found myself worrying that she would end up being too much of a handful for anyone else to handle, despite her sweet disposition.  So I caved in, and instead of getting a dog that would make me look smart, I wound up with one that would help me grow and teach me instead.  Being very smart means that she tends to get bored easily, so even though she hates to not be with us at all times, if I put her out in the backyard for even five minutes unattended  and she sees something she thinks she wants, she is so slenderly built and so small, that she can slip under the fence, or to the side of it.  Those gates that you can buy at the pet store to keep your dog out of a room?  That's right, she can slip between the bars.  Sounds amazing unless you have met my parent's dog. 
This is Frodo, he is a lab-border collie mix that weighs around 55 pounds.  He was the escape artist extraordinaire! He slipped through a missing fence slat that was only 4-5 inches at the most.  He did get stuck when he tried to get his hips through though.
So anyway, here we are now in Newberg, Oregon. 
I have had to re-potty train her at the new house, fix the fence about a dozen times (always after she has escaped to chase a squirrel, or whatever else strikes her fancy), and have a constant supply of frozen dog treats to keep her busy when I can't take her out for a run.  To her credit (and mine), she does always come running back from wherever she has gone when I call her.  She barks at our kind neighbors, and even nipped a kid once when I had to walk to the school to pick up my kids (she was very stressed and overwhelmed with all the kids that came pouring out of the school. I was just trying to get her some exercise so she wouldn't have as many problems at home.)  So here's to my teacher, I only hope that by the time she leaves me, that I have learned more than she has, and that she doesn't leave prematurely due to any neglect on my part.  So whoever you see with a dog that may not be acting perfect, remember we are all here learning something new, no one is perfect, and sometimes, that's the best way to have it.







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