Why did you choose life with a dog? What an odd question to ask when the blog is about training, right? In my opinion, how you answer that question makes all the difference in the world!
I work with lots of different folks in all walks of life. Some of their dogs are show dogs, while others are show pieces….cute little fluffy dogs that an owner can dress up and accessorize with matching outfits, leashes and collars, and some are working dogs, helping their owners perform a given function or job. But the vast majority of the dogs that I train are those family pets whose sole purpose and function is simply to provide companionship for their owners, and that’s it.
That’s not to say that a working dog or show dog can’t provide companionship for their owners….make no mistake about that! But when you have a show dog or a working dog, there’s a different relationship and function…a different place that those dogs have in the home, generally. They were often very specifically and deliberately purchased with the intention of having a dog who could perform a particular job or function in addition to their companionship, and that additional function is typically the reason that the dog was chosen.
Simple companion dogs can be any breed, size, sex, color, coat type, age, you name it! Companion dogs come from all avenues of the dog world, from highly pedigreed dogs, to strays off the street, and everything in between!
We’ve all seen those dogs and owners where we look at the interaction between them, and we think to ourselves that there is some kind of really amazing and special relationship that the owner has with their dog. Usually those relationships make us smile and maybe even sigh just a bit, because there’s something that’s almost magical about what those humans and dogs communicate silently between them. There’s a trust and a love and it’s deep, and rich and wonderful. And we want it. We want what they have.
It’s just my humble opinion, but I really think that those really wonderful relationships are forged when quality, meaningful time is spent together. Understanding between two species can be a challenge at times–much like trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English and you’re trying to give them directions to the Post Office! It can involve a whole lot of hand signals and smiling, laughing and drawing on paper.
I think the same sort of thing happens in developing that really tight and meaningful relationship between a dog and owner. Dogs speak their own language, and much as we can want to humanize their behavior, at the end of the day, they are still dogs who have their own communication methods, emotional and physical needs. I think the depth of relationship comes through really understanding and accepting that about our dogs.
Rugby is truly like no other dog that I’ve ever owned or trained. There are things about him that are so wonderful I could brag him up all day long. But there are also so many neurotic dis-connects in his behavior that he can be confounding to understand. Our life together is much like a dance where sometimes we really feel the music together and are really in sync in our movement, only to step on each other’s toes in the next second. There’s an ebb and flow in our relationship because neither one of us is perfect or completely understands each other.
However, what I can tell you is that the love and trust and understanding that we have is rich, and deep and wonderful overall. We didn’t get to where we are by wishing for a great relationship. It was daily effort, and work–training together, playing with one another to achieve a purpose beyond just fun, and spending time together with an ultimate goal in mind: to become a great team together.
We’ve just finished watching the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. One event absolutely captured me: The synchronized diving! I hope you were able to watch that event. My mouth was hanging open to see two individual divers, being able to jump from a platform at the same time, flip and spin in the air….at the same time, and enter the water….all at the same time!! How is that even possible? How can they possibly rotate their turns in the air at the exact same speed so that they finish at precisely the same moment? I was captivated watching that event. Those divers were an incredible team that inspired awe and wonder and respect. Watching them, there was absolutely no way in the world that they woke up on their competition day to give it a try. They had clearly been training and working for months and years to understand each other and develop their own skills as individuals in order to be that good.
I’m not sure it’s really so different with our dogs. I honestly think that the tightest and most meaningful relationships with our dogs are forged through training together. In Rugby’s case, I’ve had to really learn what makes him anxious, how to calm him effectively, what triggers his explosive behaviors, how to communicate non-verbally with him, etc. It’s taken me a long, long time to figure Rugby out, and truth be told, he still puzzles me at times.
But spoiling him and just lavishing unending love and snuggles on him, buying him an endless supply of toys and treats would never have gotten us to where we are today as a team. Our relationship was forged through working together…training through difficult behaviors….fun training through tricks and puzzles, and some snuggles and treats at appropriate times. We’ve both made mistakes with each other along the way, but we’ve learned to apologize and keep going.
Always we keep going. Onward and upward….always keeping in mind that building a relationship with one another is just like any other relationship that I’ve built. There is no shortcut. These things just take time, and the true value of the relationship itself, in part, are the memories that I have of all of my work with Rugby. Snippits of time, special moments together where one of us had an “aha” moment as we worked through something and figured it out. Times where both of us were proud of each other. As a professional trainer, it’s my heart and hope to give this experience to other dog owners. I want them to feel like they are a team with their dogs, and I want them to enjoy their dogs as companions for as long as they possibly can.
Never give up….never surrender. That’s how we roll at my house. It all just takes time. As long as Rugby wants to continue to work, I’m all in on it with him. I wouldn’t want to miss the relationship that we continue to develop. Not for anything.