Looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth right? But Leon (the dog in the header) was a very challenging dog in that he used to be people and dog aggressive and he’d also clear off with any toy (or dead rabbit) and just not come back with it (he’d be the opposite end of the field with it). He is an awesome dog, and has taught me so much and pushed me to learn new techniques and to be creative about how I trained him.
He will be 13 in October 2020 and I can’t believe that we’ve shared 12 years together. Yes, he has driven me nuts, made me cry, caused me no end of stress and frustration, made me wonder why I took him, made me very aware of people approaching and of what they are going to do (he’s cute, cream coloured and fluffy and people just want to touch him, not what he needed). I’ve wondered what the hell I’d let myself in for and whether I was totally mad when I offered to keep him after fostering him for 3 weeks. He arrived with a bite history, had been badly handled and had learned to bite first and ask questions later. He didn’t have a lot of trust. He was a mess…he barked and lunged at people and dogs. He had to be muzzled to go to the vets otherwise the poor vet would have been bitten. He had no recall if toys were involved and was very experienced at playing keep away. Why oh why did I take him on? Why did I put myself through this?
i’m sure many of us that have these challenging dogs, have asked ourselves the same questions many many times? Why do we do it? Because the rewards are so worthwhile, even if no one outside of your family and friends ever sees them. They will one day, trust me. Yes it takes dedication and yes, sometimes it seems that we take one step forward and ten backwards, but then on other days, we may take several steps forwards and none backwards.
The point of this rather self-indulgent blog? Celebrate your successes people, no matter how small they are. We are such a negative species and we really do beat ourselves up with things go wrong and mull over in our heads how we could have done things better. We lose focus on the things that have gone well, we forget to focus on the good things that have happened. We need to celebrate the successes, the times when our dogs made a good choice or when we made a good choice.
Smile and celebrate the times that your dog didn’t react to one of his/her triggers. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done. You’ve got this, honestly. Look up, look around you and really notice your dog. Look at how far they have progressed, look at the trust that shines out of their eyes. They may not be perfect (yet), but they are making progress. They may be finding life tough outside of the home environment, but inside these four walls, they are with people who they trust and who love them, warts and all. You do love them,, otherwise you would have moved them on, in one way or another.
I remember, all too well, the sense of failure when we’d had a bad walk, the sense of frustration when things weren’t working out well and training seemed to be going so badly, the despair when nothing seemed to be working and we were making no progress for what seemed like months on end, but was probably only a few weeks. I remember going through stages when I hated Leon and hated myself, but then I stopped and took stock of where we were at that point in time and looked back to what we started with, and realised we had made progress, the boy was doing good; I had just got some what tangled up in the negatives that I wasn’t seeing the progress.
My challenge for you today, is to stop, look into your troublesome pooches eyes, give them a smile and a cuddle (if they will let you). Let them know they are fabulous and then look, really look at just how much progress they have made. Every day make a point of noting down at least one good thing your dog has done that day and celebrate your part in that success. Step by step these successes will build and suddenly, one day, you’ll stop and notice that your dog now has a new doggy pal or a new human friend or he/she hasn’t reacted at one of their triggers for weeks. Please don’t miss this moment, they are so precious.
I now look back and remember the first time that Leon was able to go on a group walk with dogs he didn’t know (and he had a fabulous time); I remember the first time that he invited somene to touch him. I remember the first time he let me clip him without me having to muzzle him. There are so many special memories that we have shared together. Don’t miss out on those memories by only focussing on the negatives.
I no longer think of Leon as a reactive dog, he has his own circle of friends, he is safe to be let off lead around people and dogs and has ended up being a fabulous dog who has helped many troubled pooches to settled into my home and to teach them how to trust people/dogs and how to communicate and play. Yes, he is still special and I still don’t allow folks to touch him unless Leon invites them to, but I can relax when I walk him, I’m no longer hiding behind cars, finding secluded places to walk him or telling folks to keep away. He has raced in flyball for me (gaining his BFA Flyball Dog award), gained his Gundog Club Grade 1 and gained Bronze and Silver levels of the Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Dog Scheme. I know what makes him tick and I love him warts and all.
Celebrate those successes!