Putting in the training miles to get these pretty smiles!
It is a Marathon, not a sprint.
While the mind is typically focused on mile 26.2, most marathoners will tell you, it’s about the journey, not the finish line.
When we first got our second dog, I decided we should get a puppy. You’ve heard it before “I want the kids to have a puppy and experience what it is like to be responsible for a dog”. I hear this so often and I can honestly say, I just disagree. I do not believe raising a puppy is a child’s responsibility. For many reasons. But first and foremost, most children just aren’t mature enough to handle a puppy. I have two of my own children and they are mature, responsible, kind, caring, and empathetic kids, but when that doorbell rings or they are invited for a sleepover – they are outta here! As they should be – because they are kids.
Our first dog was a Rescue mixed breed that had been severely neglected for his first two years of life. He was fostered and rehabilitated before he landed in our home when he was about 2. The circumstances of his early months lead him to be a shy, introverted, dog with some major health issues. Despite a rocky start, he is the best dog we could’ve asked for and was the perfect dog for our family at the time. We had two young children and were just starting to sleep through the night, and had a just moved into brand-new home. We did not want a puppy coming in to create chaos in our life! We opted for an older, potty and crate trained, rescue pup with a temperament that worked best for us. Best decision we ever made!
When the kids were older and we were ready to add a second dog, we did go the puppy route. We got our dog at 12 weeks. We are grateful to the rescue group and her foster family for potty and crate training her! This made things a little easier on our family. We took time to get to know her and enjoyed her soft temperament and laid-back personality. She was dream pup. We all fell in love. She loved to snuggle, wasn’t nippy, and wanted to be held (looking back….that was mistake #1!) I want to say I fell in love MOST, but it’s really a toss-up. The connection was strong among all family members.
As time went on and schedules became busier and careers took different paths, we realized that we weren’t putting as much time into her as we needed or wanted to. About 10 months in our home, she started to jump a retaining wall in our back yard to chase squirrels and find her neighborhood dog friends. This became an issue and we quickly decided that an invisible fence would be the best option. At least the quickest! I will spare everyone the details, and will sum it up by saying, this was not a good decision for our puppy. You know when you get that experience you didn’t want? That was it. The invisible fence training was short and the correction level was too high for her soft temperament. I did not really understand the magnitude of what was happening at the time, but soon, I saw the effects of what happened. Joey was “corrected” two times with Shock. In my heart, I know this was permanent trauma for her.
The week she got corrected, she began going to the bathroom in the middle of the living room. She had never done that. She was timid and scared and didn’t want not go outside. Within a week, she began lunging and growling at people and dogs on walks. This was devastating to me as I was certain I was going to do every thing right with this puppy. I believe I lost her trust. Or at least I certainly didn’t gain any.
This was right around the time I started working with Amy & K9s Unleashed. I am beyond grateful for Amy and her advice, coaching, and expertise. It was the beginning of a personal journey for me on so many levels.
I have spent countless hours, hundreds of miles, many private playdates, group walks, and outings with Joey trying to work with her and regain trust. I have taken her to many classes. She became reactive to other dogs, and even people. This was devastating to me. This is not a good feeling for the person on the other end of the leash. It’s really not a good feeling for anyone involved.
But this is where we were. I could (and did) look back into the past to see what I did “wrong”, or could’ve done better, but as Amy said “At this point, it doesn’t matter. We are where we are now. Let’s move forward”. And we did.
It has been a slow and often frustrating journey. However, it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a human. I’ve run marathons, and they’re not easy. The growth is in the grit and the daily training. The early mornings. The pain, the tears, and yes, the perseverance. The SHOWING UP. This is where the magic happens. Dog training is no different. It is about showing up, taking time, giving love, creating boundaries, earning respect. It’s grit.
Joey has been one of the best things that has happened to me personally. She has taught me so much and I know she came into my life for a reason. She is just about 2.5, and doing wonderful. We have bigger goals and a way to go to achieve them. But I can confidently walk her on greenways, bring her in public, and meet other dogs and people. She has many canine friends in our neighborhood and loves walking with them. She is a love and adores my family and children. She loves to give surprise kisses, whether you want one or not! (We’re still working on that!).
Most importantly, I learned to be Joey’s advocate. I took time to understand her and what caused her fear. I spoke up to other people and dog owners to let them know what Joey needs to feel safe and confident. And some times that meant standing at a distance while all the other dogs played.
There were many days I was scared to be an owner of a reactive dog. And there is a difference between reactive and aggressive. It’s not easy or fun and can give you icky feelings. But with effort, time, love, knowledge, and education, you can change it. Joey might never be the laid- back dog that loves strangers petting her. Maybe she will? Only time will tell. But for now, I am focusing on the progress we’ve made as a team and the bond we have formed along the way. Isn’t this why we get dogs in the first place? Each time I return home from an outing without any reactions from Joey, I celebrate. And now, those celebrations are happening more often 😊.
Dogs teach us so much – we just have to open our hearts and take time to learn, educate ourselves, and get to know what our dogs need to feel safe and confidence.
Joey has been one of my greatest teachers!
~ Abby Frey