As a professional dog trainer I find myself dealing with a wide and diverse cross section of dogs and people, from first time dog owners to world champions. I make no secret of the passion and love I have for my work, and how grateful I am for the opportunity. However every now and again, I receive a ‘jackpot’ of reinforcement that just affirms to me how my work impacts others and the significant role I play in helping others.
Its easy to assume that when you get your puppy or dog, that the bond and mutual love and adoration will be instantaneous, but often loving your dog and liking them are two totally different things. I’ve has this experience with my first dog, I loved her but took me years to ‘like’ her. She was challenging and I was deeply overwhelmed! I knew nothing about owning or training a dog, and she reflected this. This is a common experience for many.
One such instance is that of Catherine and Emma the border Collie.
Catherine was referred to me by a friend after attending her place of work in what can be described as total despair over the puppy that she owned. Her 12wk old high drive border collie was literally ruining her life to the point of frustrating and anxiety.
I was referred to Catherine as they were confident I could help. Catherine contacted me with a stringent list of questions, and I could sense the overwhelming feeling she was under in our conversation. She arranged to attend my life skills class the following week.
Within an hour of contacting me she sent me a message via Facebook stating that she had a change of heart and wasn’t going to attend. My ethos when this happens is not to pressure or push someone to attend. It has to be their choice. Within 15mins I had a call from my friend asking if I could ring Catherine back and talk to her again about attending, as they felt she needed help and that she was struggling with the puppy.
I rang Catherine back and I just suggested she come and watch, and we go from there.
The following week, Catherine attended and her first interaction was a sigh of relief. I could feel the tension coming from her, this was a person overwhelmed and over-dogged.
She explained that the dog had been bred for her, from strong sheepdog lines as she had a small holding and had lost her older dogs. She explained that her older dogs had come trained. Catherine was like so many people who take on a puppy from working lines, she was overwhelmed by the energy and intensity of the dog. She had attended another puppy class, and Emma spent most of the night screaming and having to be removed from the class.
We started working on laying foundations for creating a well adjusted family pet, basic skills of focus and impulse control. We worked on her recall a lot!!! This was a huge challenge! And we gave her lots of mental stimulation.
The journey wasn’t easy, Catherine openly stated that at times she would question if she even wanted to keep Emma, whether she even liked her…. and whether the better option would be to find her a home with a more suitable owner. These are questions people often ask themselves when they feel they aren’t meeting their dogs needs or that the dog is the wrong choice for them. She openly stated that she would often find herself in tears over the relationship or lack of relationship with Emma.
However, bit by bit the tide started to turn.
Catherine was determined to turn this little girl around.
We enriched her life with teaching tricks and other fun activities. The only thing to limit Emma’s potential was Catherine’s imagination! We did some nose work with her and she just lapped it up. Catherine started to see the brilliance in her dog rather then the challenges. She changed her perspective and the relationship changed.
The difference is unrecognisable! This is a dog that can do endless tricks, can be recalled off livestock, can be in a class and engaged with her owner whilst other dogs are working….
Like every journey, it isn’t finished. There is still more to do and challenges to be met, and Emma can still have her moments, but the greatest achievement thus far is that Catherine and Emma now have a relationship, one where they are enjoying each other’s company, they love each other but more importantly, LIKE each other! Its easy to love your dog, but not LIKE them. Having both is truly a blessing.
Its moments like this, that make all the heartache, frustration and uphill struggles worthwhile. And its moments like this that make my job so worthwhile.
Relationships aren’t simple or straight forward but they are worth the work and investment. It sometimes takes a concerted effort to make them work, and to learn to like your dog. There would have been no shame in admitting that Emma was the wrong for her lifestyle, but Catherine has persevered and as a result of this gained so much. She now has a family member she can be proud of and the start of something special. And a dog that she both loves and likes!