The Conflict of Expectation

Opal in 2009

In my last post, I wrote about my hobby: Dog Sports.

In this post, I want to let you in on a bit of my human journey.

When I was in my 20’s I was very active in rescue and dog events. I could be found promoting rescues and the idea that pitbulls in shelters were not inherently evil, and could in fact, make a very nice pet. (I still work with pitbulls in rescue quite a bit, just in a different capacity)

I adopted Opal in 2009.

I’ve mentioned her quite a bit in blog posts. Since she had some pretty debilitating separation anxiety, she went everywhere with me. (this was a time before medication, you lucky, lucky people!) This means she spent her weekends at things like Woofstock or Bark in the Park. She was great at showing people that bully breed type dogs were actually nice pets and could live peacefully in normal society. One day in 2012, I was packing the car for a weekend event, and instead of getting in the car, Opal walked down to the neighbors house. We had a heart to heart conversation, and I told her I needed her today, but she didn’t have to go with me anymore, unless she wanted to. She chose home more and more often.

Pixie and I at Dock Dog Nationals in Iowa

Pixie

A few months later, I brought Pixie home from the shelter. She was a lovely puppy, quiet in her kennel, good with other puppy playmates, still very young. I figured I would foster her for a few months and off she would go to a new home. Well, y’all know, she never left. When she had been with me about a year, I decided she was staying and she would be my sport dog.

About a year later, Pixie became incredibly reactive to other dogs and people while on a walk. In some places, she was great with the chaos, but one on one it was too much for her to handle. At the time, I didn’t realize the two were related, and being a brand new dog trainer, I couldn’t understand why some places were so difficult, and others she looked like she loved.

Pixie is not the dog I envisioned when I brought her home from the shelter six years ago. I’ve mourned the idea of  the dog I thought I was getting. My husband and I have had more conversations about euthanasia and dog management than any normal couple should ever have. (Bless him for taking on my crazy dog with open arms!)

Stages of Grief

It took me about 3 years to really go through the 7 stages of grief with her. When my baby dog started acting aggressively, I was in denial and kept asking her to do more sports trying to find something we could do safely together. Because everything can be fixed with more training, I tried everything, I am a dog trainer after all! I was angry that I had the dog that I couldn’t leave the house with. The dog I always had to be 100% on top of to make sure she was safe. I wanted to show the world that she was so wonderful, what did I do wrong?!

Pixie is retired now.

Pixie in 2014 ordering ice cream

I have finally accepted that she is a dog who stays at home with 100% management. Her fear of the world is too great for her to be safe and comfortable. She was supposed to be my first real dog sport teammate. She gave me the best she could, but the more we tried, the more I could tell she was only there because I asked her to be. Genetics are a crazy thing and sometimes you get the short end of the stick.

To those of you mourning the loss of the dog you envisioned, I see you.

Going through the stages of grief for an idea seems like a crazy thing, but it is real. Loss is real, and you have lost the idea of what your life with this dog should be. It does take some time to accept that things will be different. Different is not necessarily worse, but just different.

I have been there, and I will help you as much as I can to get you close to the goals you have set. The grief is real, and I helps to talk to someone. Send me an email if you need someone to empathize. I will hear you!

Dog Training as a lifestyle

I became a dog trainer because I want to help people with their dog’s behavior problems.

Originally, I was seeing so many doggo’s being surrendered to shelters or rescue groups because of frustrating behaviors that can easily be fixed. I started trying to help these people and well, the rest his history.

Today, I love training. I love all things behavior, all things dog. Where the two meet, I am in heaven! (Note: I try very hard to not get really nerdy with my clients. Most of them do not care at all about Pavlov, operant conditioning or contrafreeloading. They just want me to fix their dog.)

Summertime for me means dog sports. I spend my weekends off getting up at 5:30am and driving sometimes a few hours, to a large fairground or other training facility where I hang out in my car until I get to throw a toy in a pool or have a dog hunt some rats for about 5 minutes at a time.

I train dogs all day long, why do I want to train more dogs?

First, training is important for your dog’s overall mental health.

I want my dogs to be as healthy as they can be for as long as they can be and training is a huge part of that. (read again, training is a necessity not a luxury) Does Cargo need to know how to run around a cone or follow a toy into a pool? No. Does it make me unnaturally happy to be doing these things with my dog? Yes. The small amount of time that I spend with my dogs, teaching them to do these silly things, improves their relationship with me. I become their safe space and when things go wrong, they look to me for information on how to make it right. Training is how we communicate with each other.

Second, I enjoy watching my dogs figure things out.

They like being successful. I get to watch your dogs figure things out every day, why wouldn’t I want my own dogs experiencing that joy? My dogs love working with me, and we have a good enough relationship that they agree to do these silly things that make me happy. In turn I agree to only do the things that make them happy. This is why Pixie stays at home. She is not happy in the show environment and I owe it to her to listen to that request. The other two love their jobs and they are happy to comply when I ask Opie to find the rats, or Cargo to do anything at all.

Lastly, the mental challenge helps me help you.

As I grow as a dog trainer for my own dogs, I develop better ways to relate to your dog, which helps you reach your goals faster. If my dog’s didn’t challenge me as a dog owner, I would not know half the stuff I do now! (I’m looking at you, Pixie!) I used to think that dog sports had nothing to do with being a good dog trainer, but over the years I have seen that the trainers who can relate to their clients the best, are always pushing themselves to learn new techniques and try new things with their dog. Dog sports give that parameter for the pushing to do new things.

When the day comes and I am all that is left of our team, each of those ribbons that we win together will bring with it a memory. A memory that I will forever cherish.

Practically Perfect “Pixie” RN CGC Dock Diving Big Air PB 19’6″  SR 4.998

Stephen’s “Opie” RATI RATS

Whiplash’s All The Places You’ll Go “Cargo” RATI RATO