Don’t judge a book by its cover. This idiom is never truer than when it applies to dogs. You see that sweet dog and decide that is the dog you want. You start imagining how he will fit into your life just so. Long walks in the neighborhood, playing with kids, maybe you’ll even become a therapy dog team and visit nursing homes.
What do you get is not always what you thought you were getting. Your dog barks at every person and dog he sees while walking thru your neighborhood. He just sits there while you throw the ball for a game of fetch or runs off to bark at a butterfly. The couch potato you thought you would be snuggling with turns out to be a highly driven dog that needs activity or the dog you wanted to run and hike with prefers a short walk and then to lay in the sun in the yard.
Sometimes we need to adjust our approach to the dog rather than trying to fix it. When we brought our Dixie home she was going to train as a service dog. She would be the perfect service dog, I thought. We started with puppy class and quickly realized something during the first session. Dixie preferred to be laying down than following along with the lessons. Instead of auto sits while on leash she did auto downs.
Dixie also electrocuted herself 3 times in completely different ways before she was a year old. She destroyed every toy she came in contact with. She could not do a recall to save her life as she was busy being distracted by leaves, bugs, air. We started calling her “Pretty” as in “It’s a good thing you’re pretty”. She was not fully housetrained until almost a year old and also had excited urination. Meeting a new person, seeing a new toy, anything that was exciting, would cause a flood. Her self control area of the brain never kicked in.
Even with all these training challenges our girl Dixie had two super powers. She did not react when other dogs were reactive, barking and lunging. They never fazed her as she was always in her own world. Her second super power was that she acted like it was the first time every time when we would teach the basics and was a super star at assisting in demonstrating how to teach new behaviors. Service dog was out but Dixie became the best assistant I could have for working with reactive dogs and teaching training classes.
Dixie has helped hundreds of dogs learn to be better. How lucky was I to have this dog come into my life and be exactly what I needed? If I had not been able to take that step back and see what she could do instead of what I wanted her to do we would have missed out on helping all those dogs and our relationship would have likely been full of frustration and disappointment.