Summing up this year's series of "Confessions of a Dog Trainer" posts, I must confess...I am a dog trainer and my dog is NOT perfect.
Oscar has some challenging behaviors. My sweet, Oscar Handsome Pants, bless his soul, will always need to be be managed - and I will always need to help guide him when it comes to certain things.
|Little stinker around 12 weeks|
Talking about my own dog's "naughty" behaviors is always humbling and an opportunity for me to reflect on how far we have come together. It also helps keep me grounded with my students and offer a piece of mind that they often times need. I'll never get sick of seeing their faces when I tell them that, "I, too, have a sensitive dog."
I wasn't always this comfortable talking about my naughty dog. The first two (plus) years of raising Oscar were very trying on me - both personally and professionally. I spent countless hours feeling frustrated, confused, disappointed, upset (to the point of
I didn't know what was going on, I was trying everything that I knew how to do (without resorting to aversives like prong collars, shock collars, alpha rolls and the like). I tried classical counter conditioning, desensitization, BAT, CAT, clicking to calm and so on. You name it and I swear I tried it. My dog book/DVD library was growing by the week as I looked for solutions to Oscar's "problems." I felt emotionally and physically drained...why wasn't this "stuff" working with my own dog?!
I was convinced that part of the "problem" was Oscar's age (anyone who has owned a dog between 6 months and 2-1/2 years knows what I am talking about). Adolescence is typically a VERY difficult time for the majority of pet owners - especially if they have a more sensitive dog like Oscar. Adolescence is also very hard on many dogs - something I have a much greater appreciation for now that I've lived through it and see many clients experiencing the same struggles.
|Who's happy? Oscar is!|
I also thought that part of the "problem" was Oscar's breed. Shepherds are highly intelligent and most are quite sensitive. That's not an excuse, but it is a reality and I knew that when I brought him into my family, so that didn't bother me so much.
I knew part of the "problem" was me (in fact, it still is - I'm working on it, I promise!). I'll spare you the pity party on that one, but I know I am definitely not perfect (see Aaron - I do admit it!).
I also believe that part of the "problem" stemmed from the months upon months of GI issues Oscar had experienced. His growing body and mind were being deprived of valuable nutrients he needed.
What I truly feel to be the root of this "imperfection," though, points directly at me and the unrealistic expectations I had for Oscar. That combined with my own selfish needs and wants....well, no wonder things were so crappy. What was even more humbling is that when I sat down and audited my commitment and involvement, I didn't give Oscar a fair chance with some of the previously mentioned training techniques.
So, there you have it. I wanted Oscar to be perfect, but I since have found that perfect doesn't exist. That doesn't mean that I've given up on improving his undesirable behaviors...that's not the case (I've actually gone back to focusing on classical counter conditioning and desensitization with him). What I am saying though, is that being in tune with your dog and being honest with yourself enough to put your ego aside and acknowledge their unique ability to change needs to be respected. Having this sense of honesty builds an amazing relationship with your dog...one that is based on trust and free of ego. And, for