Ever heard the phrase “you get the dog you need”? Or even the thought that some dogs are “special” or universally arranged to land in our lives at the right time? The idea that some of our dogs will be game-changers over the course of our career
I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. I even believe it. But what if all dogs are these things? What if every single dog we get is here to teach us, if only we let them? What if all of our dogs are game-changers?
My first game-changer was Kelso. He altered the course of my life. He maybe even saved it. Because of him, I am not an English teacher or a researcher out on a boat tagging whales or running an elephant sanctuary (but there is still time).
He was severely dog-aggressive, sound-sensitive, and so stressed by the multitude of environments I was putting him in that he sometimes struggled to find motivation in food. It was years before he’d play with toys. Because of him I know of these truths: all dogs are worthy of our best training, regardless of the severity of their issues. Aggression does not warrant the use of aggression. Being the kind of professional that my clients can trust to do right by them, and their dogs, still ranks high for me in truths that Kelso helped me know.
Idgie is my second game-changer. She made me a competitor. She taught me what it feels like to push for a goal; to reach for the sky. She showed me, and shows me still, what bravery is.
Stepping to the line with this dog for the past 7 years has changed the literal game of agility for me, and has changed the game of my life as well. I have been places and met people that have enhanced my life in countless ways; all because a little farm dog challenged me to be worthy of her.
Felix is changing the game yet again; and I couldn’t be more excited to see how it all unfolds. He is young yet but so far I have put the things I think I know to the test; and he has illuminated so much more. Control as a primary reinforcer, independence as a desirable trait, and training “impulse control” not on purpose, but as a side effect of clean training practices are just some of the lessons I have learned in his so-far short life.
I used to hope for a dog that would make my job easy, for once. Now I understand why that will never be the case: when we allow each dog to teach us, rather than shove them into the paradigms that be, we will never have an easy time. Learning is a process; like balance it is a verb. We are always doing it, so we are always processing information and learning about what went wrong and what went right and what falls somewhere in between. It isn’t easy; so my dogs won’t be either. And you know what? I am so excited for all the dogs to come.