Author: Linda Beard
Thank you so much for such a warm welcome to my first blog! Your response both pleased and humbled me. It also got me thinking that I should let you know a little bit about who I am, and how I came to be offered this opportunity to engage with you on an official basis.
Simply put, I may well be the Worst Dog Owner With The Best of Intentions. I did not rescue or adopt my dog, Nigel. I purchased him. From a backyard breeder I found on the internet. When I purchased him and brought him home, he was only six weeks old.
My purpose in acquiring Nigel was to have him fill a rather immense emotional void. I was still grieving the loss of my oldest son, and the subsequent loss of my son’s dog, which I had kept after my son died. Nigel, a miniature dachshund whose full adult weight was expected to be no more than eleven pounds, was, in my mind, meant to fill in those emotional craters.
I brought Nigel home on the Saturday prior to Martin Luther King Day in 2015. I live alone, and was scheduled to work on the following Tuesday. I had three days to get this puppy acclimated to my home and my expectations before I left him to his own devices.
I was absolutely determined to never crate my dog, because I firmly believed that to be a cruel practice. So, I placed potty pads on the bathroom floor, and proceeded to encourage Nigel to relieve himself there. No way was I going to take him outside – he didn’t have his full set of vaccinations!
By the time Tuesday rolled around, Nigel’s feet had barely touched the floor: I had carried him everywhere, and had even allowed him to sleep with me in my bed. His potty training was progressing nicely – all I had to do was carry him into the bathroom, place him on the pad, and viola! – he would produce either pee or poop! Who says puppy raising is difficult?
But, when I left for work, just in case he didn’t quite have the potty training down, I placed him in a dog show ring, which I had constructed on my living room floor, complete with a potty pad, sleeping area, feeding area, and toys. Lots of toys. I enlisted a neighbor to check on him now and then. All those so-called experts online, who wrote about crating puppies, had obviously never even thought of using a show ring on their laminate flooring!
By the end of the first work week with Nigel in my home, I decided that he really didn’t like being confined. So, I did the only logical thing – I gave him the run of (most) of my condo while I was away for ten hours. (I blocked off the bedrooms, dontcha know.) Sure, he missed the potty pad in the bathroom now and then (ok, quite often) but he was happy, I decided, because he had unlimited freedom!
I didn’t put a leash on him until he was six months old. There was no reason to, really. I wasn’t going to take him out into the world until his vaccination record had no blank spaces. Even then, I wasn’t going to expose him to other dogs. What if they had fleas?
Nigel had already been given plenty of exposure to people, because I took him absolutely everywhere in my free time. I went through a succession of carriers – the over-the-shoulder sling pouch, the purse pouch, and the most ridiculous of all – I actually got an infant shopping cart seat cover so that I could put him in the cart on my weekly Target run! (I have photos!)
By the time Nigel was one year, eleven months old, he was entitled, bratty, spoiled, insecure, anxious, and heavily suffering from Togetherness Addiction. He knew that I was a complete pushover, that I had no leadership skills.
I decided this would be the absolute ideal time to bring him to Home2K9 and sign him up for Board and Train – not to learn any manners, mind you, because I thought he was adorable and perfect – but so that he could become my service dog, and we could be together forever, everywhere. I was not at all trying to get away with anything – I was genuinely that clueless.
Nigel entered Board and Train on Sunday, December 11, 2016.
Nigel was returned to me on Friday, December 23, 2016.
Nigel holds the record for the shortest stay in H2K9 Board and Train history. He was completely unprepared for crating. He fought his trainers as if they were his captors. In Nigel’s mind, that’s exactly what they were. He bit his trainers. He refused to go on potty walks. He preferred to soil in his crate. He barked and cried through the night, making whoever had kennel duty miserable. Nigel’s final act of defiance was to launch a hunger strike lasting nine days. Concerned for Nigel’s health, Cameron had arranged a meeting with me and Nigel on December 23rd, to see whether I reacted with sympathy or resolve towards my dog.
It turns out that the photos and narratives Cameron had posted during Nigel’s Board and Train experience had been the beginning of a wake-up call for me. His photos and narratives were markedly different than all of the other dogs in the program, regardless of their presenting issues. It was clear that I had handicapped my dog’s emotional development to an alarming degree. He was uncomfortable in his own skin. He had never been given guidance to make good decisions, to develop self reliance or self confidence.
Nigel literally had no idea how to “dog”, and I was completely responsible for his sad condition. The only right thing I had done was to bring him in for Board and Train, even though I had done that for the wrong reason. That had also become clear to me.
As Cameron evaluated my dynamic with Nigel, I resisted picking him up, or speaking sweetly to him. I knew I had work to do. I knew I had failed my dog.
The next several months were a combination of private lessons with Cameron, me, and Nigel. We joined every H2K9 Pack Walk. We attended every Hope4Hounds community training class. I worked diligently on Nigel’s training at home, literally withholding affection towards Nigel, to effect a major shift in our dynamic. I crated him at night, and during my daily work hours, for four months. When the time came to express affection, it was limited, earned, and appropriate.
My priorities with Nigel completely changed. I no longer saw Nigel as a potential service dog. I realized that developing myself as my dog’s leader, setting clear boundaries, establishing a symbiotic relationship with my dog, served me far better than a relationship of dependency upon his service to me ever would.
I began to see him as a dog, not a furry human, not my salvation. I wanted him to be confident, to respect me as his leader, to be well mannered and calm, and to make good decisions. I wanted his life to be fulfilling for both him and me.
Cameron holds her Hope4Hounds classes on the third Sunday of every month, at 12 noon, sharp. There are no exceptions to this schedule, even if that Sunday happens to coincide with a holiday.
On Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017, Nigel and I attended the Hope4Hounds class. Afterwards, anyone who was interested was given the opportunity to have their dog tested for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certificate, established by the AKC as “the gold standard of canine behavior”. Each dog is tested on ten specific behavior objectives, and must pass all ten in order to be awarded a certificate. Ironically, passing the CGC is highly recommended, though not required, for service dogs.
Because I wanted to evaluate what Nigel and I had learned in the previous months, I elected to have Nigel tested, and I am elated to report that he passed!! (OK, he was a bit of a squeaker on the objective requiring the dog to remain calm while his owner walks out of sight for three minutes, but he did pass!). Having an affirmation of Nigel’s training progress, from an objective source (AKC), fueled me even more!
Nigel’s training is every day. If I start to let the “little” things go, it shows. I default to “soft” with him, so my training is every day, too.
I’ve learned that I can and must be firm and clear with my dog. I’ve learned that crating my dog ensures that he is safe and feels secure, and that it is the kindest thing I can do for my dog. Nigel and I now have an authentic relationship, based upon mutual respect, established boundaries, clear expectations.
Prior to my exposure to Balanced Training, I saw nothing wrong with the way I was raising Nigel. But once I immersed myself into the training methods, followed the stories of other dogs’ training as well as my own, a light dawned. Everything that I had held as a kindness that I was giving my dog was actually having a detrimental effect on him. That was clear in the photos and commentaries which accompanied his training journey. I had to train myself, and reframe my concept of what my relationship to my dog should be. I had a lot of epiphanies along the way, did a lot of soul searching.
Nigel and I have emerged all the better for my decision to recognize and learn a new way of relating to my dog, and to dig in and do the work with him.
It’s amazing that an event can occur which totally challenges a firmly held set of values, which results in a clearer perspective, and changes our lives for the better, if we allow ourselves to be open to the opportunity for change!
I invite you to share your goals with our group, The Leaders Lounge is a perfect place, and perhaps the first steps you are incorporating into your routine which will help you create the change you desire. Putting this in writing will also help hold you accountable, and will inspire others to work toward their goals, too. Let’s make 2018 the year we take action! I guarantee you won’t regret it.
To building the life of your dreams,
Alpha B Columnist