The Right Stuff: Every Dog Has Her Place

Pippy Tay didn’t look much like a purebred Border Collie; I’d bet money that most shelters would have described her as a BC/Labrador cross. She was big, almost 60 pounds, as long as a table, and had a large, square head that had Labrador written all over it.

But she was a Border Collie, the daughter of one of the top trial dogs in the country, and she had an outrun around sheep to break your heart. Early in her training I visited a handler’s farm in Iowa, to get a lesson and work her in a new area. Unlike my little farm, the land was perfect for long outruns, where you could send your dog from the top of a rise, watch them run a semi-circle through a sweeping valley below, and gather the sheep from as far away as you wanted. We trudged to the top of the hill, and Doug said: “Go ahead, send her after those sheep.”

What?! The small flock was at least 300 yards away. Pippy had never done an outrun longer than 75 yards. The difference is huge, bigger than you can imagine until you stand in one spot and watch your dog get smaller and smaller, disappearing into the size of a dark pencil point, running a semi-circle to get behind a fuzzy fluff of sheep. I said as much, not wanting to set Pip up to fail, but Doug encouraged me, said “Go ahead, just give it a try. What could happen?”

“Come Bye” I whispered, and Pippy was gone, ten yards away before I could even register her movement. We watched her streak down the face of the hill, widen out as she got within a hundred yards of the sheep, and circle behind them, far enough away to avoid disturbing them until she found the perfect balance point to control the sheep. She stopped, collected the flock (“the lift”) and walked them in a perfect line back to me. It was a perfect outrun, a glorious outrun, an outrun you’d expect of a older, wiser dog. It was a perfect fetch, slow and quiet and perfectly timed. I didn’t do much of anything, except stand in place, jaw open, heart swelling, blown away by my young dog and her ability. Doug didn’t say much, maybe “Wow.” I think he paid me the best compliment you’ll ever hear from a professional handler. “What did you say the breeding was on that dog?”

A year later, Pip and I were competing in a trial in Illinois, when the sheep took one look at her, turned to face her, ducked their heads like cartoon animals and attacked her. She was literally chased across the field, the audience howling derision in the stands. I truly believe she understood, if not that others were laughing at her, at least that she had been beaten by the sheep. I called her off, and she and I walked, heads hanging, off the field together. That night, I made her a promise to never, ever do that to her again.

The truth is, Pip was never meant to work difficult sheep or compete in trials. Her perfect outruns were a curse to us both, because they overshadowed her lack of power, her fear of being hurt and her total dislike of confrontations. For over a year I tried to make her something she wasn’t, and I still feel a pang of guilt when I remember how fearful she’d be when sheep turned to confront her.

But Pippy turned into one of the most valuable dogs I’ve ever had. Her gentle nature and distaste of confrontation became one of my greatest professional assets. For over ten years Pip worked dog-dog aggression cases with me. She was invaluable and unflappable. She’d lay down 20 yards away from defensively aggressive dogs, and slowly and gradually, reading them perfectly, she’d inch her way toward them. Within minutes they’d be licking her muzzle, or play bowing and tearing around the pen with her, their owners with tears in their eyes because their dog had never played with another before.

Pip taught me so much, and was such a help when I’d work with clients who wanted to compete in agility, but had dogs who hated crowds, or wanted their dogs to visit nursing homes, when the dogs were shy and afraid of strangers. Oh yes yes, training and conditioning can do so much, but it’s so important to know who are dogs are, what they are capable of, and what they are not. It’s the difference between swimming upstream, or down. I’m sure this has happened to many of you: I’d love to hear your stories.

If you want to see one of the best examples of this I’ve ever seen, go to the link below. It was sent by one of our colleagues in the comments section of the last blog (thank you Pike!). If you don’t get an oxytocin rush from watching it, I suggest therapy. . .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGODurRfVv4

Meanwhile, back on the farm: Zero degrees (Farenheit) today. Brrrr. We missed the last 16 inch snow storm that hit Minnesota, but got it as rain instead. That’s not so great…. rain on top of lots of snow turns it into ice when it gets cold again, so there’s a hard layer of ice on top of everything. It’s thick enough to keep Lassie from breaking through for about 9 out of every 10 steps. Then she sinks down to her pink, naked belly (shaved from a recent ultrasound, things aren’t quite right in the liver department) but forges ahead, preferring into come up the hill with us rather than be left home alone.

Here’s my Pippy Tay, bless her heart. I lost her about 2 1/2 years ago (could it really have been that long?)

Comments

  1. Mary Beth says

    I’m so glad you bring this topic up! I hate seeing stressed dogs at trials. And sometimes the rules for trials make absolutely not a lick of sense to a dog! AKC field trials for hunting dogs are absolutely ridiculous ( I can say that since I compete in them), and I don’t expect or need have the skills in true hunting that they require in those trials.
    I have a dog who has the most lovely temperament I have ever seen, who was given up because she can ONLY retrieve up to 100 yards due to cross eyes. 100 yards! She just wasn’t “good enough” for her former owner. She’s a superb family pet…a true blessing to my other half who desperately needed a pup to lift his spirits but who didn’t need the work of an 8 week old pup, a superb therapy dog, her nick name is “switzerland” because she gets along with everyone she meets…a true peace accord, and a phenomenally wonderful hunting dog. She’s already qualified in the top ranks for national competition in a different type of field trials (where she doesn’t have to go 300 plus yards).
    I’ve often thought that chasing titles with a dog should be truly about enjoying your time with your pet and about picking a job that you can both enjoy. I gave up agility with my Weim because he’s so routine oriented he couldn’t stand all the variation in the courses and he stressed due to my inept handling. We took 5 years off then I decided to try it again. One day I made a mistake in agility training and my Weim play bowed at me. How cool is that! I was so proud of him and got a good laugh at myself. We’re now competing in excellent level and having a blast now that I’m a better handler and I refuse to get stressed and my dog is now enjoying himself. Pick the game to suit the dog…don’t dump the dog because they don’t suit the game! Love and enjoy your dogs for who and what they are instead of despairing about what they aren’t.

  2. Kerry L. says

    Alice, my first dog, loved obedience work. We attended classes for 7 years and she worked through open level. She even did some agility, she was slow but precise. We never competed, she wasn’t purebred anything, but she enjoyed the attention, praise and treats. When Walter, the Corgi, came to live with me I hoped to continue the obedience classes and perhaps even compete because he is purebred. He managed 2 classes but earned his CGC before letting me know that he hated being confined in the classroom. We tried agility but he was unhappy in the structured setting. Where Alice was serious and meticulous in her work, Walter is a free spirit and very outgoing. We parlayed his CGC into therapy dog work and now he accompanies me to work every day (I work in a crisis agency) visiting my co-workers in their offices, spreading the joy and ‘doing’ his therapy. We work on obedience exercises in the hallways and my co-workers ask for behaviors before handing out treats. Leaving the classroom and performance ring has been a win-win situation for both of us.

  3. Liza Lundell says

    I really enjoy training and showing and titling my dogs. The current active dog recently finished her RE, which was her 25th performance title. When I acquired her daddy two years ago, I was all gung ho to get him trained and out trialing. Then he whispered in my ear, “I really don’t like strange people, or random dogs, or dog shows.” So he has his own awards bracelet–it reads “Couch Spud — Proud of it”. He gets his training session every night, just like his daughter, but for Joey it’s just for fun. He comes to the shows with us, but stays in his car crate and offers moral support. And I love him just as much as his busy daughter.

  4. says

    I love your story about Pip. I have a fear reactive Great Dane who has benefited from the few dogs like Pip we’ve been fortunate enough to meet (though admittedly, he’s not so bad he can’t play with others at all – he’s always done well with small groups of dogs off leash). Mars, who has taught me so much over the last 4 years – even with one hell of a learning curve :) – is definitely one of those dogs who needs their owner to be realistic about what they can and cannot do or handle. Mars, with the help of your Cautious Canine book, a LOT of TTouch, and time and patience is able to go to agility classes now. Its not always easy for him, with the excitement and the other dogs, but he does love it. He can’t wait to get to the agility barn. Each week he is better able to handle the excitement of the other dogs running around. I do know competition is not necessarily in his future, but as long as he likes class, I see no reason not to continue with him. And so far it has been a huge boost to his confidence. He’s one of those dogs who can’t get a toy if its even remotely under some part of the furniture, but he’ll now crawl under the upraised footrest of a recliner to get his toy, he’ll get up on an exercise ball with his front feet, and its a beautiful thing to see.

    Mars blossomed with TTouch work, enough that I decided to pursue the practitioner program. In TTouch we talk about expectations, and how we can better help animals when we shed our expectations, and the emotional investment we have in the outcomes, and focus instead on meeting the animal where they are at, and helping them get as far as they can go, and as humans, learning to accept the limitations our animals sometimes present us. This goes both ways, not just the expectations of what a dog can do, but expectations about what they cannot do. I have another Great Dane who was born deaf. She’s brilliant, and also doing agility and will start competition in February. She shows me that she is capable of much more than some people would expect from a deaf dog. Many people who meet her and learn she’s deaf, look at her with pity, but I do not. I know her “disability” is in no way disabling to her. Learning to let our pets be who they are, not expecting them to be something they might not be, is a valuable lesson, not just for our relationships with our pets, but also for ourselves and how we treat each other.

  5. says

    Amen Trisha, every dog has her place. Sometimes it takes a while to figure what that place is, but when you do – gosh it’s so much fun.

    I adopted a Brittany about a year and a half ago thinking that she’d want to do all the things that Brittanys usually do, fetch, swim, compete in sports, agility, disc, etc.

    Given this, I took her to a super camp for dogs called, Camp Gone to the Dogs (www.campgonetothedogs.com) to find out what this dog likes to do. To my surprise, it was none of things you’d expect. We tried swimming and she really didn’t like that – was kinda of afraid and I spend about an hour trying to lure her into the cold water in Vermont – ack. Also tried frisbee, no interest there – I think she brought the frisbee back once and then the instructor told me, as gently as she could, “I think your dog is fried…..might want to try something else.”

    Hmm, what did she like at camp – herding sheep….well it was more like chasing sheep because she really didn’t learn commands……who would have thought…..and another favorite of Daisy’s….stupid pet tricks….like playing basket ball (clip http://www.youtube.com/user/Rtropeano1#p/a/u/0/gJNbIsVOBzU) and cleaning up her toys and putting them into a box, and doing canine freestyle. Wish I had known this before going to Camp, then I could have put time into the “right” activities.

    She taught me that dogs don’t read their breed description – so we need to “listen” to what they have to say and just go with the flow.

  6. Amanda says

    I think realistic expectations are the single thing I preach most when people ask me for advice concerning their dogs.

    Time and time again people tell me they want to know how to get their dog to play with other dogs at the dog park, or they want their dog to be ‘friends’ with the neighbors dog, or lord knows what else. I often wind up asking people this simple question: “Do you want your dog to be happy being who he is, or do you want to force him into being something he’s not because that’s what you dreamed up in your head?” Usually, that question helps people to realize what they’re truly doing.

    People ask me all the time why I never compete in obedience with my own dogs. The answer, quite simply, is because they would hate me for it. When we play, we do what THEY want to do – not what *I* want them to do. I keep few rules in my house, but those rules are set in stone. Beyond those rules, the world is theirs.

    When I got my herding dog mix (rescue) I really thought she would love to do agility. She has a far different take on it. She very clearly thinks the whole thing is just stupid. She looks at me as if to say “yes, mom, I know what ‘over’ means – buy why exactly do you want me to keep jumping over this stupid thing?” I will keep exposing her to it, with as much excitement and praise as I can pull together in case she eventually decides it might be something worth her effort, but I’m not holding my breath. (this coming summer we will try using the clicker and see if that helps) The whole point is for her to have fun – I have no interest in forcing her to do something she doesn’t want to do. My 11yo GSDx positively loves the jumps. It takes every last bit of patience he has to wait for me to finish with Lilly before I will let him come and show her how it’s done. (she will run along side him, on the outside of the jumps, when he finally gets his turn)

    I find this method to be the most fulfilling for both me and for my dogs.

  7. Ignacio says

    I think we all end up learning this at some point. I did realize it with my current dog (“what are you doing? aren’t you supposed to retrieve?”).

    That video made me smile… it still does, every time I remember about it!

  8. Pam says

    Six years ago I got Kyppling, a lovely athletic BC with the intention of competing in agility. I guess I should have discussed it with her first because upon seeing the tunnel, chute, seesaw, etc. her reaction was basically ‘You’ve got to be kidding’ After a few weeks of training that went nowhere my dreams of the podium dimmed.
    My lightbulb moment came one weekend when I was visiting my parents and some friends of theirs also stopped by. I vaguely knew them and Kypp had never met them. The moment they sat down, Kypp planted herself beside the lady, leaning gently against her with her muzzle on the woman’s thigh while gazing intently at her. As she stroked Kypp’s head she told us she had just the previous day been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of lymphatic cancer. The couple stayed for a few hours and Kypp never left her side……this was a dog who was known by my family as “the Black Tornado’…no one had ever seen her still for that long. That night led to Kypp becoming a Therapy dog and now we visit an extended care facility regularly. She absolutely loves it. I always have to laugh because when I offer her a Milk Bone at home she spits it out with disdain yet when a resident at the nursing home gives her one she acts like it’s the best thing ever.
    I’m happy I am able to do something with Kypp that she also enjoys so much. However, I did go and get myself an ACD who lives for the moment he sees the agility bag go into the car and when confronted with chutes and tunnels, etc. says ‘More, more, more’

  9. Cynthia says

    My terrier mix loves tennis balls, running, and using her brain. I started bringing her to flyball, thinking how much she would love it. Turns out she thinks being in a room jumping over hurdles and fetching a ball in front of other dogs and people is boring. She turned into the special case, with people cheering and encouraging her for just barely trotting over the hurdles. Having seen how fast she could run at the park, I was not impressed. Oh well, I love frisbee at the park more than driving her to expensive classes once a week anyway. I’m honestly a bit relieved, I just wanted a companion dog anyhow.

  10. ABandMM says

    I have a few things to add about some of the earlier posts, especially for people with mixed breeds or dogs with disabilities who would like to compete in an activity that their dog likes to do. There are several organizations that allow ALL dogs to compete in the sport(s) they sponsor and include APDT Rally, St. Hubert’s companion dog sports/obedience program, UKC dog sports (Rally, Agility, dock jumping, obedience and more) and CPE agility, just to name a few. Also, several agility organizations have “jumps only” or “tunnels” classes so you can still “play” in agility even if you and your dog cannot master all the obstacles.

    One great thing about St. Hubert’s obedience is that they do NOT have the group sit/stay or down/stay exercise. In novice, there is an Honor stay where your dog is on leash and doing a sit or down stay while the working dog does his on-leash heeling exercises. I like this option, because I am uncertain about how my dog would do in a group stay setting with the dog’s off-leash and the handlers 20+ feet away. I’m sure there are people with reactive dogs that may not have pursued obedience titles due the group stay exercises, thus St. Hubert’s provides a nice alternative.

    It is nice to see the growth of dog sports (although South Florida is in need of a big time growth spurt!) that promote people interacting/bonding with their dogs in positive ways. I recently tried lure coursing with my (scent) hound mix. Chasing after a plastic bag lure is not the same as chasing after a bunny. She did ok on her first run (I think the curiosity of seeing dogs run around and the noise had “primed” her), but on the 2nd and 3rd tries, she looks at the bag, and then stuck her nose to the ground and proceeded to sniff the course and showed NO interest in the lure. Oh well. At least it was a lovely Sunday morning, we found a new park and met new people/dogs.

    My dog and I started doing Rally as a class for fun and mainly to get us out of the house 1 night a week. I never considered competing. She seemed to like it and when a trial was held in town, we decided to give it a go to see what we had learned, and well, really got hooked. We “play” in APDT Rally, and this venue, works well for us; being able to use food rewards after certain exercises is a key part of making the “game” fun for my hound dog.

    I’m still learning what it is that my dog really likes (besides a pillow and comfy couch) and what we can realistically do (no, letting you loose to chase the rabbits is not an option, sorry), but it is fun trying new things :).

  11. Kat says

    Thank you for this entry in your blog. I’m trying gently to help my 10 year old son recognize why it is that planning to show Ranger at the county fair isn’t a good idea. Ranger adores going to 4-H with my son and practicing the commands but this dominant dog that cherishes his alone time and likes to be in control would not do well in a busy environment where there’s no chance to be alone and when he’s not on leash with his boy would have to be in a cage with people gawking at him and continual noise. He got grumpy just being with the family 24/7 at the family reunion. He behaved but it was clear he really needed some time and space. I ended up walking him to a nearby park and he and I lay on the grass attached by the long line for about 2 hours. You could see the relief in his eyes when I swapped his leash for his long line and he could finally have what he considered an adequate amount of personal space. I’ll be sharing this blog entry with the boy. Learning to do things together is good for them both but expecting either of them to participate in something they’d hate doesn’t strike me as very responsible parenting of either the human child or the canine companion.

  12. lisa says

    Oh my, camp gone to the dogs sounds like a great way to get away with your dog and get to kno0w him better. I’d like to go with my sheltie and improve my training skills at the ame time. Are there other camps like this? I live in the Philippines and can go anywhere there is an airport. In 2007 my dog and I attended Clicker Expo. We both had a great time but it was a long way to go for a 3 day activity. The 6 day Camp for dogs sounds like better value. Any other suggestions?

  13. DebC says

    When my border collie was 2, I decided to try a beginners Flyball class with him. His brother is a flyball champ, so I though it might be fun – he could interact with other dogs and we would get out of the house for one night a week. He loves, loves, loves to play fetch.
    Well, we did get through the beginner course. I can say the other members of the flyball team were absolutely loving the idea of having him on their team – he is wicked fast.
    But we didn’t join because it really just wasn’t fun for him (or me).
    Yeah, he ran the course and brought the ball back to me, but we just weren’t having fun with it. I couldn’t see taking him to competitions, where there would be even more dogs and more noise – he would just work himself into a tizzy. Too distracted and wound up.
    We got to see his brother in action, and it is obvious that he absolutely loves what he is doing. He is very focused and not distracted by the other dogs. I know his owner has spent a lot of time working with him, and it shows.
    But Flyball just wasn’t for us.

  14. says

    I love this article. I adopted an abused dog several years ago from our local animal care and control agency. Charlie has a beautiful temperament in the house, wonderful obedience behaviors, is a fantastic athlete, and a quick learner. My first thought, as well as the thoughts of trainers I worked with, was to get this boy into something

  15. says

    The great advice in your post holds true for people, too, I think. Those who find their right place, and let themselves have it, are lucky.

  16. says

    Wonderful story about Pip with some valuable lessons for us readers.

    Here’s an interesting phenomenon with a possible lesson that just hit me like a ton of bricks…

    I am quite close to the neighbors who live on our quiet little street. There have been dogs living in the households who have had a well-earned reputation of being dog-dog aggressive and it’s widely known that simply “hate other dogs”.

    That is, except for each of my border collies. First there was dear Logo (waiting patiently at The Bridge) who charmed a “vicious” Jack Russell so much that little Spaghetti would contentedly lay by his side and lick Logo’s face. The same with Hunter down the street

  17. S says

    I’m just a pet owner – my 2 rescues will only be companion dogs and that suits my life just fine, so this post doesn’t completely relate to me (folks have suggested therapy dog service for our male, but his calmness is deceiving – he’s far to anxious for me to contemplate that training), but something does ring true – I have had minor difficulty with these dogs lately with the colder weather/late sun rising which has cut our walks in length and duration drastically as well as our outdoor playtime. They’ve been acting up in small ways but the other day, after beating myself up (on my poor attempts at training and limited time commitment to it) and my dogs (mentally of course), I stopped myself and thought of all the good things they do – how they have an amazing recall (not 100% but really good for fairly untrained dogs), how many commands they have mastered in less than a year (neither dog had a clue what down was, and only the female had any exposure to sit), how well they play together and with our neighbor’s dog, how they hop into the car in an instant and ride quietly to our destination, how they don’t bark in the house or jump all over people,they allow me to clean their ears without an issue and act fine at the vet office, and most importantly, how wonderful they are with our children and our cat. So, I am working to accept their flaws, beef up my training and other tactics to get us through a cold winter without going stir crazy, and keep working to get them to a point where we could perhaps spend a day away and have peace of mind (working thru SA!). And as these dogs lay quietly in the house (after a fairly decent walk this am in the dark and 9 degree weather and a nice long romp outside with their next door pal) I am thankful that they came into our lives and that we had a hand in giving them a safe and loving home. I need to let go of my idea of instant perfection and realize its a journey and we are taking babysteps to get to a place of easy companionship – together we’ll get there!

  18. says

    This is the story of my life with Lilly, a fearful BC. She showed such promise early in her agility training. Not like we’d win anything, but at least we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves. We’ve been working with our behaviorist for a couple years now. She still thinks we could trial. I think she is overly optimistic. And, yet, I’ve learned so much from Lilly, despite the disappointment over where I thought we were headed.

  19. Ann says

    sorry… long one. I’ve been lurking, and this topic really hits home.

    Ah, and THIS is why everyone who has more than one interest should just have more than one dog. :)

    I always say that our Brutus, a 130-pound

  20. says

    It’s all about expectations, isn’t it? My husband and I wanted to adopt a “large sleek healthy adult dog” here in Belize. We waited a long time until the right candidate came to the “shelter.” When we went in to meet our “perfect” dog, she had been reunited with her owner.

    The ONLY dog they had was small, starved, scared, with a list of health issues. And it turned out she wasn’t even “sleek” as she morphed into a fluffy malti-poo or maybe havanese. Oh yes, we took her — we simply couldn’t walk out on her (major oxytocin). But, all my dreams of throwing a stick, having a running companion, a swimming companion or rough-housing with other dogs … she wasn’t having any of it.

    Maggie tends to be reticent with people and timid with other dogs. Our previous dog was a bold outgoing husky-mix so it took some getting used to. Maggie’s been with us for nearly 9 years now. What could we do together?? Turns out she is excellent at tricks and is even something of a ham and enjoys entertaining children. And she earned her CGC certificate. We both learned about clicker-training which worked miracles on her and (re)introduced me to animal behavior, something I’d been interested in in college.

    Definitely “a happy ever after” story once I’d released my expectations of what I wanted/expected in a dog.

  21. Laura says

    My boy, Joker is a border collie/rat terrier. I expected him to be an energetic go getter. Instead he is the most mellow dog I have ever known. Hated flyball, HATED agility, could do therapy work but never enjojyed it, not a fetcher, not a swimmer,etc… I looked for a long time for his thing. My other two dogs were easy so this was difficult. Finally, I found his thing and it is easy, free, and close to home. He absolutely loves to fish in my mom’s creek. He fishes for minnows and crawdads. He will walk around staring at the creek for hours. He dives with his mouth and tries to catch them with his feet. He does this in any creek and I can watch him for hours. We go every weekend from spring to fall. He also loves to snuggle under the covers which is wonderful in the winter.

    I see so many people who want their dogs to do what they want to do so they force them. I feel so bad for these dogs. I was proud of myself each time I gave up something I wanted to do when I knew Joe didn’t. Thanks for this post.I’d like to print it and give it to some people.

  22. Amy W. says

    I had a Cocker Spaniel, Barkley, that I took to the county fair as a 4-H project for obedience. Every year we placed last in our group. He would run out of ring during the down stay, only heal off-lead if there was nothing interesting to smell – which almost never happened considering we competed in a cow barn. It sort of became a joke with my family, who would position themselves around the ring to catch Barkley, when he decided he had enough of the obedience trial and decided to leave the ring w/out me.

    But when the obedience trial was over, there was a ‘fun’ show where Barkely absolutely shined. He was the Top Dog (overall fun show winner) three straight years. He could not be beat when it came to activities that he enjoyed – the obstacle course, chasing his toys, scarfing down hot dogs, and so on. I still have all the 4-H ribbons he won: Zero for serious obedience, oodles for the fun show.

  23. Anne says

    I had an Aussie like that- I don’t know if you remember Teak. Sweet and extra sweet personality. She liked to herd nice sheep. Goats or heaven help us, cows, were not in the cards for her. Dogs definitely understand when they are beaten by the livestock, and it’s one of their least favorite things.

  24. Trisha says

    I’m in a bit of a work overwhelm at the moment, but I have to tell you all the best part of my day is reading your comments. Picture me nodding with understanding (been there, done that), laughing out loud (the fishing BC/Terr was the last one, but there have been many) and nodding, laughing AND groaning (with familiarity) at Liz F’s insightful comments. (And thanks Liz, I think I’m going to revise my “work all day New Year’s Eve plan!”)

  25. Trisha says

    Almost forgot, will answer specific questions in comments when I can get a breather . . . Lots of great questions, too little time! Meanwhile, here’s to all that was good in 2009, and all that will be even better in 2010.

  26. says

    I too am grateful for this post right now. I recently put up a post on my own blog about my goals for next year. I have one dog competing more successfully than I had ever dreamed in Rally Obedience. I have a puppy who is growing and blossoming and having a big party at agility classes, but I just pulled from obedience because it wasn’t fun for him (even though, honestly, my heart is in obedience). And I have one dog who is a Dedicated Couch Dog.

    Mushroom’s been through a slew of obedience classes and a couple agility classes. I trialed him once in AKC Rally Novice. He knew all the exercises inside out and backwards, but the stress of the trial was too much. He was wild and stressed and even though he looked simply overexcited on the outside, I knew that over-the-topness was stress. And I said never again. We tried it once, and once was enough for him. He was miserable, and if it’s not fun, what’s the point?

    But I feel guilty. I feel bad that he doesn’t “do anything”. Which isn’t strictly true, of course. He does plenty more than the “average pet dog” does. But we don’t do classes anymore and he doesn’t go to trials. He’s my go-to guy for couch snuggling, though. He’s the happiest dog in the world when he’s laying on my legs on the couch gently munching a stuffy, and I can’t fathom why on earth I’d feel guilty about him having that kind of life, because that’s what he chose. But I still do. Sometimes. Even though I know he’s happy.

  27. JJ says

    What I love about this blog is the quality. Not only are the blog posts top notch, but the contributions from everyone else are usually so helpful. I want to thank everyone who took the time to write out your stories. I got tears in my eyes more than once. (And full out cried watching that video.)

    While my current/first dog may be everything I ever wanted in a dog, I’m going to need to remember these stories for my next dog.

    To Shana Ruess: I have a Great Dane too! We did agility for 9 months until he injured one of his knees (not doing agility). I wanted to let you know that there is a Yahoo discussion group dedicated to Great Danes who do agility. It is a great group. People with giant dogs who do sports like agility have special needs. (The sport is geared toward medium sized dogs.) A group like that one is wonderful support.

  28. lin says

    In the May/June 2006 issue of Bark magazine, Chris Leavins wrote a humorous essay titled “Luke: Some dogs just aren’t cut out to be heroes” about his struggle to reconcile his vision of a dog with the one he had. I identified with that article, and it took me several years to realize that my dog was never going to enjoy the company of strange dogs, wasn’t too crazy about strange people either, and we might, after lots and lots of work, get her CGC, but it wouldn’t be a happy road (the obedience was never a problem, but getting her comfortable with strangers was). Interestingly, as she ages she is mellowing: people might carry treats, so she tolerates some petting, and it’s too much energy to snark at dogs just passing by (she saves that if they physically try to interact with her).

    Thank you for posting about Pippy Tay; I’ve been fond of her ever since reading about her in “The Other End of the Leash.”

  29. says

    Trisha, I’ve seen that video before and watching it again and again tonight what I love most is that this guy understood just what his dog was capable of and he is giving this dog a truly rich life. In reading all the above posts, aint it so true that we just need to keep those beginners eyes with our dogs and we’ll do right by them. I hope I can suggest to anyone out there feeling guilty cuz they think they are not “doing something” with their dogs-you said he’s the “happiest dog in the world”, that says a whole lot. Gosh, I remember as a child my black Lab Cindy had a great life- she went out in the morning, scavenged the neighborhood, came in at dusk content as can be. Except for the day she came home with her snout stuck in an Alpo can- literally stuck. Comfort, safety, exercise, good food, brain games and hey… a comfy couch- pretty darn happy dog life for many dogs.
    Now, what do I do with all this oxytocin on board?

  30. says

    I fell in love with my first beagle…I thought if I did everything right….you can fill in the rest.

    I had a reality check when the trainer of our puppy class, pretty much listed red flag after red flag in one sentence of the first day of puppy class.

    I didn’t even have any aspirations of sporting excellence, I just wanted to ensure I did everything possible so she could live up to the description of “merry hound that loves everyone and everything” that I was under the impression Beagles were all about.

    In all the work we’ve done, all the boogey men we’ve put to rest….she’s taught me so much. Things like how having an ego just gets in the way of being a compassionate and benevolent person, how important the gift of knowledge is that we can share with others by overcoming our challenges, and that laughter is the best medicine.

    Thinking about what we’ve accomplished and continue to (helping fosters with their unflattering challenges) makes my heart swell just as much as if I had won a 1st place ribbon in a sport.

    It really is all about the journey, taking the time to listen and give thanks for the wonderful qualities, respecting limitations and being compassionate to all those around you, furry or otherwise.

  31. Ann W in PA says

    There is an accompished oral surgeon that comes to our training center with his two labs. I love what he told me about why he keeps coming to class after class. He explained that his dogs keep him humble, they provide him with challenges, and sometimes he doesn’t succeed the way he intended despite his best efforts. In every other aspect of his life, he has had great success, and wealth and a good job and a great family have come easily [due to his hard work and talent of course], but his dogs don’t know that. To them, he’s just a guy, making the same mistakes we all do, yet they still love him. At our classes, sometimes he fails (good for the soul, isn’t it), but when he and his dog have a success together, that makes it all the sweeter.

    I think most of us gravitate toward work and other activities that come relatively easy to us and we have aptitude for. In my work life, my expectation is that I need to do a great job every day and on every project. Our dogs remind us that we can’t control everything, we’re going to make lots of mistakes, neither of us is perfect, and it’s still all going to be OK, maybe even better than how we *thought* we wanted it to work out. What a gift – no wonder dog people are such great people. Thank goodness it doesn’t always turn out like we intend it to.

  32. Alexandra says

    Thanks for sharing another great story about Pip, Trisha. I also enjoyed reading what others have written.

    Coming to understand and accept the limitations of my rescue dog Izzy has been a big part of building a better relationship with her and has, I hope, made me a better dog owner who listens to her animals better.

    I really wanted Izzy to be an agility dog and be one of those happy go-lucky, go anywhere dogs. To put it mildly, she is not that dog. We worked through all kinds of fear-reactive issues and she is so much better, but she will never be a “normal” dog. She is so easily stressed by new situations and strangers that it just wouldn’t be fair to try to make her work anyway in that emotional state. Every time I see her cope and make the right choice in an everyday situation even though I can tell she is scared, I am proud of how far she’s come. I have also found that she is very good at obedience! I think the structure and predictability is reassuring to her.

  33. Alexandra says

    I forgot to add, that when you really get down to it, Izzy just wants to go for a long hike in the woods with “mom” and that’s enough for me as well as one of the main reasons I got into owning dogs in the first place!

  34. Tina says

    Ann W, really liked your comment.

    Trisha, absolutely loved this post, my dog and kids remind me of this lesson nearly every day! Let them be who they are, if they are struggling and not successful, we need to help them acquire the skills they need to be successful (see Ross Greene for kids, http://www.ccps.info/) and this blog and Control Unleashed for dogs.

    My shelter puppy, Freyja, (breeding unknown) is high energy and reactive(somewhat) and being a novice dog owner I was lost at what to do…I’ve had trainers tell me to get that dog under control (with no offers as to how that can be done). Fortunately, I didn’t give up, she is 2yo and has come a long way with regular exercise, positive reinforcement training, control unleashed, agility training is good (we won’t compete, but the classes encourage me to keep up with training, and provide good brain games for my dog, who needs something to do). We tried flyball, she loves to fetch and go fast, but the excitement level was just too much for her, I could tell it wasn’t fun for her.

    Freyja will play/work all day while the sun is up…as soon as the sun goes down, she wants to curl up in my lap, all 50lbs of her.

    I am not a natural with dogs or training, so I need to work hard at it. Working with my dog provides so much joy and learning that I don’t care if it is difficult. I also use my work with our dog as an example to my kids to not give up when things don’t go as you expect…..My husband and 2 children would have taken her back or found a new home for her as a pup, but now they love her almost as much as I do!

    Thank you for this blog and all the comments are so motivating, I also read Roxanne @ Champion of my Heart.

  35. nan says

    Thanks for the wonderful story of Pippy Tay and for kicking off this lovely heart warming thread. I think Liz F hit the nail on the head for many of us. I remember when I got my rough collie Robbie from rescue at almost 7. He was untrained, unsocialized and very fearful and I was actually a lovely, caring companion for him ready to go at his pace and more than prepared to see victory as him simply being comfortable in his fur. Well after months of warm up he had almost a Helen Keller moment when it all came together for him and he started to soak up knowledge and behaviors like a sponge. I reveled in his joy in agility and his progress in obedience. Then I watched as with each leg of his CD he became less happy. No amount of training reconciled him to my not talking to him during the exercises. We finished in three and I promised him no more formal obedience other than Rally (where we could talk). Then I slipped at the collie Nationals so proud of my now 10 year old boy that I entered him in the veterans obedience to show him off (and make a case for rescue). As we walked towards the ring I watched his eyes dim and his joy extinquish–we told the steward we were withdrawing and I went to play with my wonderful boy who happily spent the rest of the day meeting and greeting throughout the tent practicing his therapy work on all attendees. I can only say with each dog I’ve gotten better but with each dog I have lessons to learn.

  36. Trini says

    Lisa,

    Dog Skills Adventure Camp (now known as Camp Pawsitive Adventure) is run in Ohio in September.

    http://www.camppawsitiveadventure.com/Welcome.html

    From the website: “This year’s camp features agility, lure coursing, land and water retrieving, sheep herding, rally and obedience tips, as well as new events such as canine massage and carting! We will have a night of Freestyle Dancing with our dogs and we hope to start each morning with a Doga class.”

  37. Teri says

    I love this blog for your fabulous insight as well as the thoughtful comments from your readers.

    I grew up with labs in our family that were mellow, easygoing fabulous dogs. Then I got my first lab Lucy (now almost 14 and still bratty :o)) who at this moment is in our faces barking for her dinner. While she is incredibly loved we also made many mistakes with her so when the next lab joined our family I was determined to do everything right so we could have that super friendly, uber obedient dog that we all envy. In his first year I enrolled in puppy classes, did socialization up the wazoo and did obedience classes all which went extemely well. Then horrors of horrors our super mellow pup grew up and morphed into a totally rotten teenager. Beginning at about 1.5 years he began to realize just how big he really was (very large field lab) and was ignoring the rules and picking fights. Like many owners I convinced myself that these were isolated incidents, wasn’t him who started things etc etc but after one particularly awful weekend visiting friends I was forced to admit that our happy, crazy puppy was becoming an unruly, badly behaved bully. His energy levels and personality would never be the laid back dog that I had expected him to develop into (after puppy).

    After wallowing in self pity for a few days I picked myself up and escorted my expectations to the curb and then we plunged into the world of dog behaviour and training. Riley is very high energy and loves to work whether it be in weekly outdoor group obedience classes, tracking (his fav), or just working regular stuff during our long hikes. I have learned to be a much better leader/handler and so much about dog moods and body language. He is not what I expected or necessarily even wanted but it has turned out to be a wonderful gift. A new world opened up to us and has brought new interests and new friends as a result and for that I am ever grateful.

  38. Debra says

    I tried herding with my aussie – diligently went to lessons where he would loose his mind when he saw the sheep from a distance – quivering and all excited to get out there with them. When he did get out there, he would lose interest in about 3 minutes – get distracted by a butterfly going by or a noisy bird in the distance and just turn away from the sheep and follow this new interest. I was frustrated at first but then had to laugh. He’s such a happy guy and just had no interest in chasing the sheep around a field when there were so many other interesting things going on. The herding trainer really only wanted to train BC’s and this really frustrated her so we just didn’t go back. Worked out best for all of us. I discovered his most favorite thing is frisbees and he will stay completely focused – loves a hard throw that he has to leap in the air to catch – he looks back at me with such satisfaction when he comes down with it in his mouth. He also gives me a hard look when I throw an uncatchable one – too high or too low or not enough distance. I think – I wonder whose training who? I swear if he could use the clicker I could become a better thrower….(chocolate chips for the treats).

  39. Sabine says

    Happy New Year all !! :)

    It is so wonderful to read comments of people who make you chuckle, think and say out loud “been there – done that” ! I’ve had dogs all my life and there was a time, where I was very active in Schutzhund training in Germany, because “that’s what you do if you own a shepherd”. Thinking back I realize that I’ve done wrong by so many of my dogs and I hope they will be better dogs than I was an owner, should I ever meet them behind the pearly gates one day. I hope they can forgive me. To my advantage is the fact, that dogs are more forgiving than humans.
    Fast forward a few years: When I came to the US I befriended a great dane breeder. She enjoyed showing her dogs in the breed ring and one of them even won the group best at Westminster. However – she had one male who absolutely hated being in the show ring and when you saw him move, you could get the impression, he should get a vitamin shot to boost him up a bit. He was a gorgeous animal and somehow they did manage to get him into the top ten.
    So here he was. An adolescent male, untrained, no manners and no people skills whatsoever. He would jump up on people and free them of hats, scarfs and try to knock them to the ground. A real “nice” fellow. Since I was more into obedience training, rather than running in circles, my friend asked me if I could take the boy for a while to teach him manners and some basic obedience.
    Next thing I knew, I was the proud owner of a 175 pound adolescent whose people skills where anything but acceptable. Could be you sat at the dinner table and next thing you knew was a big floppy tongue wiping the sauce off your schnitzel !! NO WAY ! Also jumping up on unsuspecting pedestrians was one of his favourite activities which was mostly accompanied by a huge growl. Real nice ! *NOT!!!* Fast forward again: My boy said good bye to the show ring and after one year of patient training and endless repetitions paired with lots of patience and chewed up sofas amongst other things, he became the poster boy for our therapy organization, even receiving an award for his outstanding services. This dog was just the most amazing therapy dog I ever worked with. He helped countless Alzheimer’s patients to “snap out” of their dark world , even if it was just for a brief moment. This dog hat more intuition than any person I ever met. He often insisted in staying with a patient when we had already given up on getting a response from that person. He also had his favourites and was very agitated and worried when that person was moved or had passed away and he couldn’t find them anymore. This big old goofball would stand quietly for long times at the bedside of a patient with his big head resting on top of the patient’s stomach.
    I was so proud of him that he turned into such a wonderful dog. He was given a second chance and he found his place in life.

    He passed away in October 2006 at the young age of only 7 1/2. To this day people
    remember him. “Tony the Pony” is gone but not forgotten………..

    http://www4.pic-upload.de/01.01.10/eww61oypxmc6.jpg

  40. Emily says

    I got Mick (my 1 1/2 year old Brittany) with the intention of doing obedience trials. But the problem is, he hates repetition. Can’t stand it, and really starts stressing out. I tried so hard to get perfect straight sits, consistent heeling, anything (using positive reinforcement, of course)! One time we were practicing sit-stays, and Mick just hopped up in his chair and turned away from me as if to say “I just can’t deal with this!” It hit me like a slap in the face, and at that point I realized that this wasn’t fun for either of us, and it was hurting my relationship with him.

    I’ve decided to do lots of trick training, and to simply enjoy my time with him. We still practice obedience exercises, but I do it occasionally, incorporated into our outings. My goal of getting a CDX and CGN on him will probably never happen, but I have so much more fun with Mick now. Interestingly, I’ve discovered that I enjoy trick training a lot more, too, than formal obedience!

  41. Rebecca says

    It’s funny, because I’ve tended to pick up dog activities, because one of the current house canines was randomly exposed, and had a blast. So of course, years later when its time for the new dog, I try to pick one that will also enjoy such activities. This always fails miserably. Though, I’ve learned a heck of a lot more about dogs and training than I ever would have if I was only exposed to one type of dog activity and one type of dog personality.

  42. says

    What a poignant story — and a timely reminder (particularly to me) about honoring the dog’s essential self.

    In many ways this resonates about my search dog, Puzzle, who is completely capable in the search field, alight with the job, and joyful and prideful about what she does. But she is not the most social dog off-duty. She dislikes “intense” strangers who make too big a fuss over her, has never loved crowds in non-search situations, maybe partly because she’s been taught to “tuck” in crowds (we can’t have her tripping firefighters in the staging area or flight attendants on an airplane), but I think also Puz is in her essential self is just not a party animal. She will acclimate to crowds in presentation situations (I have seen her fall asleep, belly-up, in front of an audience of hundreds), but she’s not the more typical Golden with the wide smile and tongue lolling, pressing forward and sure that every single person adores her and every single person needs to be met. The adult Puz prefers low-key socialization. A gentle, polite advance on both sides. Actually, she prefers it if newcomers ignore her, and *she* makes the first advance: a couple of hand sniffs, a light scritch from the human, a little kiss from the Golden. Puzzle likes to greet in minuet. :-D

    Once she meets someone in a quiet one-to-one, they seem to become “hers,” and she gets a little worried when they walk away. She also remembers them across months when they meet again. But crowds reaching out at her completely stress her out. She has eagerly found children in the search field, but the sound of five kids screaming on a swingset makes her wince and tuck her tail.

    She’s not the only search dog I know with these traits. We have a Lab on the team who is fearless on scent — I’ve seen her leap off a second floor landing in pursuit of faint scent from yards away — but she hates presentations to groups of children. Stands trembling and miserable the entire time.

    You write: “[I]t

  43. Ed says

    Emily – I’m curious about how tricks and obedience are different for Mick. Is it the level of precision? That is, are you okay with a high five as long as his paw hits your hand, no matter what the rest of his body does, while a “correct” finish has his little butt sitting in exactly the right spot on your left side?

    My girl does goofy things I taught her for kicks and Rally exercises (no stand for exam in Rally!). As far as I can tell, she has the same attitude toward a moving stand done according to Rally guidelines and jumping through a hoop made from my arms. Of course, she’s so reactive and goofy that I’m quick to stop or change is she’s not with me. And, or course, Rally doesn’t have to be as tidy as straight-up obedience.

  44. Ed says

    Oh, and my issue dog is well-trained enough that I am constantly trying to explain that although she’s biddable and eager to do what I ask as far as sitting and staying and going to the back door or the front door or picking her Kong from a stack of toys and all those things that impress people who have never tried to train a dog to do anything, it’s taken a huge amount of work (from both of us) to get her as comfortable as she now is with men and I can’t just “train” her to be a social butterfly. All I can do is watch her, and try to help her manage her emotions when she is touchy about a situation.

  45. Annika says

    The story about “Tony the Pony” kind of made me tear up!

    Still learning this lesson – it’s easy with my younger dog who likes all the things I imagine doing with a dog: agility, obedience, etc.

    The older one, however, I struggled with for a couple of years, trying to make her be obedient and do classes with me. I have now come to the insight that tracking might work for her (though I am unsure of whether she has the patience to do a lot of it) and I am thinking that as she settles down and gets older and mellower, therapy work might function well. Haven’t had time to do those classes yet.

  46. Brenda says

    Just wanted to mention that in my work, as an assistant trainer and dog handler in a playgroup environment, I meet many people who struggle with the concept that maybe, just maybe, their dog doesn’t like to play at all, let alone with other dogs. They consult private trainers, Off Leash classes, work at socialization through dog parks, but nothing works well because it is not in the dog to fulfill the dreams of the owner.

    My 11 yr old Shar Pei mix has been to Playgroup several times and isn’t dangerous, but isn’t happy there either. I could take her to work with me, but she would rather sleep on the couch all day.

  47. Laura says

    An update on Joker, the fishing BC/Rat. This weekend he taught himself to go sledding (sliding). I was walking with my two dogs at a very low traffic park. We had about 15″ of snow on the ground which is way more than we get in this area. The park is very hilly and there was an ice packed hill where kids had been sledding. No one else was at the park and so in the interest of entertaining my dogs, I slid down the hill on my belly to see what they would think of that. The dogs thought this was great fun and ran down the hill with me. They were very excited and energized so I did it again. I am almost 40 years old so this is not typical behaviour they see of me. Joker ran back up the hill and started rubbing his face on the hill like he does on the carpet after he has a bath. Then he splayed his front legs, put his head down, his rear up in the air (picture play bow) and slid a few feet down the hill. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. I will try to get it on film. This boy lives up to his name Joker by continuing to make me laugh.

    BTW, I assume he never catches anything when he fishes, but he could catch them and eat them I never know.

  48. cassie says

    My little pit bull Jethro is my resident “sniffer-outer” of dogs that come through my clinic when we need to know how they do with other dogs. I suspect he is much like Pip, in that he can eventually convince even the most reactive dogs to be his buddy. (And that he hates confrontation)

    It’s actually why I have him. He was brought to the vet school emergency clinic my last year of school (I thought I’d make it through without adopting anyone!) as a good samaritan case. The people that found him thought that he had been hit by a car because of the scabbing on his head. It was severe mange. I adopted him because the shelter in town couldn’t have kept a dog with such terrible skin and they euthanized all pit bulls anyways. (his head was scabbed and had great bleeding cracks, and he was otherwise hairless- My husband nicknamed him Scabs.), I really thought he was only a foster, since my adult great dane Billy was a reactive weirdo with most dogs. But in the 3 or 4 months it took for his skin to clear up I had fallen in love with him and my other dogs had as well. Even Billy.

    Jethro comes up to the vet clinic with me a few days a week. I often use him as an example of how neutering your pit bull won’t make him fat, or for a quick play session in our yard with a young dog with poor manners (Jeth is the most patient teacher ever- he just gives the necessary amount of pressure if he absolutely must, then ignores them until the proper puppy manners come out!). It’s nice to be able to demonstrate for people what is and isn’t appropriate play.

    I recently went to my sisters 3rd grade class to give a quick talk to the kids about being a vet and dog safety and found another of Jethro’s passions. Children. He had met lots of kids before and loved them, but I thought he may stick closer to my side with a whole bunch of kids at a time. As soon as I allowed him he ran straight to the middle of those 22 kids and laid on the floor for attention. I was worried he’d be overwhelmed and called him back. He checked in with me and ran right back to them. (You can see him in their midst here http://images51.fotki.com/v423/photos/3/370830/1311796/jethgirls-vi.jpg)

    I guess I have to do more kid classes!

  49. Alessandro Rosa says

    Hi Dr. McConnell,

    It has been a while since I checked into the blog. I was wondering if you have seen the documentary “Sweetgrass.” It is about the last sheep flocks to be grazed on public land in Montana. It had some very interesting footage of working Border Collies as well as Great Pyrenees. If you have, I was interested in your thoughts about the movie as well as the behavior of the working of the dogs and humans alike.

    I also had the opportunity to attend a discussion with Dr. Frans de Waal, where he discussed his book, The Age of Empathy. While his main focus is primates, he did mention that dogs also exhibit a great level of empathy, however felt that they do not have the capacity to go beyond the empathy to take the position of the other and determine the root cause. So, if the dog picks up that his human is upset, he will be upset as well, but not know what is causing the issue. I think that is why it is so important for those of us who own dogs to remain calm around them and not react in a way that is averse to the dog’s sense of well being.

    A question I did have as a result of the discussion was whether mammals regularly show empathy across species (genus, family, etc.) and is empathy seen more in animals that are social as opposed to solitary (Herd animals as opposed to a tiger)? Is empathy also a factor in the process of domestication? Are the animals that were domesticated by humans for empathetic and were able to “feel” that the humans were not a threat?

    As always, thank you. Darwin (the beagle) and I want to wish you all the best for this New Year.

    Alessandro

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