"You Get the Dog You Deserve"Published February 20, 2013
There’s an old dog training truism that says “you get the dog you deserve. ” That expression can be looked at in a couple of ways: you “craft” the dog you deserve, meaning you raise the dog so that he is a product of all that you teach him (or don't teach him), or the dog you end up with was “sent” to you to teach you a lesson. Obviously the first interpretation makes the most sense, but I like to get all mystical and take the second one into account as well. The dogs I’ve been “sent” over the years have taught me many timely lessons.
Sumner, our wonderful Boxer that was featured in my last book, “Bonding With Your Dog: A Trainer’s Secrets for Building a Better Relationship,” came to us at a year old with severe socialization and leash reactivity issues. I was in the infancy of my dog training career when we adopted him, and he taught me so much about dealing with challenging (and embarrassing) leash issues. I was able to translate the scientific approach to counter conditioning and desensitization to one that could work in the real world. (Life doesn’t happen in a laboratory, and even the most effective training plans can be tough to work out on the streets!) Sumner was my greatest training project. He went from hating the sight of other dogs, to mellowing out enough to be a shop dog in my little dog store. He was living breathing proof that dog-friendly dog training works, even for those dogs that seem hopeless.
Our current dog Olive came to me at a time in my career when I’d grown overconfident about my puppy training skills. I was convinced that I’d have her housetrained within two weeks, and that she’d be a textbook perfect student in all things training. I was in for a rude awakening. Olive had challenges that I couldn’t even begin to understand or explain, even though we adopted her at a youthful eight weeks old. It only took me a few days to realize that she didn’t seem. . .normal. Potty training her took months, not weeks, and not because I was lax. She exhibited a series of disconnects that I couldn’t understand, and I wondered if she was born from a brother-sister pairing, or if her airway had been cut off during the birthing process. (I’m not making light – she’s truly odd in a thousand different ways.) I would never call her “stupid,” though. She’s cunning at times, but she also can’t figure out how to get off the porch if the steps aren’t right in front of her.
Olive proved to me that even the most diligent of dog guardians can be faced with challenges beyond their control or understanding. She gave me empathy for my clients who stumble through training, content to celebrate baby steps instead of impressive gains. A year later I’m happy to report that the dog I “deserve” is one that has more love for us and snuggling to give than any I’ve ever owned. She might not be the brightest, but she's got the biggest heart.