July 1, 2016 by The Dog Rules
Dog was a mix of the two most intense breeds I know – Border Collie and Australian Cattle Dog. Both are working breeds. Both possess the potential to become intensely consumed with their job. Read that as “give this dog a job or you will be sorry!” If under-exercised and under-socialized they can, and frequently do, become destructive. These breeds NEED a job – like they need food, water and air. They thrive when given a job… And mine inherited that intensity from both sides.
While I already had experience with Border Collies, NOTHING in my experience prepared me to deal with THE most intense, focused, obsessive compulsive canine that ever was. She, single pawed, rewrote my training experience. I soon found myself in the “wild west” of dog training. All bets were off!
Not long after bringing her home I realized I had a velcro dog. She hardly ever took her eyes off me. There was a time when I watched closely to see if she actually blinked, worried she might have vision issues. She followed me EVERYWHERE. She didn’t like to be left behind – even for a moment. She was fearful of many things: bigger dogs, big men, loud noises, strange (new to her) objects we saw on our walks. I later learned that the entire litter of 8 puppies shared these trepidations. At the time I simply wondered how I was to manage hers.
In time I learned to read her like a book. The most subtle change to the set of her ears. The slightly raised paw, frozen in place for a nanosecond. The intense stare at the thing I couldn’t (at first) see. These were all clues into her emotional state and (re)actions. They were all there for me to clearly read – if and only if I were paying attention. I learned that if the Big Dog (me) was calm and unperturbed, the Little Dog (her) would follow my lead. I learned to suppress my own reactions so that Dog would not, like Don Quixote, run madly off in all directions. I learned the Zen art of “non reaction” to allow me to assess the situation and choose my appropriate response.
I still use this ability in my interactions with shy shelter dogs. To this day, I don’t jump if something erupts, goes “bang” or otherwise makes a sudden appearance. (I do, however; automatically use dog calming signals and have learned that they now calm me too.)
Unknowingly, Sweet Dog gave me the greatest gift. Dog provided me with the most excellent opportunity to learn how to deal with those most fragile of souls and how to help them find the confidence to take a chance. I am forever in her debt.
Today would have been Sweep’s 16th birthday. Thanks for all the wonderful memories Sweet Pea! ❤