I know, I know. I am so overdue for a post. I am so sorry. Honestly, I don’t even have much to say right now (watch, this will turn into a pages-long yarn about something random, I’m sure), but I ran into a Bulligerent reader yesterday — hi, Sampson! — and was reminded that I have been severely neglecting this blog.
In my defense, I have been absolutely swamped, and not with anything that makes for good blog posts. My poor bulldog is getting fat and lazy from too many days hanging around at home while I work on school work and work-work. I finished (I think) my Masters in Public Health, took my second comprehensive exam, went to our annual professional conference, went away for Thanksgiving, submitted a journal article (for the second time, ugh), ran around interviewing for one project, ran around doing some note-taking for another project, started prepping the class I’m teaching next semester, and started working on a grant proposal due in January. I kinda dropped the ball on the dog training thing in the midst of all that.
Cerb had to be boarded twice — the horror! — this month because my husband and I had to travel out of town. That was an expensive little endeavor, let me tell you. I think one of the biggest inconveniences about having a, um, “difficult” dog is that you can’t indulge in any of your wonderful friends’ offers to watch him for you. I just stress about it way too much. Perhaps it’s an ego thing — do I truly think I am such an exception dog handler that I am the only person capable of caring for Cerb? It’s a bit ridiculous when I think about it that way, but the truth is that I would just feel absolutely awful if he was a burden on someone. Plus, most of the wonderful friends who offer to watch him have dogs of their own, and while I’m sure they would faithfully crate-and-rotate and Cerb would probably be on his best behavior, I just… can’t. I just feel a lot better leaving him at his vet’s office, where the techs and kennel attendants absolutely adore him, he doesn’t have to interact with other dogs, and I know he’ll get immediate medical care if he needs it.
Which he inevitably does, because for some reason he chafes his, um… “delicates” whenever he’s boarded. It happens, to some degree, every single time. The only thing we can figure he’s doing is rubbing them on the concrete floor of the kennel, because he’s been under observation and he’s not obsessively licking himself or anything like that. I think next time he boards the kennel staff are going to set down some mats for him and see if that helps. I don’t want him to be uncomfortable, although I will admit to getting a laugh out of their follow-up emails a few days after we bring him home: “How is Cerb’s scrotum?” Classic.
Anyway. Moving right along.
So things have been pretty quiet on the dog-front. In lieu of working with my own dog, I’ve been assisting Karen with her classes at AnnaBelle’s (sporadically, because my schedule was so awful in November). I think one of the difficult things about being a trainer is not taking over from the owners. I guess this applies to any kind of teaching, actually – the impulse (at least for me) is to just take the leash and do the task for them, but that doesn’t help them at all. I mean, yes, you should demonstrate once or twice, but then you just have to let them do it, bumbling mistakes and all. For a control freak like me, that’s difficult. I just have to remind myself that I bumbled along, too, and still do. I am sure it would often be easier for Karen to take my leash and teach Cerb how to do things properly, but instead she has to stand by and watch me screw him up again and again until the handler-dog connection finally clicks and we both perform the task well.
Another training topic weighing heavily on my mind lately is that you can’t help people until they’re ready to be helped. This is an issue in my family right now and I guess my feelings are carrying over into training. Without going into too much personal detail, there’s someone I love very much who is heading down a dangerous path and I am very concerned about him. When I first realized it, I flew into a panic of “Someone has to do something!” I wanted to seize control of him and make him change his behavior, and it took a stern reminder from my mother to remind me that this person I love won’t change until he is ready. A few days after that, I went to Control Unleashed class and was talking to Karen about handlers who don’t realize their dogs are headed for trouble – handlers who are ignoring dog body language or troubling behavior like staring, growling at people, reacting fearfully and explosively, and other things like that. In some ways, I guess I was lucky: Cerb’s noisy, embarrassing reactivity left me absolutely no doubt that I needed to change his behavior. It was obvious, in-my-face and upsetting. For other people, the problem might now be so blatant. A lot of people laugh off a dog’s extremely fearful behavior as just “shyness” or a personality quirk without realizing that, if that dog feels cornered, it could become very dangerous very quickly. Beyond being dangerous to others, it’s not funny or “okay” for a dog to live in fear its whole life. Even if the dog is avoidant and its fearful behaviors aren’t a problem to the people in its life, it’s still… afraid! It’s still a very stressed and anxious dog, and I think we owe it to our dogs to help them with those problems for
the sake of helping them, rather than out of any personal desire for a performance dog or something like that.
Anyway, the point of all that rambling was just that I realized you can’t force people to take their dogs’ problems seriously until they accept that there is a problem. You can try, of course — you can point out that the behavior is a problem, you can describe how it might become a more serious or dangerous problem in the future, you can appeal to their love of the dog by explaining how the dog must feel, appeal to their love of their families by explaining how the dog could be a ticking time-bomb around kids… You can try all these things, but if the owner isn’t listening, you won’t get far. I’m not sure what it takes to get through to people. Sometimes I worry that it really takes a tragedy or near-tragedy to force people to wake up and get help. I don’t want my family to experience a tragedy before my relative decides to change his behavior, and I don’t want dog owners out there to face tragedy, either, especially not when it is (often) so easily avoided with some management and some rehabilitative training.
Though things have been a bit of a madhouse around here lately, I think I’ll be able to find a bit more time for Cerb next semester. My schedule will be a little bit more flexible, allowing me to make more use of the limited daylight hours with Cerb and do school/office-work later into the evening. We’ll be taking Rally lessons with Karen to prepare for a trial in march (*gulp*) and I’ll still be helping with the Control Unleashed classes on Thursdays. I’m also eagerly anticipating adding a second dog to our family in late spring or early summer — madness, I know, but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. I’ll write more about that as the time draws nearer.
Okay. Back to work!