my cautious, fearful, Ocean – part 1


In August 2002, someone told me about a litter of pups, border collie/aussie crosses, that were for sale. $45, they needed to go fast!

I called the family and made a time to go out and see the puppies. It wasn’t hell, but it wasn’t good either. When I pulled up, the adult dogs came rushing at my car barking and lunging, not a great first sign. When the Grandma came out, she apologized and invited me around the side of the house to come and see the puppies, woops, where did they go? All nine were not where she left them!

Then out of the corner of my eye I saw something moving, and there it was, the first walking diaper I had ever seen! The puppies were playing, and or foraging in the open trash/burn pile, and this little puppy ended up on the wrong side of the diaper!

It had been raining so all of the puppies were muddy, and in various stages of negligent care. But there was something about this little white one. She didn’t want anything to do with anyone, she avoided her litter mates, was terrified of the house cat, and the only thing she wanted was to curl up under the porch with her Mom. She avoided my hand, moved away when I spoke gently, and hissed a bit when I moved too close.

We got in the car, I strapped my kids in their car seats, wrote a check, and then went under the porch to get this little white thing. She screamed, like for real screamed. Hot tears were streaming down my face, and I had to do everything to keep from shaking. Inside of me, someplace, I heard myself saying, “we will make this better, I promise”. She was pushing, and squirming to get out of my hands, her stress was audible and visible. I got in the car, and put her under my shirt, next to my skin and warm body. She relaxed, softened, and I drove off, never looking back.

As soon as we arrived home, I went into the back yard to introduce her to Franny and Chaser. This little white girl started to wag her tail a bit, which was good, and then Franny picked her up by the scruff of the neck, carried her across the yard, and into the kids play house. Holy crap.

I followed and when I looked in, Franny was cleaning her up, nuzzling her, and laying on her side and trying to get her to nurse. In that moment, I knew this was right for me, for her, and for our home. Now for a name.

Ocean, my Ocean. My daughter named her and it fit.

I had never been around a cautious, nervous, and fearful puppy before, and Ocean was just that. She loved Franny from the get go, adored my husband, and was uber attached to me in particular. Ocean from day one, would growl at new people, would only be around my children if they were not moving, she would run away yelping at the site of stuffed animals and/or Barbies, and throw herself into walls to get away from anything she didn’t understand.


Franny did an amazing job playing with Ocean. She hands down gave her a quality of life in the dog world I could never have done at the time. She taught Ocean how to play, and run, and have fun over time. Franny protected her when we were out and about, and Ocean depended on that.

Fran and oceanbabiesplay

For the first few weeks we had her we learned that she LOVED, with every ounce of her body, fetch and tug. Her focus was intense, and she seemed to be so confident in her games and work. I started to see a side of her that excited me. Inside this fearful puppy, was an awesome working dog! She seemed to be happiest when she was in motion, and working. So we started to make most everything ‘work’ for her. This made sense to me and apparently for her too. ‘Ocean in Motion’ was my mantra for some time!

During her first year with us, I taught her trick after trick after trick. She just couldn’t get enough. Tricks, foundation agility, freestyle, more tricks. She was blossoming. But her fears were still very real, and ever changing.

My kids spent months walking past her and throwing her chunks of chicken. My kids knew the drill, go to the counter, grab a piece, walk around the room, say “Hi Ocean”, and toss the chicken on her pillow, and then walk away and repeat. They loved their job. Ocean got to the point where she would wag her tail when they would enter the room! She even started to sleep in the toy box with the stuffed animals, in the kids room.

However, walking at night, with a light breeze and shadows was a no go. A stranger approaching was a no go. A dog off leash approaching was a no go. Man holes, sewer drains, rushing gutters, a no go. Blowing plastic bags, bicycles, motorcycles, head lights, not a chance. Rearranging the furniture during the holidays or adding a Christmas tree thoroughly upset her. She has never ever been able to accept change like this.

But Ocean continued to be brilliant in her work. So we found more to do. And she did it all with grace, acceptance, and total confidence. She did every agility practice with 100% of her, same thing with herding, water retrieving, freestyle, and tricks. She never did anything part way, always, absolutely always 100%.



herding 002

She was also becoming more and more comfortable with my children, and was my constant gardening companion.

Willow Creek Bridge

Ocean, Garden

We added bunnies to our little menagerie, and Ocean loved her new job as ‘bunny tender’. She would watch them, sleep with them during the day, and always helped during feeding and cleaning time. This focus, again, helped her with her confidence.


We were giving her LOTS of experiences where she felt most safe, and that was with us at home, or out hiking in remote areas. We were exposing her to new and different in the bigger part of the world, with short and successful outings. I will say, not all outings were as successful as I would have liked. Just like most things in life, there are no guarantees. We were surprised on occasion, or a dog charged us off leash, or a person moved towards us that we couldn’t avoid. We did our best, and those moments were the minor ones.

Knowing that My Ocean did not have a stable temperament, and that I had to choose her environments carefully, helped me to see my world through different eyes. I never left the house without one of her favorite tug toys, and I never left the house without a big bag of chunked up meat.

My goal was to slowly expand her world, within reason, at her speed. I was having so much fun working with her, and she was obviously at her best while working, that I decided this would be our future together. And then we took off together, but not without some major bumps …




17 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa Marie Cook says:

    Gonna cry…..this is another great story, Nanc.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Lisa, don’t cry yet, that comes later! 😉

      1. dayphoto says:

        Oh…I only want to cry tears of joy….please I hope it isn’t one of loss!


      2. Nancy Tanner says:

        Hi Linda, no, no loss. She is happily resting under my feet right now after a nice romp outside… Just her story… So if any tears, they should be awesome tears… 😉

  2. Mary Martin says:

    Thank you Nancy for sharing Ocean’s story (Part I). I am still smiling and feeling the warmth of love that is coming through your words and pictures!

  3. Bree says:

    Nancy I love hearing Ocean’s story.
    How old was she when you started trialing in agility? Just curious, I’m trying so hard to honor McCoy and his insecurities. It’s nice to know that insecure/cautious/thoughtful dogs can evolve to play dog sports 🙂

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Bree she started working with agility, herding, tricks, and freestyle right when we got her. ALl the foundation stuff.

  4. tah says:

    It is always so sweet when furry folks find someone to stand by their side and help them navigate the world of humans, thank you Nancy… you are covering lots of ground in that department ! Tah, Toby and Thule from Gardiner

  5. marie tanner says:

    Another touching story, Nancy. You should be a published writer.

  6. 1christie says:

    Yes Nancy, you should listen to Marie! I so enjoy your writing. I love the honesty.

  7. nutsfortreasure says:

    We do love them clearly I could relate so much of Oceans firsts days with you as JT was like this as well. Glad both went to loving woman HUGS

  8. annie kent says:

    I dearly love your story of Ocean and want to hear more.
    My William is also very cautious and now we are in the midst odf a move to CA. I can tell that this is difficult for him.
    I will always cherish our time with you at Y D S. We learned so much we will keep you in our hearts thru your stories.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Annie, well hear are good wishes for your move, I hope it is a safe one. Please enjoy a bit of the ocean and warm sand for us.

      I am writing part 2 right now. I hope in some way it helps, or at least gives you time to pause.

      All the best, Nancy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s