I am somewhat sensitive to emotions, body language, and energy. Not just the human type, but all animal type, with the exception of reptiles. I don’t get reptiles and I am pretty certain they don’t get me.
I don’t need verbal communication to get what is going on. While my title is professional trainer, it might as well be professional observer. I can spot the subtleties, nuances, and the tiniest of gestures, and make sense of the situation, before it plays out. Perhaps working with dogs all of these years has honed this skill to where it is today, but it has always been there to some degree or another since I can remember.
There isn’t a whole lot that is lost on me in this way of communication, but I also know when to say something about it, and when to let things go until the time is right, if ever. Acknowledging what someone doesn’t want to know, or isn’t ready to know, or will not have the understanding to deal with the new information, can and most often causes more harm than good.
But it doesn’t take someone like me to see the overt signs of a person and dog who are the wrong fit, the wrong match, not just in this life time but in any life time. The looks of disappointment, frustration, sadness, anger, intolerance, and disregard for each other. For the person it is a dog not of their dreams. For the dog it is living frustration, because they are being compared to a fairy tale that doesn’t exist, nor has it ever.
I work with a lot of people and their dogs for a lot of different reasons. Some are families who want a pet, some are dog sport competitors, some people get a dog to help them while they overcome an addiction, some people are looking for a project, some people want a backcountry trail companion, and the list goes on. So super varied.
Dog ownership and parenting is as varied as the breeds and mixes of dogs we have on the planet. Everyone seems to have different intentions and goals in mind, varying degrees of tolerance, and a fairy tale of some sort. We all have them. Not the Knight in shining armor on a white horse, unless that is your thing, and not necessarily the Grimms brothers’ version of fairy tales, for those are more nightmares in my opinion.
The fairy tale is worth mentioning, because it came from some place at a point in time, we all have them lodged in our brain, and it sticks, one hundred percent of the time. Whether the origins are from childhood, a person you saw with a dog you liked, a roommate, a past experience with a previous dog, a Norman Rockwell painting, a herding video filmed in the rolling green hills of Scotland, a story you read, or a book that defined the perfect dog (in their opinion), or a neighbor, or friend, or family member that defined your life for you and how it should be with a dog.
And then a mental picture starts to build, and the scenery is constructed, and it takes shape and form, and we add the smaller details as we go along, and polish this little beauty up until it is completely unrealistic, and our fairy tale is born. Unbeknownst to our dog.
No dog can live up to a fairy tale that they don’t even know exists. A dog most certainly doesn’t care about Norman and his paintings, or what your Grandma once told you about her perfect childhood dog.
Your dog wants you, in real time. They want to engage in activities with you, your energy, your best of intentions, and feel your love for them, honest to goodness connection. It’s simple, so super simple, so basic, so raw, so perfect. And I think that is why it is overlooked almost always.
So, today is the day to update your fairy tale. The real world type of fairy tale that does not include the word perfect, unless in jest, or comparisons to anything else, anybody else, any other dog, or what a book says is the ideal type of dog. In your real world fairy tale, let all of this unimportant stuff be fodder for the fireplace, and move on.
The dog not of your dreams might just be the best teacher you will ever have, but you need to let go of what is not working, open yourself up to learning, feeling, and trying life in a new way. It is possible.