the dog not of your fairy tale

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.

Franny B&W

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.


13 Comments Add yours

  1. Natalie says:

    Have you been peeking in my window?
    Thank you.

  2. maggielandr says:

    You are so right! My grandfather gave me a picture of this dog with big soulful eyes and that to me represents my fairy tale dog and that is where that started for me! My dog is my fairy tale dog especially when she is begging for food , those eyes are incredible and melt me every time.

  3. Marcia Jansen says:

    Exceptionally beautiful writing expressing thoughts that need to be repeated and repeated often for those of us who have been gifted with very challenging dogs.

    1. I love that “gifted with very challenging dogs” and I need to keep that in mind always as I work with my reactive rescue and not compare her to my other rescue “good as gold” Teddy Bear who has got down meeting and greeting other dogs and people to a fine art. I can’t shove Java into my preconceived mould of what I wanted her to be, thanks for that reminder. I need to accept her as who she is. Thanks!

  4. A lesson I am so learning right now! Thanks for letting me know I’m ok for wanting what I don’t have with my new rescue (8 months ago, so not so new) while learning to respect who she is and what she has to offer (while I go around NOT telling anyone I’m a dog trainer when she’s with me, although I got her to be a demo dog).

  5. Christina says:

    Yes, it is possible! My dogs are not what I was hoping for but I let them teach me to change myself. ❤

  6. MaryDell Joyner says:

    you are not only a trainer but also a writer. Loved reading this and remember when I was mad at Dixie for being a puppy!! And she still is a puppy but she is my perfect companion!! I actually laughed when when she chose to dive into the mud bog on Sourdough instead of the creek. dirtiest dog on the trail and smiling the whole time.

  7. Joan says:

    WOW! Nancy, you have summed it all so beautifully! Your reflection is suitable not only to being with dogs, but to other animal friends and also people! Thank you for reminding us to accept individuals (dogs, horses, people, etc) the way they are!

  8. Caroline Bitz says:

    Thank you Nancy for such a great article. Thank you for teaching observation, it helped me with my little Jasmine, it has really paid off in our relationship.

  9. Karen Wilkinson says:

    Oh my goodness you have made me cry! It was not how it was meant to be I hear myself say over and over. Yes, I want the fairy tale but you have made me realise that I need to let it go and let my boy just be! You will never know how much your words mean to me today. Thank you x

  10. Natalie says:

    I sometimes wonder if the dogs think this, of us!
    (Ooooooh. This is not at all what I was hoping for…..)

    My current pup came from one month in a foster where he was allowed to romp all day any way with the other two dogs in the house. And then there were the two kids, too.
    And then he got me, a quilter, small yard, no dogs, no kids.
    Poor pup.

    We are mutually learning how to deal with each other.
    Maybe that’s the key to expectations? To realize they go both ways?


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