Dog’s Eye View: A once in a lifetime dog
November 12, 2015
Recently, I had a thought-provoking conversation with a dear "dog friend." She said her friend, who lives some distance away, has a dog of the same breed as hers and that she had never actually seen the dog until a few weeks ago.
She described her friend's dog as one of those "once in a lifetime" dogs. The dog was "easy." The animal never did anything wrong; she seemed to just know what to do and always wanted to please. She was easy to live with and was friendly and gentle with everyone. She was wonderful with children and was an all-around great companion dog. Her owner never even really had to train her. Gosh, what a gift.
To be clear, my friend's dog was not an "easy" dog. That doesn't mean he was vicious or anything like that. From day one (at about eight weeks of age), he was rambunctious and got into everything. He tried to chew anything in sight. As a puppy, he grabbed my friend's clothes while running past her and tore them. His energy level was over the top. At one point, she considered taking him back to the breeder. This was the first dog she'd ever had to raise and train on her own.
What she decided to do instead was learn how to train her dog, which represented a huge learning curve for her. The technical skill of training a dog was not something she'd needed to think about too much before. She had the basics, but this was more challenging.
She enrolled in Head Start Puppy classes (twice) and in Family Dog Training class (twice) and continued with the education of both herself and her dog by taking advanced classes, including Canine Life and Social Skills (C.L.A.S.S.), dog agility and Nose Work (scent work). This has spanned several years, and she hasn't stopped teaching him and learning new skills herself.
My friend said she was surprised at the difference in the demeanor of the two dogs. The "easy" dog was quiet, acquiescent and sweet. She didn't intrude into anyone's space. She got along with my friend's dog. They could take her anywhere. She seemed to "float" through life. In short, she was probably the kind of dog many people would dream about.
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Through all of that, what my friend said to me was astonishing. She said, "Actually, I believe that my dog is better-trained. He had to be. He has more skills, including a large vocabulary of words and cues to which he responds. He's engaging and initiates interactions with me, as I do with him. The unwanted behaviors that we had to work through are gone. These have been replaced with wonderful socially appropriate behaviors that I value and are highly reinforced by me."
Is it fair to say that one or the other of these dogs is better? I don't think so. The conversation we had caused me to think of other dogs I've known that were "easy" and some that weren't. In their own way, each of these dogs enriches their owner's life. "Once in a lifetime" doesn't have to mean that no work is involved or that no effort has to be put forth.
My "once in a lifetime" dog is the dog I have now. That's Stuart, my bull terrier. He's nine years old now, and I wouldn't trade any of our early "hard but enriching" times and our now "easy" times together for anything.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.
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