I’m honored to have been invited to play in the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop! This month’s theme is the Gift of Positive Training.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the gift of time.
Having lived on the reactivity rollercoaster with Lilo (and to a lesser degree, Casey), I thought I knew everything that I could ever need to know about accepting thhat progress will take as long as it takes. I said it out loud to many people when I started scanning Petfinder last winter in search of “too much dog:” I was totally confident in my ability to have patience with a training challenge, especially if it wasn’t *that* training challenge.
In a lot of ways, I was right. Training breakdowns and naughty-dog shenanigans that would have had me in tears five years ago are now greeted with calm sympathy and/or delighted laughter. Frustration — and I’ve come closer, early on, *I made a mistake,* with adopting this dog than any of my others — is always leavened with an appreciation for his many wonderful qualities and a certainty that things will get better, as they indeed have. And every time I watch Titus deploy his impeccable dog-dog skills, I remember all over again why I brought him home. Here’s to new challenges!
Including my positive-training gift to Titus and his to me.
Because it turns out that what’s foxed me this time around isn’t a training challenge. It’s *not* training. It’s just being present with a dog, attentive to his needs, appreciative of who he is now in the moment, without attachment to who he may eventually be.
I am not great at presence, you guys. I’m great at *doing* things. At project management. At seeing possibility and driving towards it, adjusting to meet whatever I encounter on the way. This is a skillset that has suited my previous (and other current!) dogs well. Lilo in particular is so self-contained and self-determined that she imposes presence on me. It’s nice.
Titus, on the other hand, is not the asshole that I had in mind when I started looking at cattle dogs. He’s sweet. Sensitive. Endlessly observant and aware. He needs me to be his calm, safe place in the world more than any other animal — including my dear hot, spooky little horse — ever has, because he just does not at this point in his life have the capacity to be that for himself. And he tells on me every time I’m distracted or rushed or otherwise less than sweet and sensitive, observant or aware, back.
It’s easy to look at this dog and see the amazing raw material that he is. He is *such* a cool critter, you guys. Smart and biddable and athletic and made of nothing but springs and happy (and occasionally teeth). But he knows it. And he doesn’t like it. He wouldn’t put it in these words because he is, y’know, a dog. But what I’ve figured out from these months of getting to know him and then, with his injury, getting to know him all over again is this: he simply wants to be *seen.*
Don’t we all?
So this is the gift that positive training has given me, that I’m now giving to him. Patience. Attention. Understanding. Listening to my dog and doing my best to meet his needs. Giving it time. Enjoying him and seeing him for who he is right now and letting all that possibility spiral out into the future. Not forgetting about it or about all those dreams! But having faith, just as I had face in those early reactive days with Lilo, that we’ll get there when we get there.
Also: that the dog in front of me know is perfect exactly as he is and that being there with him, basking in his soft fur when he flops down in that parking lot because he *needs* a belly rub before he can bear getting back into the car and in all those sunrises that I’ve seen because he just can’t bear to go back to sleep, is pretty perfect, too.