As I work with a lot of intense dogs, helping them regulate their emotions, control their impulses, teach complex behaviours and also work with the dogs owners to make a solid team, I have to tell you, it can be draining at times.
Trainers and consultants can get burned out very easily as we push through one difficult case after another.
From time to time, one of the dogs I am working with does something unexpected silly, or cute or crafty and it just gives me that lift.
It’s often nothing, a simple, possibly even stupid trick, but gee it can put a smile on a tired face.
Recently I worked with this very troubled girl, a Border Collie that was dog and human aggressive. A very intense girl that must have displayed aggression to me 100 times in the first week.
As we moved on and she began to trust me, we settled into one another and she got much better, same old same old you might say.
But in about week 2, I walked over to reward her for staying on her place, and she raised one paw and gave me what looked to be a High 5.
I didn’t know she knew this, she would never normally willingly touch me, I didn’t expect her to do this, and I chuckled when she did it.
I don’t think a session went by where she didn’t then do it 20 times!
I could walk past her kennel and out of the corner of my eye I saw that one paw up. I could not walk on by, I had to go to the kennel and reward her.
I’m sure her family taught her this, but given the intensity of her issues, her aggression, her improvements, and progress, THIS High 5 was the thing that made me smile.
It triggered a memory in me from a very long time ago about an elderly lady that came to see me as her dog, a Mini Foxy named “Bobby” after her father Robert, who was lunging and barking at people, and this was worrying her.
We worked on that behaviour and solved that problem and in the last lesson we had, she told me something about her dog I will never forget.
She went on to say, her dog never played with toys, only one round yellow ball. Showed no interested in anything else.
The aggression towards people come from a person yelling and trying to kick Bobby for weeing on a plant in front of his house.
His behaviour was affecting this lady’s life as she had stopped walking Bobby as she was anxious that Bobby would lunge. She had lost her husband earlier that year, she was about 86 years old.
She didn’t like to leave Bobby alone, so she had stopped going out, stopped seeing her friends and stayed home.
She told me that she felt depressed at times and Bobby had started to act strange too.
She went on to say,
“Bobby has no interest in toys, and I was sitting in my kitchen one morning holding a photo of my late husband, and Bobby came running into the room, being naughty. He had taken the Teddy bear off my bed and was running around with it!
Teddy was bigger than Bobby! And as Bobby tried to run with Ted in his mouth, he tripped over and did a summersault!”
“I know he was being naughty, but I just had to laugh. I wiped my tears and told Bobby he was a scallywag.”
Bobby put Ted down then and I put Ted back on the bed. We had some morning tea out the back.
She then said
“Steve, he never touched Ted again for maybe a week or two, but I had been having a bad morning and was holding my husband’s photo again, wishing he was still here.
Out came bloody Bobby with Ted again! Tripping over and tumbling as he did. I just could not rouse on him; I know I should not allow him to do this.
But I noticed any time I was feeling down, or holding hubby’s picture, Bobby would do this exact same thing.
It always bewildered me Steve, why would he do that.”
At the time I said “well, he is probably trying to cheer you up! Go with it.!”
I then asked what was her husbands name…
“Theodore she said, people called him Ted.”
You can imagine the thoughts that raced through my head right then. I looked down at Bobby and I saw his little grey beard and thought, “he is trying to bring her Ted back”.
The Labradors we breed, (https://herzhundlabradors.com/)often go to service and assistance dog roles, the feedback we hear from the owners about how much better they feel since getting these dogs is huge. About how the dogs just approach them when they are upset, say or anxious and comfort them.
They often have to explain to people what their dog is doing to people who don’t know, because it can be laying across their lap, nudging with their nose, bringing them things of comfort or distracting them with “naughty behaviour”.
Dogs can do some incredible things for us, if we let them, open our eyes.
Dogs assisting people is fast growing in popularity, the relief and opportunities I have witnessed these dogs provide to people is unquestionable.
Bobby may have just been playing with the Teddy as he was bored, or he was trying to help.
One of those explanations make me feel better.