Monday, December 19, 2011

Dream Dog, But Not A Reality

The Dream 

Even before Chico's adoption was complete, I had big plans for him.  I knew that we would take him with us to the farmers market on the weekends.  I'm an avid runner, so Chico was going to accompany me on local running trails.  I wanted to do agility with him.   Chico was a young dog, just a year old when we adopted him, so all of these things we were going to do were very possible.  You can read more about  the circumstances of Chico's start to life, and adoption, in the post Who Is Your True Dog.  

When we got Chico home It seemed, he was going to be up to just about anything.  In the first weeks of having Chico we took him to a foundations agility class, we ran at of the local running trails.  Chico even spent time visiting Dustyn's work where he got to socialize with many people.  After about 9 weeks there was a sudden change.  Like a light flipping on in the dark of night, Chico's reactivity and fear to motion, people, bikes, dogs in certain situations, shattered my dreams.  The barking and lunging at anything outside our home was extreme. At the time, I'd never heard the word "reactivity" nor did I know what it meant.  I desperately searched for explanations and answers for people in the dog community and what was wrong and what to do with our Chico. 

 True Dog-Chico

Is This A Nightmare?

In hindsight, Chico was giving us warning signs that he was fearful and bordering on reactivity, but as novice dog owners we didn't see them or understand what was happening with our Chico.  After about 6-9 weeks of "honeymooning" with Chico he starting barking and lunging at anything that moved.  People walking across the street were scary.  Bikers, dogs and their people moving in agility class all surpassed his threshold in seconds.  It was all too much for Chico.  I was at a loss as to what to do with this wild dog.  So like any "good" dog owner, I enlisted him in more positive training classes.  <Insert groan here.>  In Chico's case, this was the wrong thing to do because he was displaying so much fear and anxiety towards people.  Class may have been a good idea had I been able to keep him under his threshold for reactivity.  But when we went to classes Chico practiced the ever so rewarding behavior of barking and lunging at anything that moved.  This fear based behavior turned into a very rewarding routine.  Bark/lunge, people move away from Chico as fast as can be.

My disappointment and fear about Chico's behavior ran deep.  I cried because I was worried about him and his deplorable behavior.  I was dismayed by the reactivity.  The loss of my agility dog, running buddy and social butterfly that I had been dreaming for years left me feeling disappointed and desperate.  

Not a dream situation: Rue and Chico sassing each other over who gets possession of the Frisbee 

Not A Nightmare, Not A Dream:  The Truth

I think it's very natural for people to feel disappointed, sad and hurt when they adopt or purchase a dog with the intentions of doing a certain activity with their dog that doesn't work out the way they dreamed.  For each person the activity might be something different along with the reasoning for not being able to do the desired activity.  For some dogs like Chico, reactivity to movement, dogs or people make it very difficult to do the sport like agility where there is chaotic movement everywhere.  While other dogs don't enjoy the activity and will withdraw my ignoring their owner, sniffing and disengaging.  Some owners get a herding dog that is a couch potato, a pointer that doesn't point, the retriever who missed the memo on the retrieve.  

I've learned that it's okay to be disappointed for a short time that things didn't work out they way they were intended to.  After you allow yourself that, you must move forward and find the TRUE in your dog.  What does you dog like to do?  It might not be your favorite thing, but when you do something your dog enjoys, it in turn brings you so much joy.  My relationship with Chico has grown and changed so much since he's become reactive.  I never would have considered taking him sheep herding if he was an agility dog.  It turns out, herding is perfect for Chico and it's more  compatible with his reactivity.  He enjoys it, I enjoy it, and we work as a team while building our relationship.  Had Chico not become reactive, I would have never started this Blog or True Dog Facebook Page.  I would never had the opportunity to talk to great people, hear their stories and share ours.  Working through challenges with our dogs is exhausting and rewarding.   

I made a lot of mistakes the first year after we adopted Chico.  In fact I make mistakes all the time.  But I'm learning from my mistakes.   I've learned that it's okay that I don't take Chico to the farmers market, he isn't comfortable with it and it isn't fun to him.  It's okay that we don't go running on bike paths, there are many other places he can run with me that are more scenic.  And it's okay that Chico can't compete in agility.  It was always my dream, not his.  He dreams of sheep, and now, I count sheep before bed too.  True Dog didn't start from a dream.  It started from the truth, a reality, looking you in the face with amber eyes glowing. My true dog has thought me more than I could ever teach him. 

I'd like to hear if you've ever been disappointed because you weren't able to do you dream activity with your dog?  What was the activity and how did you handle the loss?

Counting sheep

Winner of the Frisbee! 


  1. Thank-you for your post. I think individuals who adopt or acquire a dog that doesn't 'check all the boxes' do go a period of grief. Adopting a dog, or puppy, comes with many hopes and dreams - they may be agility or performance aspirations, or it may simply be a dog that you can take for walks and have on your lap. Despite our best intentions, dogs are complex beings with unpredictable behaviours.

    My first border terriers was intended as a show and agility dog. He had an undescendent testicle, making him unsuitable to show, and he had a heart murmur, and he was dog-aggressive. I am very grateful for the experience I had with him, because I learnt so much and I attribute that dog to where I am today. At the time, I blamed myself for his behavioural problems. However, the more I learn about dogs, the more I think there is a huge genetic component to almost all behaviours - and now I am at peace with Mac, as I think he is a genetically fearful dog.

    It was a process to remove myself from the equation, but the experience has led to me being very-much in the equation when selecting suitable studs for my bitches. I want to breed dogs that are stable and sound, and then select homes for them that make them excel. I have no intention or desire to breed dogs that need extensive socialisation and training to be 'normal'.

    Thanks again for your post.

  2. Hi Tegan,
    I like that you brought up the point that dogs are very complicated beings and have so many behaviors... ( I'm one of those people that believe dogs have emotions, so I'd add that to the list.) I'm sure it was very disappointing that your Mac had a heart murmur and was cryptorchid, along with his anxiety/fearfulness. Poor guy! Hopefully you were able to find your peace and a activity that suited you both. Sometimes that's just hanging out and snuggling, and who doesn't love that!?
    Thanks for reading.