Confession time…my dogs aren’t perfect. They both are, and always will be, works in progress. I know it can be all-too-easy to dwell on a dog’s behavior problem and blanket yourself in “if onlies” – “if only my dog’s recall were better.” “If only he liked playing with other dogs.” “If only he were potty trained!” “If only he wouldn’t pull on leash.” “If only this puppy would stop biting!” “If only my dog understood what ‘no’ means!”
While all of these are goals that can be worked toward (with the exception of the “no” thing), the fact of the matter is, no dog is perfect. They all have quirks, strengths, weaknesses, and habits, both good and bad.
Tonight in Binghamton, it’s storming. My favorite kind of storm, big, flashy, and dramatic. The wind whipped down the block, the rain falling almost horizontally with each gust. Lightening so bright it lights up the sky as day, and thunder that once or twice seemed to rattle the windows in their panes. While I love this kind of storm, I know there are a lot of dogs in Binghamton tonight that are miserable – terrified, shaking, refusing even their favorite treats, toys, and people, pacing, panting, whining, hiding in the bathtub or basement.
I feel lucky that my own dogs are relaxing at my feet right now. Being the thunderstorm lover that I am, they’re well-accustomed to the sounds of thunderstorms, since my Joe Baker Thundering Rainstorm c.d. is probably one of the most frequently played in my iTunes and often plays the soundtrack for blogging, emailing, etc. They sleep right through the pounding of the rain on the tin roof that covers my front porch. They happily snooze, play, and eat throughout the summer evenings, when it seems as though every other night we are serenaded with about three hours’ worth of fireworks from Met’s stadium.
It’s tempting to focus on the undeniable facts that Mokie’s prey drive will always be a work in progress and Cuba’s reactivity, while increasingly well-managed and brought under control, nonetheless continues to be a challenge for us. But if I get caught up on how much these things occasionally drive me nuts, I might not be able to enjoy the fact that they’re here, now, happy and comfortable, despite the storm.
Similarly, it’s tempting to take this greatness for granted. It really is no small thing. They’re not afraid of storms now, so why worry about it? Despite the fact that neither of my dogs really worry about thunderstorms, I still think of each storm as a training opportunity. It’s a great time for me to launch into passive training and reward increasing signs of relaxation. Big thunder claps always equal great treats, the loudest frequently drawing a merry and hopeful tail wag. At the very least, it’s a good time to make a special effort to give them some super massages and snuggles, a nice chew toy, or a stuffed Kong. I don’t do this because they “have an issue,” I do this because I love them and I never want them to develop an issue – I also want them to know how much I appreciate their ability to relax in any potentially stressful environment or situation. I will do this for the rest of their lives.
Don’t take your dog for granted. Just because he always sits or comes perfectly when he’s called doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally remind him, in some way that he appreciates, how much you appreciate him. Maybe your dog does love to be touched, approached, and petted by strangers – it never hurts to give her a cookie or toss a ball to reward a special effort. Perhaps your dog, like Cuba, sleeps through his nail trims – Cuba still always gets something wonderful after a pedicure, even if he “doesn’t have an issue” with having them clipped. Neither of my dogs have had an accident in the house since the age of four months (and Cuba is nearly two, Mokie nearly seven years old), and I still will occasionally say, “hey, good girl!” or “good man!” and toss a piece of kibble in the grass as a reward for going outside. Both of my dogs can be shameless snugglers and graciously let me use them as pillows. It’s really relaxing for me (and for them!), but I still occasionally will give them a treat or follow a good snuggle with a bully stick. Why the heck not?
Despite their imperfections, there are so many ways that my dogs are perfect. It’s important to me that they know that and are often reminded of it. I’ll never take naps and comfy snuggles in a thunderstorm for granted. Whatever thunderstorms you may weather in your training relationship with your dogs, I hope you don’t take for granted just how much sunshine they bring into your lives, and that you also find ways to remind your dogs that you feel blessed by those moments of peace, joy, and love.
Until next time, happy training!