Overcoming Perceived "Baggage"
None of my dogs are rescue dogs. Even DeCaff, my Jack Russell Terrier mix, whose grandmother is a border collie, is not a rescue dog, but rather the result of a planned breeding. However, I do think there are tons of great dogs out in rescue. There was a time when John and I used to bring one into our home every now and again. We would house them, train them and keep them long enough to turn them into dogs people were tripping over to own. Mostly, it was when I was in the Veterinary Pharmaceutical trade. I would be doing calls in a Vet clinic and see a dog that was in for euthanasia and talk the owners into letting the dog come home with me. Over the years we took in and re-homed several very nice dogs. All of them lived well into their teens in their new homes, some may still be kicking! I remember one Jack Russell terrier we had (lets call him Shadow) that came to us at 13 months old. He was, on paper, a highly desired flyball prospect, as he had a pedigree that flyballers drooled over (at the time Jack Russells were the preferred height dog in the sport). Shadow had 3 other homes before us, two of them were potential flyball homes. I was told, by the people that pasted him on, that he would “never be a flyball dog” as he had no ball drive and would not tug. Oh, and he wasn’t house trained and preferred to pee on furniture to bushes. So few wanted to ‘waste their time’ on a dog that showed no ‘sporting potential’ and was a crappy house pet to boot! He came to me in January and by June there were only two height dogs in the entire sport of flyball that could post faster times. Why was that? Was it because I have witch-like-dog-training-qualities and can accomplish what others can not? Ah no. The truth is, that I ignore baggage in a dog. I look for what is great, not what is lacking. The more people I meet through dog-training, the more I realize that this, very important quality, is also a very rare one. I made the statement many years ago, that “your dog is a reflection of your ability as a dog trainer.” What I meant is, that regardless of where your dog started out, what he becomes is a reflection of your ability to train. People would lament to me ‘but my rescue-dog is different, he had baggage!’ Wow, do I detest that word “baggage.” To me, using that word is giving yourself an excuse to fail (I say that with only kindness in my heart.) Am I saying that one dog is as straight forward to train as the next? Nope, my own Buzzy and DeCaff left little doubt of that fact for me. Nor am I suggesting that all rescue dogs have had the same rosy upbringing. What I am saying is that your “rescue dog,” is a reflection of your ability to train a “rescue dog.” Are you able to keep your eyes looking forward to the future or do you keep glancing back at your dog’s past life (either real or what you imagine it to be?) Don’t allow yourself to be the kind of person that is constantly looking for what may or may not be there. Stop trying to find a reason why this dog isn’t “normal” but rather look beyond what may seem to be a limitation now, to the great potential within the dog. I am talking about those qualities that ARE there but they may need some loving polish from you in order to help make them shine. Does this mean a one-eye-rescue-border-collie can go on to be amongst the best in the USA in agility, making it to the podium at a national event? Ah…..yeah, that is exactly what I mean. Alicia Nicholas and her great BC Pickle did just that. Clearly Alicia has the ability to look for the good and not the baggage in a dog.
My friend and training guru Bob Bailey says, “look at what you have, now evaluate what you want- the difference is just training.” Maybe you are unsure how to connect point A to point B, in what Bob is saying, that my friend, is your dog training journey.
I am not directing this exclusively towards people that have rescue dogs either. So often the limitations put on any dog are put there by their owners that are constantly saying things like “he is too stubborn,” or “he has no drive.” I remember when Encore was not quite two years old, a friend of mine would say to me (more than once) “oh, it is obvious, she is going to be a bar-knocker.” I finally told her who Encore becomes is my responsibility and I refuse to label a two year dog as anything other than brilliant. I made her a promise right there (both to my friend and Encore) that there will come a day when Encore is considered amongst the most talented jumping dogs in the sport of agility. Does this mean that everyone that owns a dog is responsible for turning it into a world champion? Of course not, but you do owe it to your dog to stop making excuses, labeling faults or looking at your dog like he is less than the dog on the end of someone else’s leash. Regardless of how talent he is or he isn’t, he is only a product of what you have known about dog training up to this point in your life and that is okay! They don’t all have to be the best. However, if you want more, then seek out the trainer that can guide your path in a new direction. Don’t listen to anyone that tells you it is not possible, doing so is allowing someone else’s limited vision to become yours. There are answers out there for all of us. Finding these answers may be the reason why this dog is in your life in the first place. I don’t mean to sound all-knowing or prophet-like, I only mean to share some of what my amazing dogs have shared with me over the years of them giving me an education in dog training.
I am so grateful that I get it. This doesn’t require any special skill, nor any special training. All it takes from you is the patience to see what your dog is trying to teach you.