“Thank God that Our Dogs Give Us Second Chances”

Posted on 10/02/09 17 Comments

The title of my blog today was taken from a comment left yesterday. How amazing it is for us that our dogs will give us second chances and do it without judgement of our previous actions. Sure, if you have given them reason, your dog may be a bit cautious the second time around, but you will always be given the chance to make it right with your dog.

Feature reaps the benefits of the lessons all of my dogs before her taught me.
Feature reaps the benefits of the lessons all of my dogs before her taught me.

This is important because we all have a “first” dog. The ideal situation is that with each dog you own, you learn something that can make it better for the dogs that follow. The thing is that our first dog is okay with it. His life with you is about sharing lessons and he is okay with the fact that those initial lessons, between you and your first dog, may include some  tough ones. But those first dogs are thrilled to be part of it, regardless of how rocky the “it” may be.  

Knowing what we know about dog training now, it is easy to look back with regret when we think what those first dogs put up with as we attempted to try them.  But guilt is such an unhealthy emotion.  As philosopher Wayne Dyer suggests, to live in guilt is to use up your present moments being immobilized over what has already transpired.”  None of us can undo the past, even if you were the worst dog-owner on the planet (which I doubt you were) you need to let it go and move forward, learning from your past, but not being a prisoner of it.

I was involved with dogs long before I ever owned one. I started handling show dogs for my sister when I was 12 years old. By the time I was 16 I was working for professional handlers, grooming, handling, taking care of the kennels, you name it.  During this period my dream was of owning my own Chow Chow. I hung out at a big-time Chow Chow breeder’s place in my hometown. I even went to their national speciality shows. As luck would have it, my parents didn’t share in my Chow Chow-owning-dream:).

All of my initial lessons about dog training I learned from my “How to Raise and Train Your Chow Chow” manuel. Remember those books? Well those books are about force-based training.  Sure I had trained dozens of tricks to our family toy Poodle using food only, but I watch the obedience ring and really wanted to do that, so I figured I had to do what was in the book.

The first couple of dogs I worked with “took” the training okay. Surprisingly they were both sighthounds. My sister’s Salukis.  However the third dog I attempted to train was a 12 week old Rough Collie puppy that would just roll over and pee on herself when I tried to “pop” her on her chain collar. After two weeks of trying to teach this puppy to sit, down, stay with no success at all, I decide to take a long hard look at what I was doing and go back to what worked with the Toy Poodle when training tricks. Within two days the puppy was doing some amazing stuff and I was sold on the value of reinforcement based training. I was 19 years old and wouldn’t own my own dog for another 8 years, but did train many other dogs in between. My learning curve continued to be a steep one with my first ever dog of my own “Shelby” who tolerating the lure & pop method of training until I stumbled upon how to shaping behaviour without coercion.

It would be easy to be sad when thinking about all those dogs that where part of my early lessons. But as writer Maria Robinson once said Nobody can go back and start a new beginning but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”  Regret and guilt are emotions that drain your energy and rob you of your potential. Move forward, being grateful for the sacrifice of those dogs that were your firsts. Recognize that the choices you made came from the education each of us had at that point in our lives and nobody can blame us for that. You did the best you could with the knowledge you had and feeling bad about past choices does nothing more than hold you back from fully enjoying your dogs today!

Today I am grateful for the second chances each of our dogs continue to give us as we are constantly learning and moving forward towards a more peaceful yet more effective relationship with our dogs.


“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”


  1. Georgette Burritt says:
    Sunday, August 21, 2011 at 11:37am

    thank you for the vivid reminder. When my youngest child was 2 I was reading several parenting books “dare to discipline” and ” the strong willed child” Wanting to be a good parent, I tried to employ them. Needless, to say, they imparted fear more than compliance. Fortunately for me (and my son) I was taking a college course for Learning theories by the time he was 3 and I switched my parenting to a positive reinforcement model. The difference was staggering, and he was raised the rest of his life with that model. Fast forward 20 years and I have my first dog, a strong willed yorkshire terrier. I take her to her first obedience class, and it was the “pop” the collar method of obedience. It didn’t work any more for the dog than the punishment based parenting style worked for my son. It didn’t take me long to revert to positive reinforcement for training my dog. She reacted in a wonderful way to it and I appreciate all she has taught me about what type of training is effective. I am also glad she gave me a second chance! Not only that, It is so much more fun!!! (for both of us)


  2. Bobbie Bhambree says:
    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 10:54am

    Thank you, Susan. It’s often hard to get your heart and mind to match. Logically everything you said makes sense. Emotionally, sometimes it’s hard to not be attached to expectations your have of yourself and your “first” dog. The Wayne Dyer quote is something I will aim to live by. Today I am also grateful for my first dogs and what they have taught me for my “second” dogs.


  3. Mariji Smith says:
    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 1:48am

    I would have to say that i strongly agree with this post. I am 19 and was thrilled when i bought my little black self border, she was my first completely mine dog. I have always been so interested in training and thought i would have big dreams for my girl. I trained her the way everyone around me and everyone i had ever known trained their dogs. Forcefully. Now i think back on it and it almost brings me to tears to think about how i screamed at her or made her do something when she never really understood. She was 4 months old when i was introduced to the clicker and even then i was extremely impatient with her. She is now 15 months and just the most beautiful girl i could ask for. She gave me not just a second chance but a million of them and even after i yelled and got frustrated with her she would creep up for another go. When she was 10 months old i found shaping and not till she was a year old did i find your no corrections method of training. She is my superstar and everyone absolutely adores her. Even after everything she is super keen to train and excels at everything me and my club throw at her. She really is the apple of my eye and has turned out to be a beautiful, keen and loving worker. After all she does just want a cuddle from mum and dad. Luckily after everything i learnt my new puppy of 13 weeks gets the better end of the bargain, although this makes me upset to think my puppy learns so quickly with only shaping and no corrections but it was something my older girl never got stupid me to open my eyes and see she was just as clever and i just didnt understand. So for today i am so unbelievably grateful for my girls and especially all the forgiveness they have in their hearts. Grateful for my older girl never giving up on me like many dogs would and always putting her heart and soul into whatever i wanted to do with her even if i was horrible about it. I love them.


  4. Katka Lerlova says:
    Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 6:38am

    Really great post, it made me to remember and discover few things to think about. Funny I picked clicker up for almost the same reason – the “traditional methods” didn’t work on my new Border Collie dog. My forst dog learned quickly and some really great tricks (great back then, but nothing amazing compared to what my dogs can do with a clicker) with common methods than, so I didn’t understand why I should bother myself with some strange clicker training. But my youngester gave me a lesson. He wasn’t fond of obeying me at all. When he was one-year old, by constant manipulating him to a heel position he learned to do nothing and just wait for me to push and pull him. Then I remember I saw a video of Mary Ray to teach heeling with a clicker, so I tried it and it worked.

    My “young” dog is now six years old and sometimes, when we struggle with a trick and suddenly he performes it, he seems to be saying: “Okey, so you figured it out finally.”


  5. Aliza says:
    Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 9:44pm

    It is so amazing the capacity that our dogs have to just “move on” and try again.
    I run into walls all the time with my young male and it’s really amazes me how he just gives me that look “calm down mom! it wasn’t that bad, when you get over yourself I’ll be waiting”. It’s a blessing and he’s really taught me so many character lessons and I’ve become such a different person.


  6. Mary M says:
    Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 9:44pm

    This post got me, tears came to my eyes…..thank you for touching my heart, more should hear these words from us all, because there are so many out there “teaching” something different. It is a heartbreaker.

    Thank you,


  7. Sam says:
    Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 5:46am

    I lost the first dog that was properly mine (as aposed to a family pet) a few months ago. He was a troubled boy when I first got him and I never had the experiance to get him 100% but he taught me so much, and gave me so many 2nd, 3rd and even 4th chances, it took a ‘trainer’ picking him up and screaming at him when he defended himself against a dog that had been eyeing him up for weeks to show me that what I had been trying was wrong but he still forgave me completely. He introduced me to clicker training (although not properly used for a long time) and to agility and although he never won many classes he got me hooked. His last ever round was a veterans class and he messed up big time, he went out there and had fun but didn’t think much of the judges course 🙂 I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little annoyed that he wasn’t listening as he would have had a good chance of getting placed.

    2 days later a tumour we knew nothing about ruptured and there was nothing the vet could do for him. I was devistated but in his death he reminded me of one lesson I had forgotton with my younger (very promising) dog and that is to treat each run as if it were your last, to NEVER let the temptation of getting placed come become more important than going out there and having fun and most importantly to remember that win or loose YOU always take the best dog home. Every run I now do is done in memory of Jack because I know that without him I would never have become the trainer I am today.


  8. Trudie says:
    Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 4:22am

    I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s “obedience class experiences” comments!
    And, those books, so true.
    My kudos go to herding dogs, they are so beautiful to watch, how do they do it, out of curiosity a book I looked at on training a herding dog, it actually said: the first thing your dog must learn is the difference between right and wrong.
    This is what they said in class with “popping”, speak severely to your dog, etc. as a means of getting the dog to understand that something is right or wrong.
    Now, as you point out clearly in the DVD on 2×2’s, the first thing your dog must learn is to think.
    I’m feeling great today, because, although I may THINK my dog knows how to think, I actually saw my dog really thinking for the first time a couple of days ago. It was on the weaves, after about 5 mistakes entering on the left, and getting no reinforcement, he went back and LOOKED for the first entry pole. He’s repeated the same process several times.
    So, you have to experience something for yourself, to really understand it and learn it.


  9. how to train a dog blog says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 10:26pm

    Dogs are so forgiving and I am so lucky for it. I loved this write up and for some reason as I read I kind of almost cried. It seems to be a basic style of expressing what your saying but it just got to me in a different way. Thank you so much Susan.


  10. Shannon says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 9:29pm

    I grew up on a farm with horses dogs and cattle. I used food to get all of them to do what i needed them to do. Try to “force” an 1100 lb horse to do something in an 8 yr olds body! I nearly got mixed into the correction training but learned better. I watched a trainer “teach” my mixed breed puppy a down by putting the leash under her foot and yanking straight up. I had no idea she was going to do that. Im glad i saw that- I decided maybe hot dogs werent so bad.


  11. Sarah says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 2:18pm

    I always appreciate your posts, Susan, but I really appreciate this one. My first performance dog is still with me, and through the lessons he has taught me we have become an excellent team, overcoming some serious aggression problems to achieve high-level agility and obedience titles. More importantly, he is the greatest dog I could ask for, a star citizen, and a source for laughter every day. I did a lot to him that a lot of “experts” advised for his aggression that made him much worse and hurt our relationship, but we overcame it all to find clicker training and the world of science-based training. He miraculously still trusts me after all of that, and my puppy is certainly reaping the benefits of our journey.


  12. Michele A says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 1:09pm

    I am so glad that our dogs are such forgiving creatures and they never held grudges against us when we did not know any better, I also had a Border Terrier that I used as my first confirmation/obedience dog, I got his CD then I ended up quitting (actually getting kicked out of class) because I would not do the ever famous ear pinch to make him retrieve…..I did not know how to train him any differently so we went on enjoying life, we did lots of walking in the woods, and Digger loved to kayak with me….he didn’t care if he had any stinkn” titles behind his name.


  13. Luiza says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 12:18pm

    This post reminded me of a great quote from Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew then. When I knew better, I did better.”

    Thank you for the great posts!


    • Susan says:
      Friday, October 2, 2009 at 1:53pm

      Awesome quote Luiza, thanks for sharing it.


  14. Emma says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 12:02pm

    I consider myself extremely lucky that my first and second dogs are still with me today (it took me a while to “see the light!”) These boys get to come full circle with me from my “dog whisperer” type training days to where I am now, training my dogs using positive-only methods. I feel like I get to right the wrongs I did to them and that is a very good feeling. I have a 5 month old puppy now who is getting the kind of start I wish my other two had. I vowed to him the day I picked him up that I would never give him a “correction” or cause him pain in the name of training. His relationship with me is a testament to this. While the other two dogs have given me 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc. chances there are permanent scars left by my early blunders. They know what it means to be “wrong” and that it can be unpleasant. This shows in how they approach new training excersizes. While the new kid jumps in with all four paws oblivious to the idea that anything he does could be punished, the other two approach with a hint of caution. They need to be reassured that they are allowed (and encouraged) to try new things and they will never be “wrong” again. I count my lucky stars that I am still able to teach them this lesson.


  15. Luna's Mom says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 12:00pm

    Thank you!


  16. barrie says:
    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 11:17am

    This really hits home with me since I basically tortured my first personal dog, a Border Terrier with a will of steel. I did do him the courtesy of refusing to follow the instructions of our obedience instructor when I was 16 and he was 6 months old. We were doing a heeling exercise and he was bouncing around chewing on the leash and she told me to put a prong collar on him and hang him to stop what I considered puppy antics that would go away on their own.

    From there on out, Czar was my guinea pig for every training method that came into fashion. I even went backwards and did Koehler style training with him. When he was nine, I began working for a trainer who was transitioning to all OC methods and little Czar the food hound thrived on the training and even got his CD at 9 years old.


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