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.
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.