I recently took on a handsome young French bulldog named Bob. Currently he is sleeping on a sofa behind me as I type. As he snores loudly, shamelessly releasing audible and noxious gases from both ends at will, I find myself asking why I chose him.
It definitely wasn’t on my bucket list to acquire a Frenchie. But even at this early stage I love Bob dearly. He’s sensitive, affectionate, warm and entertaining. It’s brought me such joy watching him develop in the short time I’ve had him, and like many pet owners I can’t imagine life without him now.
As a dog trainer I had to surrender some very fixed ideas on what I wanted from a dog. Many of these preconditions for my love were based on wanting a ‘smart’ working breed that would teach me in order for me to pass that on to clients. The irony is that although Bob is far from Lassie, he has in fact given me exactly what I was after. A completely new perspective.
The Gifted child syndrome
There is no doubt that training a dog bred from a working line is one of the most challenging, exciting and satisfying experiences I’ve ever had. When you open a dialogue at pace through training, and achieve a natural focus and curiosity from an animal, it not only creates a bond, but for me it can also give me a sense of childlike wonder. This motivates me to believe in them, train them more often, show them off with pride, and inevitably fulfil my projected belief that they are smart.
Otto and Twiglet – Both of whom sent me back to school when I initially started working with them.
The missing piece of the training puzzle
Through Bob I’ve realised we only have a limited amount of time to interact with our dogs when they are focused and in a learning space or environment. Although we have to prioritise what behaviours to shape and what protocols to implement, we have to accept their limitations, whilst creating opportunities from the unexpected. Dogs develop at very different speeds and just like children we have to stagger their education making sure it doesn’t put them off learning altogether.
We also need to enjoy them and let them enjoy life. This part of the puzzle is also where we have the opportunity to heal something inside of us by observing the child in them.
What Bob has taught me as a pet dog is to put my own expectations aside and focus on his most pressing emotional and physical needs. My only priority with training is to target that which will keep him safe and happy.
Being the good parent
The bottom line is, where possible learning should be fun and easy, adding in small increments of progression. We should continue to monitor and manage our dog’s development right into adulthood and beyond as we become more conscious of each other. We need to create the environment for success and aim to foster an ongoing dialogue that fulfils a ‘safety and fun first approach’.
When we prioritise the development of calm confidence on both sides of the relationship this allows us to intervene in the moments where they are at risk and soothe when they are distressed.
We can choose to consciously progress the practical exercises and connection with love and patience whilst maintaining safe parent like boundaries. The role of a trainer in all of this is only to introduce the science and practical techniques, to trouble shoot and reassure you that you and the dog are doing okay even at what may feel like a slow pace.
My conclusion is that no pet dog owner needs to own a Lassie. Lassie gets up far too early and is way too big for his boots. If Lassie isn’t stimulated enough he will definitely chew your sofa and your partner’s favourite shoes on your watch. Lassie will definitely find and steal your favourite chocolates and (out of practice hours) which will inevitably lead to an exorbitant emergency vet bill.