Kip, our dog, was a challenging puppy. I hated him. Generally, I save such harsh words for the malicious, evil or hypocritically deceptive. Think less of me if you will. You did not have to live with him.
I can let many things slide (digging, humping, dog aggression, cat chasing, object stealing, eating a whole couch, ripping up carpet, etc.). Kip was a crotch ripper. By this, I mean that he would launch his tiny body at men’s crotches, growl, bite, shake and tug….hard. I have a son.
When a dog that I am supposed to love, latches onto the crotch of my child, whom I do love – it is easy to start feeling a sense of hate.
J.V., my son, talked me into keeping Kip. “Mom, if we let someone adopt him, he will die. No one else will keep him. You train dogs. If you can’t do this…..” Rightfully guilted, Kipper the Crotch Ripper stayed.
I wondered how this monster of a puppy would ever turn into the dog that I wanted. As a trainer, I need a dog that can demonstrate exercises in class, live with a cat and help puppies with socialization issues. Obviously, my dog cannot Bobbitt some poor kid. It would be nice if he could do amazing public shows. Most importantly, I needed a best friend for my son.
Kip both challenged me and taught me. At times, I have felt that Kip was test. He challenged how committed I was to positive reinforcement, and to show me whether it worked on tough dogs. Was it possible to fix crotch ripping and all those other problems without resorting to physical discipline?
The resounding answer is yes. I did learn a few lessons along the way. Kip made me a better trainer. Kip’s lessons probably deserve a blog of their own.
Before someone decides to add some snarky remark, let me be clear. Positive training does not “ignore” bad behaviour. I did not idly stand by watching my son get attacked – hoping and praying I could pop a cookie into Kip’s mouth. Placing people into dangerous situations is unacceptable. Send those valid concerns to reality television producers who air graphic before video clips in order to suck people into a vortex of sensationalism and increase ratings.
Out of the long list of problems we faced, we have overcome all but one. He is officially Kipper the Ex-Crotch Ripper. He may never be a performance animal. Don’t get me wrong, we will try. Realistically I know the odds. If we fail to reach that goal, that’s okay too.
You see, some trainers dispose of animals that fail to represent a business. The dog is a business asset, there to work, make money, show off and stroke egos.
Not Kip, he is family. ‘Til death do us part. My business does not come ahead of my commitment to him.
I feel the need to write about this because I hate to see dogs discarded because they fail the needs of the self-absorbed. It is easy to rid oneself of a dog that does not show well in favour of the one with natural talent. “Look at my amazing training skills!” The better question is, where are the dogs that didn’t make the grade?
More importantly, this blog is about celebrating all the trainers I know who keep the challenging dog, sacrificing business interest for love. You know who you are – the ones that are too polite to blow your own horn.
Pet owners, when looking at a dog, especially one that belongs to a trainer, please look past the grandstanding. Ask about the journey. You will hear some remarkable stories too big for any stage.
At the core, I am like most owners. I want a dog to love. I am impressed when my dog happily cuddles with my son. Maybe Kip will do more at some point. Maybe we will add another dog. More love to go around. We will never – ever – get rid of Kip because he does not generate a profit. Yes, I do truly love that dog. He is my labour of love.
I solemnly swear that I will choose an easier dog next time. Who am I kidding? No, I won’t. There is nothing wrong with choosing the dog that suits your needs. Discarding them because they fail to serve some business interest is patently wrong .
Thanks so much for sharing Yvette! I know we have had talks about this when I’m frustrated to no end with Wyatt, but reading this brought a happy little tear to my eye.
I’ve been told by countless people to rehome Wyatt when I feel like I’m at the end of my rope but I love him and he’s my family I made a commitment to.
My heart is happy knowing of the awesome people like you out there.
Thanks a million for all your help!
Your son is a wise soul, he was right, you gave Kip a chance to live. I was faced with the same choice when I my Benjamin came to live with me. He was a 113 pounds of dog/people aggressive Rhodesian/ Geat Dane/Bull Mastiff mix..The vet told me that unless I grew 2 feet and gained a hundred pounds, I should get rid of him. Well I wasn’t about to get rid of him and for the next 12 years we were inseparable. He taught me many lessons including loyalty (he loved his other canine brothers and sisters, and the beauty of the early morning sky since I had to get up at 4:00am to walk him. . I lost him to Osteosarcoma 2 years ago and I miss him every day.
Your post brought tears to my eyes, too. I felt the same way about Angus (or, as we nicknamed him, AngusFangus) when he was a puppy. It has been an incredible, frustrating, enlightening journey with him. Because of Angus, I have met people I would never have met, started training and showing in obedience and rally, and learned so much more than I ever would have with an “easy” dog.
I fantasize that I’d like an easy dog next time, too. On the other hand, I know so much more now than I did when I was learning with Angus, so I’m in a better position to help a dog who really needs it. 🙂
I have a hard time with the idea that animals are disposable at all. The fact that you see past the mirage of the animal-as-brand approach and are deeply concerned with Kip as living being is one of the reasons why I think you are such an excellent trainer.
I only wish that more trainers -not just of dogs, but of all animals and especially in circuses- could see this the way that you do.
Great message: this should be shown to all people that want to rid a dog due to behaviours. I too have a german sheperd Harley who I call my destroier. Harley ate everything she could from patio furniture-to grandchildrens toys, made my yard a battle field, wanted to chew on my kids and friends, jump on them and just be a bugger. But Harley also has become a wonderful dog with time and patience. We too truly love Harley and all are other dogs who too have had their share of behaviours but none like Harley. But no one could ever convince me to get rid of any of my dogs as they are part of our family not just a pet.
I am in love with this post. THANK YOU! Thank you for being there for Kip, thank you for recognizing all of us who are there for all of are dogs. They truly do come to us for a reason and, if we listen closely, these are the dogs that teach us.
Sequoyah is my “not so perfect” dog. However, it certainly IS possible to keep others safe and teach any dog using positive training. She may be who she is, but she’s mine till death do us part, and she has managed, over the years, despite *not* being a therapy dog for others, to be MY therapy dog. She does demos at classes sometimes despite being the dog who made me supremely aware that temperament, or illness, are NOT the same as obedience. She’s obedient, but she is still who she is, and that’s OK with me. My job is to manage and train her and keep her safe. Her job is to know that I will not fail her.
I love this post, you’re so right! When Inka first came home my OH said if he wasn’t going to be “the dog I wanted” then he couldn’t stay. On the surface, I guess it seemed sort of sensible to him – we rent, and at the time could only have one dog, so why have one that’s not “right”? Because along the way he’s helped me, introduced me to hydrotherapy, canine McTimony/chiropractic, Thundershirt, Zylkène, and more – not to mention the idea of putting our vet’s grandkids through university!
But boy do I love him, and Starr too – I know she wants to teach me about herding, and I’m excited about what else they’ll both teach me over the years.
Sounds “right” to me!
What a wonderful message – I have tears in my eyes. Yes, you love the dog and do your best for him but this brought home to me the life of my youngest son. He was the irritating, un-trainable pup someone discarded but with people they don’t put down the difficult ones, they just send them away …. to foster homes and I was the foster home. Our lives were richer for taking in a less than perfect boy. He still isn’t perfect and we’ve had many heartbreaking moments and always will have, but now 30 years later I am still grateful for the experience that enriched all our family, my husband and natural children agree. It will be ’til death us do part as well.
Your son is lucky to have you and I bet he feels the same way. Thanks for sharing.