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 .