I loved Cosmo from the moment I met him, but it wasn’t until he became ill that I realized my love was self-serving. I had discovered, shamefully, that I was a bad friend.
Cosmo was a European import German Shepherd with a pedigree that would make any dog jealous. He was the quintessential working dog; the dog I had always wanted. In my early years as a trainer and behaviorist, I had worked with many German Shepherds in Schutzhund, police work, and search and rescue, but I’d never had one of my own. When Cosmo unexpectedly came into my life, I was excited to work with him. Although I loved him, a true friendship would not happen for the first six years of his life. Those years were spent training and shaping him into my “demo” dog. In other words, I had made him into my “trophy” dog; one that I could show off. From his majestic and imposing looks to his precision obedience, GPS-like tracking, and hard-hitting protection skills, Cosmo had it all. That all changed suddenly right before his seventh birthday. Continue reading “PALS STICK TOGETHER: My Promise to Cosmo”
The popular models of training focus on control, not connection.
Debbie called me on a Friday afternoon. I could clearly hear the stress and frustration in her voice. “I’m at my wit’s end with my dog”, she said. “She’s out of control! I’ve been to two trainers and you’re my last hope.”
Daisy, a three year old German Shepherd/Husky mix, greeted me at the door with a smile a mile wide, jumping, wiggling, and mouthing my hands with much excited energy. Debbie hurled a barrage of commands and incoherent exclamations at her. “SIT!”, “DOWN!”, “NO JUMP!”, plus various clicks, buzzes and some guttural noise that that sounded like dialogue from the Star Wars bar scene. In addition, she was waving an assortment of treats in front of Daisy, everything from dog biscuits to what appeared to be chunks of a cheese stick. Daisy was not impressed and she completely ignored her until Debbie clipped the leash onto her prong collar that was far too big for Daisy’s neck. Daisy’s ears went back and she immediately hit the floor. “You see this?”, Debbie exclaimed, “She won’t listen!” “I hope you have better techniques.” Continue reading “Are You Solving the Right Problem with your Dog?”
I became more fully human and more connected with my dog the day I stopped seeing him as my dog and began my seeing him as my friend. When I gave up being my dog’s leader, master, and trainer and started treating him as my equal, all the challenges we had between us quickly resolved. We understood, respected, and trusted each other on a whole new level. It was as if a barrier between us had been removed.
When I was a child I was fortunate to grow up with dogs in my life. My folks were dog lovers who always included a dog or two as part of our family. My dogs were my playmates and best buddies. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have human friends growing up, but the bond I had with my dogs went much deeper. They were my trusted confidants and kindred spirits. I never felt the need to “get control” of my dogs. As friends, we related to each other in the spirit of respect, cooperation and trust. Although we were different, we saw each other as equals, and our friendship was natural and effortless. I thought this was the way everyone and their dogs related to one another.
Eventually, I grew up and began learning the so-called “correct” way to see my dogs. Many of my teachers at that time advised me to put away “childish thoughts” and adopt a more popular and acceptable view of the dog/human relationship. Even though it felt wrong, I carried this mindset into adulthood and eventually made it my career. Fortunately, years later I rediscovered the simple and empowering relationship with my dogs that I had when I was younger. I ultimately rejected the idea that dogs need to be manipulated or dominated, and that just being a “dog” wasn’t good enough. I returned to my childhood roots with dogs and loved them for who they are – not just what I wanted them to be. Continue reading “Path of Friendship: An Introduction”