Monday, February 4, 2019

Learning to Like My Dog, Teaching My Dog to Love Me

When I first laid eyes on Barley in her kennel at the APL, it was love at first sight--for her. She knew she was mine and worked her Barley magic to convince me to take her out of her kennel. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with her, too, but I didn't always like her. She was loving and funny and patient with her brother. But she was also reactive and anxious and I had no idea what I was doing. There were some days that I stayed at work a little longer than usual because it was quiet there. When we first started working with a trainer, I learned to like my dog as much as I loved her.

About 6 months after adopting Barley, we started working with a trainer because of her reactivity issues. She taught us the skills we needed not just to survive in the house, but to survive out in the world. We practiced calming exercises, which allowed me to get up to get a glass of water or use the bathroom without Barley getting nervous about me leaving the room. We practiced reaction to distraction, which helped Barley see me as being more interesting than other dogs or skateboarders or joggers.

Once I learned how Barley ticked and she learned that I wasn't going anywhere, I didn't just love my dog, but I liked her. When I was growing up, my dog Possum was my best friend. We ran away from home (to the park down the street) together at least once a week. When I was in middle school, she walked by the cute boys's houses with me and my human best friend. I couldn't imagine having a stronger bond with a dog. Then I started training Barley and it was like my heart hopped out of my chest and grew four legs.

Training Barley has taught me to understand her on a completely different level. I know what every flick of her ear and every wag of her tail means. She understands me the same way and she depends on me to make sense of her world. Sometimes, that's a problem--scent trial judges have commented that they can see her going into obedience mode when she gets frustrated and she turns to me for instructions; barn hunt was out because she couldn't understand why she should paw through hay if I wasn't digging in it, too. Most of the time, though, this relationship is the highlight of my day. On the agility course, it feels like she reads my mind because she pays so much attention to what I'm doing (except for that time she did her own thing). In fact, most of the time, it feels like she knows exactly what I'm thinking. 

Training has also helped my dog learn to love me. When I saw Rye at the APL, I knew she was mine immediately. Rye has always been shy around new people and she was a bit more hesitant about me than I was about her. 

Training taught Rye to love me. Rye loves to do things. She loves to sniff. She loves to run. She loves to jump. She loves to chase. She loves to learn. Once I tapped into all of that, she loved me, too.

Rye has a lot of anxiety. A couple months after I got her, a new session of obedience started and we signed up. She was so scared that she wouldn't take treats from me at first. As we practiced skills at home, she gained more confidence and I became her safe place. She started focusing on me instead of the other people and other dogs in class. We started going for solo walks after class and she had the same level of panic on every new trail--until we started incorporating our obedience homework of heeling patterns and sit-stays into our walks. After two years, she still gets anxious in new places, but she trusts me more and usually we work through that stress and have a fun adventure together.

Rye and I don't have what Barley and I have. If I'm grading papers, Rye goes off and naps in another room by herself while Barley naps as close to me as she can get. But Rye isn't Barley and what we have is incredible and special in its own way.

I have never had more fun than I do when I'm on the agility course with Rye. Even when things go terribly wrong, we're both having the time of our lives. Once we started doing agility training, I became Rye's favorite person in the world because I take her to her activity in the world. At trials, she's find with relaxing in her crate between courses--unless I'm nearby and then she wants to be out of her crate working with me. Even though she's Miss Independent, she always knows where I am and where I'm going. Sometimes she chooses to take a slightly different route than I do (because who wouldn't want to do a few extra jumps along the way!), but we always end up in the same place.

By training my dogs, I've changed our relationships. They're not just my pets, they're my teammates. Sometimes we don't communicate as well as we should, but the time we spend together is always the best part of all of our days. When Barley and I walked into our first training session, I had no idea what to expect, but that day changed our lives and our lives are richer for it.

This month, our theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Building Your Relationship with Your Pet Through Training. The hop opens the first Monday of every month and runs all week. Be sure to check out our co-host Tenacious Little Terrier and all of the other blogs joining us this week and don't forget to join us next month for our theme of Training: It's Not Just Luck.

This is a Blog Hop!
get the InLinkz code


  1. Mom's first dog was from the shelter, a big black lab/newfie mix who loved Mom at first site, but Mom wasn't sure about an adult black dog. It didn't take long for her to fall in love with Trine. The rest of us have been puppies when adopted, so it was super easy to bond and fall in love. So glad you have your different relationships with each dog and they are each so very special. We are all different, and so are our relationships with our humans, but training and working together as a team definitely improves bonding. Mom just wrote an article for 4Knines about bonding through sports

  2. Luke is the first dog I've ever done any serious amount of training with, and I definitely see what a difference it makes in our relationship. We've slacked a bit on training over the last few months, and I also see that he doesn't connect with me quite as well all the time. So it's back to training!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets