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 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.
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