I was walking Puppy with Kid 2 earlier today when I was noticing very happily that Puppy was behaving better than she used to. Of course, not running into dogs or other mean people who dare to share the same sidewalk also helps. But even when we do run into others, I can see an improvement in how she responds; and probably in how I respond too.
I was ready to give her up or kick her out a few times, and I may still have similar moments in the future, but not quite as much lately. The main reason for this is that I have received help. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is to me. I have an almost crippling fear of failure, and an utmost dread at the thought of not being good enough. At anything, it doesn’t matter what it is. So here I was, a puppy owner for the first time in my life, and although my rational side said and still says that it would have been impossible to be a puppy whisperer given the circumstances, I was afraid that I would be a terrible puppy owner, that making any mistakes would make everyone think I am stupid and horrible.
There have been moments when we have annoyed quite a few people with our barking-jumping puppy, and those were also the moments when I was almost ready to close the door in her face. After a few disheartening incidents, and a few scares on my side (at least the kids were never put in danger, or Puppy would have been in another home by now), we decided that a proper puppy whisperer was no longer a nice thing to maybe do, but an utmost necessity. This woman has helped me a lot. And not just by showing me what to do with Puppy and how to try to manage difficult situations and improve our relationship. But she had quickly understood my inexperienced position and had not judged it, but simply started the training at my level and encouraged me to progress. And very importantly for me, she has offered plausible explanations as to Puppy’s misbehaving. Puppy is a rescued dog, she has spent the first part of her life with a junkie in Athens, and her life there wasn’t a good one. We had imagined as much given that she needed rescuing. But it helped to hear that her behaviour when I was saying “no” to her could be explained by the fact that in the past, a “no” was followed by aggression, which made Puppy feel like she needed to defend herself. Hence, aggression on her side as well. Puppy had been neglected, and so had her pups, which helped explain why she was anxious when she started recognising the ritual of me having to leave the house without her. Said ritual had begun to take as long as 40 minutes to get her in her assigned place, which was absolutely ridiculous.
Our trainer has encouraged us to create positive associations for her and reinforce good behaviour by generous rewarding. And we started seeing some results almost immediately. The leaving ritual started taking only 40 seconds again. There were no more signs of aggression towards us. Puppy started going to school too where the trainer showed us exercises to do with her, and we could see that all of this was doing both her and us a lot of good. Puppy is more relaxed around us now, and we are more relaxed around her. We’ve still got a long way to go, and I am actually looking forward to starting puppy school again, but I no longer feel like the loser that I used to a few months back. And feeling like a somewhat more competent loser, I got the courage to set her loose in certain spaces, which has allowed me to do something I never could before: talk to other puppy owners. And it turns out that once I start telling them our story, about the neglect and the rescue, about us working with Puppy, about my challenges with a pram and a toddler on top of Puppy (not literally, obviously), everyone is understanding and sympathetic. They acknowledge that I am in a difficult situation that they would also have a hard time handling. They think it’s great that we haven’t given up on Puppy yet and wish us all the best. And most importantly, the next time we meet, they smile at me instead of rolling their eyes, and help me by giving me a bit of space if I need it, or by distracting their own dogs until I have passed. I am deeply grateful for this.
So here is my message to myself: I am indeed an idiot. But not because I didn’t know what to do with a dog or how to train them, but because I thought that asking for help would make look weak and stupid and incompetent and awful and many more such “nice” things. I am not saying I will never be an idiot in the same way again, I probably will. But little by little, I hope the fears will stop taking over, or at least that I can conquer them faster. And in so doing, that I can ask for and get the help that I need much more quickly.
If you have laughed at me, I am offended, but I guess I deserved it. But I also hope you understand a bit better this kind of fears. You may know them personally, in which case I have sympathy for you, and I hope you have someone to give you the kick in the behind that you sometimes need. I do. If you don’t know these fears yourselves, I bet you know people who do. Don’t judge them, help them and please don’t laugh at them.