Friday, January 20, 2012

"Turn-key" dog

When I filed adoption papers with the Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline, I had some options. Male or female? Red tri, black tri, blue merle or red merle? Puppy, teenager, adult, or senior?

I didn't really care about the first two. But I did care about the dog's age. I specifically and emphatically asked for a dog no younger than 2 years old.

I had my reasons. I told myself that I couldn't go any younger than that because I wanted a dog who could run with me. And someone, somewhere, at some random time in my life, told me that dogs shouldn't run long distances until they get through doggy puberty, or else their joints may be permanently damaged. Seemed like a perfectly rational explanation to me.*

But the truth is I asked for a 2 year old dog because I figured that by this point, either his previous owners or his foster parents would have taken care of his basic training, and possibly even some more advanced training. I would have to do no more than feed, exercise, and love him.

Let's leave aside for a moment the fallacy that is believing a 2 year old dog - in rescue (as in given up because he couldn't be handled) - would be trained by its previous owners. I was admittedly being lazy. Yes, I wanted to open my home to a dog in need, but no, I I did not want to have to put in much effort to do so. I mean, I have a busy life. There are already too many things that I have trouble squeezing into my daily or weekly schedule. I can never find enough time to spend with hubby, to clean the house, to keep myself organized, to hang the new art that I bought, to invite friends over for dinner, to sleep, to read, to learn a new hobby, to decorate the master bedroom, to... well, you get the point. How the heck could I work in "dog training" to an already ridiculously packed life?

I am sure that this is why the rescue gods placed the Beast squarely in my path. Knowing that I could not but fall in love with those soulful brown eyes and that delicious joie de vivre, they were trying to teach me a lesson: comeuppance in the form of a less-than-a-year-old-and-decidedly-untrained furball.

And so, train we must! Hence the visits to Alpha Trainer (the next one is on February 4), the daily training sessions with the Beast, and the new agility class in which we just enrolled him (this one begins on February 20). Keeping his mind busy and teaching him appropriate puppy behaviour 15 minutes at a time has become part of the daily routine around here, squeezed in somewhere between his morning exercise and our breakfast.

And I am happy to say that it is reaping some significant rewards. For starters, the Beast is absolutely more tired at the end of the day because of all the extra time that he now has to spend using his brain. He is also much better on our walks, pulling and jumping ahead less and less each time we go out. And may I just say that walking the Beast is infinitely more enjoyable when I am not giving myself severe tennis elbow? He's also gotten better at some of the tricks that we've taught him, and has quickly mastered the early lessons, so that we know we are laying the groundwork for him to respond to all of our commands later on in any situation.

But most importantly, I am having fun! Which I didn't expect. I thought that training would be a boring chore, but watching the Beast learn and pick up new things so quickly makes me genuinely happy. I can almost see his little brain working so hard to figure out what I want him to do next. And along with all of his success comes a pride in knowing that I had a hand in that - that he is mastering this stuff because of the time that I am putting into teaching it to him. Neat!

I thought I would be disappointed that I didn't get a "turn-key" dog, ready to sit, stand, lie down, roll over, and stop barking on command. But I'm not. Each day, I'm learning more and more about the Beast, about dogs in general, and more importantly, about myself and what I can achieve if I can park my impatience for a mere 15 minutes. And so my bond with the Beast grows stronger and stronger. Somehow, I don't think that would have been the case if he had come to me laid back and easy to manage. Which makes our growing friendship all the more enjoyable, and a hell of a lot more special.

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*Following his first check-up at 11-months old, our vet dispelled the myth about no running before the age of 2 and assured us that the Beast, who was essentially done growing, could run with me as long and as far as he could keep up. We worked up to our first 10k together, when the Beast was the tender age of 16 months. He's a stellar runner, and a solid champion!