Over the years I’ve said about my dogs, “Why can’t she just…” Fill in the blank—stop pulling, be comfortable alone in the house, push open a door.”
But lately, I’ve looked at the benefits of my dogs’ “bad behavior.” And it’s pretty amazing.
Benefits of Pulling on Leash
My first dog, Christie, was a champion puller.
She pulled so hard she would choke herself. People thought I was torturing my dog.
We couldn’t let it continue.
We talked to a behaviorist who suggested we try a new head collar called the Gentle Leader. We had to buy it at the University of Pennsylvania vet school because pet supply stores didn’t carry them yet.
It worked and Christie never gagged on a walk again.
Some people argue about the Gentle Leader today. But for me, it was a revelation to realize that behaviors could be managed even if I didn’t yet understand the role of training.
By the time we adopted the pully Shadow, 17 years later, I had learned that I can teach my dog to pay attention to me on a walk. And Shadow’s walk style that often resulted in bloodshed (mine, not hers) forced me to build a relationship with her that I would not have had to if she was as calm and mellow outdoors as she was inside.
Benefits of Separation Anxiety
Christie’s sister, Agatha, panicked every time I left the house. And her upset affected the normally mellow Christie.
To this day, I semi-seriously blame my neighbor’s crack addiction on living beside a dog who howled every time I went to work.
Once again, I didn’t know much 22 years ago when I brought Agatha and Christie home. So I never dealt effectively with the problem. But I benefited from Agatha’s pathological attachment just the same.
A few months after Christie died, my husband accidentally left the basement door open. We went shopping and returned to see a dog sitting on the front porch.
I said to Mike, “Who is that strange dog sitting on our porch? She looks a little like Agatha.”
It was Agatha. She found her way outside through the open basement door. And, unlike Christie who would have wandered off following her nose, she settled on the front porch to await our return.
If 16 years of crying and destruction was the price to pay for her staying safe on the porch while we were gone, so be it.
Benefits of Reactivity
More than anything, I wanted a dog who could be calm around other dogs.
Managing Agatha’s reactivity in Philadelphia had been easy. Most of the neighborhood dogs were pitties kept for protection (or the appearance of protection; you never saw such a bunch of marshmallows on prong collars and heavy chain leashes).
But things were tougher in Ithaca. Everyone wanted to be social with their dogs. And Agatha just couldn’t handle it.
So when Agatha passed and I found Shadow at the SPCA, I hoped her mellow attitude in the shelter would continue on a walk at home.
She’d pull and lunge and bark at every dog that went by.
By now, I had learned a bit more about dogs. I took Shadow to a training class at the SPCA where I first saw a clicker. And I was invited to bring her to a supervised play group to see if we could increase her calmness with other dogs.
Clicker training was a big breakthrough for me. It gave me a tool to help me get Shadow’s attention, even in the presence of other dogs.
If I hadn’t been so challenged by Shadow’s reactivity, I would never have learned about positive training methods. And I probably wouldn’t be part of this blogging community today.
Benefits of Fearfulness
Although I worked hard at socializing Honey as a puppy, she’s still hesitant around some things.
Perhaps I missed some things in her socializing. But I also think Honey’s personality leans more toward the timid side than the brave. And that’s okay. My personality leans the same way.
Honey’s fear led me to contact a trainer to help us work with her. Working with a trainer in our home taught me things I will use the rest of my life.
But the other benefit to Honey’s fears is that she looks to me for support and guidance. If Honey was as brave and independent as Christie or Shadow, I could never trust her off leash in any circumstance.
It wouldn’t be safe.
But Honey will always look to me whether we’re attached by a leash or not. And while I never want her to be paralyzed by her fear, I’m glad she sees me as a source of safety in her world.
Benefits of Illness
Shortly after we adopted Shadow, the vet discovered she had bone cancer in her jaw. She was given a few months to live.
We took Shadow with us everywhere. We wanted to give her as many moments of pleasure as we could.
Shadow surprised everyone. She lived for two years with the cancer invading her mouth.
Near the end of her time with us, I explored palliative care, including acupuncture. Because the vet was so far away, he taught me to apply the needles.
After the needles were placed, I would have to sit calmly with Shadow for up to half an hour.
Those quiet moments alone with my beautiful girl, stroking her fur, are among the most precious moments of my life.
I hated that horrible bleeding growth in her mouth. But I loved having an excuse just to be with her, with no distractions.
It was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
Turning Bad Things Into Blessings
We all get frustrated with or dogs. And our husbands. And our kids. And our friends.
And they get frustrated with us. It’s the price we pay for a relationship.
But do you think any of the behaviors or circumstances that bother us could be blessing us at the same time?
Have you ever seen any of the “bad” things about your dog as blessings? Were you able to see the blessing at the time? Or did you need some distance to gain perspective? Please share.
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