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Heart Dog Stories - Rocky

Life lessons from my dog

We all have that ONE special dog. The one who comes along once in a lifetime and squeezes your heart so tightly you can’t help but change the way you see the world. The one who made us fall in love with a particular breed, canine sport or dogs in general. The dog who taught us something about ourselves or the way in which we see the world around us. The dog who can bring tears to our eyes years after their passing. Our Heart dog. My heart dog was a grumpy Pomeranian named Rockafeller Fredrick or as he was better known by, Rocky, not just because he was my first Pomeranian, but because he taught me so much about the canine world, about patience and training and how to be a better human. If that sounds cliche to you, then you probably never had a heart dog. Late 2014 I began entertaining thoughts about bringing a puppy into my life. Early retirement left me with lots of time on my hands and I was having daydreams about all the doggy things I wanted to do with a new puppy. I had puppy fever. We would bond over walks, campfires, swimming off my boat, and snuggles on the couch. We would do all the things. In each of these scenarios, I had the greatest well-mannered and obedient dog. It would be effortless and so much fun. Five days before Christmas that year, Rocky entered my life as a 4-pound black and white Pomeranian. He looked like a deranged rabbit. That first evening was idyllic, filled with belly rubs, oohs, ahhs and puppy kisses. I went to bed that first evening with visions of that perfect dog still floating around in my consciousness. The warm fuzzy feeling lasted all of 30 seconds before Rocky erupted with squeals that sounded like a drunken piglet. I didn’t know how to handle this unexpected curveball and for the next couple months bedtime was a nightmare. I was ill prepared for a puppy. I didn’t know half of what I thought I knew and the half I did know, was wrong, so far wrong it touched the tail of right. My fantasy of the perfect dog vanished each time I ran through my neighbor’s yards chasing Rocky as he chased one imaginary prey after another. I wasn’t getting the training results I envisioned so I blindly hired the help of a trainer. I didn’t know at the time that this so-called trainer had minimal training experience at best. I remember the day I asked for advice with Rocky’s barking at strangers and was met with, ‘I can’t help you with that, that’s not in the standard operating procedure manual.’ I was stunned and never returned. Apparently, it was only a sit, down, stay class and no questions could be answered. I am getting ahead of myself so let us back up to where I was in my musings… ah yes.. So with blissful ignorance and high expectations, I rushed off to those training sessions every week for months. I’ll be flat out honest here; I didn’t always do the work at home or if I did it was usually half hearted and I still had the nerve to be upset when I didn’t see the results I wanted. I would become frustrated when I told Rocky to stay and he walked away. My haphazard training sessions would go something like this, Rocky sit,, sit,,,sit,,,, Sit!,,SIT!!! Ok good sit,,,Now stay,,,,,stay,,,,,,stay,,,,,,stay,,,STAY,, ahhhh @#$% and so it would continue until I lost any resemblance of patience and stalked off confused as to why my dog wouldn't listen. It had to be the dog’s fault, right? This went on for a long time, inconsistent training with inconsistent results. Throughout this period, Rocky never gave up on me. He continued to endure these sessions while staring up at me with confused puppy dog eyes. He didn’t care what we did as long as it was together, and he could nap on my lap after. After a while Rocky's bad behavior (in my mind it was really bad) began to escalate despite my lackadaisical training methods. It was also around this time I felt it would be a great time to add a new puppy to the mix. My reasoning was Rocky just needed a friend and all his bad behavior would go away. Looking back, the reason for adding another dog to my family may not have been the most educated decision, but it’s not a decision I regret, because Chewy played a part in helping me become a better handler and trainer too. Now armed with a feisty 4-year-old and an oh so happy to see you I’ll pee on you 8-week-old puppy, I decided I had to do better. I owed it to my dogs to do better. I researched, visited training facilities and asked questions of their trainers until I found one I felt was a good fit. From there I earnestly applied what I was learning even though sometimes I felt like I was drowning in failure and frustration. My dogs bark a lot, at anything real or imagined and I felt that that behavior was a poor reflection on me as a handler, as a person. There were times I slacked off or didn’t work on something like I should have. I wasn’t perfect, but I was still expecting my dogs to be. I did learned over time to be consistent and follow through in my training, meaning if I tell my dog to lay down, I don’t give up because he will only sit. The biggest lesson I learned in those first puppy classes was this, you can only get out of training what you put into it. Don’t do the work, don’t expect results. Pretty simple. Later on after I started seeing better training results in both my dogs, but not seeing that perfectly behaved dog that I once dreamed of, I grew frustrated once again. It wasn’t until someone smarter than me said, your dog doesn’t have to be perfect, he’s a dog, just let him be a dog. Those words struck me hard and fast like a grenade exploding in my head, I stopped trying for perfection when walking on a leash, getting irked when they would rather lay down when I said sit, losing my stuffing when they barked. I stopped demanding perfection. I stopped making them do things they don’t enjoy. Chewy wants to sniff and play ‘find it’, so he sniffs and plays ‘find it’. Rocky wanted to be a lap dog and go for wagon rides so we did and I am so glad I gave him all those wagon rides because I lost him unexpectedly and I would have regretted not doing the things he wanted and loved. I would get the oddest looks walking down the street pulling my dog in a red wagon, pet stroller, wheelbarrow, sled or anything else that moved like a wagon, but I didn’t care, my dog was happy during all those rides. That doesn’t mean I don’t practice and continue to work on the important things, like a solid recall or leave it, because I do, but I focus more of our time on having fun. Through Rocky I learned to listen to my dogs, it was better to be happy and have fun than to want some ideal of perfection that is unreachable. I am not perfect, I eat Cheetos, I burp, I cuss, and I make mistakes so how can I expect my dogs to be perfect. I can’t. I won’t. So we are spending more time having fun and making happy lasting memories. The kind of memories that bring a slight trickle of tears when you reflect back on them long after they have made a place for themselves at the rainbow bridge. Thank you Rocky, my Heart Dog, for making me a better trainer, handler and human. Find your dog's wagon and make some memories…

Written by Louisa Redman


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