First Loves

Beagle Boxer Mix "Roscoe" looking adorable and cantankerousGavin and I were out for our morning walk. And, across the street I caught a glimpse of a gentleman who I have schlepped past almost every morning since I moved to my neighborhood. He was standing stoic and confused on the sidewalk; while he unsuccessfully tried to take the leash out of the projectile puppy’s mouth. We usually waved and offered a “good morning” to one another. But, this morning, he did not see me to exchange our normal pleasantries. And, I could see the disconnect. This was a new relationship for the man, an acquaintance; not the big, golden dog who I watched swagger next to him for the past six years. But, for the I-love-everyone puppy, the formidable connection was already flourishing while the black-four-legged-wiggle-machine merrily bounced off the sidewalk like the pavement was a trampoline.

And, I felt the anchor of loss mow down my heart. I stood in that very spot three and half years ago, bewildered by Gavin. We know we can never, nor would we try, replace our first love. We never fell, we were just instantly head-over-heels for our first dog. There was never a question that the perfect combination of adorable and cantankerous in canine form was meant to be with us. And, unlike loving a human; we had no fear of rejection. There was no anxiety that we would not live up to their expectations.

But, we worried. Our first love coughed, we ran to the vet. Our first love broke out of our friend’s backyard while we were away and though, thankfully, he was safe; we never asked that friend to care for our pup again. Our first love split a toenail, we ran to the vet again. And, oh the things our first love taught us; responsibility, real, true accountability for another creature’s life, well being, comfort and joy. We learned patience; the kind of fortitude we always admired in mothers who seemed so serene and relaxed while tending to their screaming children at the grocery store. And, most of all, our first love taught us about unconditional infatuation, simple joys and why it is imperative to our mental and physical health to play EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.One of the many hearts I see on walks since Finn crossed the rainbow bridge

We know in our heads we are ready to love another dog, for who they are. But, our hearts take some time. No one told me.

When I brought Gavin home, I liked him. I wanted to make sure Lil’ Big Head never hurt, that he felt safe and loved in his new home. And, I felt I was as ready as I could possibly be to live with a dog who was not my Finn. But, when my sister kept asking me “are you in love with Gavin?”, I felt the weight. I was not in love, yet. It took time, experiences and a lot of moments where one of us stumbled and I had to figure out what was best for Lil’ Big Head. And, for me. Together.

And, as much as I still and will always miss Finn; I can not imagine my life without my Gavin. I tell him ALL the time how lucky he is that Finn was so wonderful at teaching me how to be patient. And, when I see someone stuck on the street, not sure what to do with a ricocheting fur ball; I will have compassion. Maybe the person is mourning a tremendous loss while trying to figure out new routines and how to give the best life to a dog he has yet to fall for, yet.

Don’t Worry, He’s Friendly

Golden Mix Wally smiling on leashNothing beats a long walk with your pup on a perfect summer day, the sun warming your face and a gentle breeze blowing through your dog’s fur. And, then someone ruins your worry-free stroll by yelling at you; just because your sweet, affable dog wants to play with their dog. All you were going to do was remove your pup’s leash like you have done many times before. Everyone else does it.

Sure, the cruising traffic on Lake Shore Drive is less than a football field away and there is no fence. But, all the neighborhood dogs frolic and chase one anothCattle Dog Mix Mindyer here. This is your dog’s outlet. His social time.

And, you have never had any problems UNTIL you reach to unclasp the leash from your pooch’s collar. Then, three people start clattering “they are not friendly”, “get your dog”, “it’s illegal to take your dog off leash here”, “PLEASE, get your dog”; “THEY DON’T WANT TO SAY HI”.

And, you walk away with your happy-go-lucky, loves-other-dogs pooch. Annoyed. Those people were so rude.

No, those people were responsible. Those people were alarmed, surprised and doing your sweet pup a HUGE favor by not letting him rush their dogs’ faces. And, those dogs were really rattled because they never hear their two-legged friends use the harsh, loud tone of voice that they heard when you startled them.

We were these people. From a distance, Mindy and Wally look like nice dogs. And, they are. They are both awesome. But, what you would never know unless you asked is how much work went into Mindy’s training for her to be able to stand three feet away from Wally, sitting calmly on leash and looking at her mom with a soft, knowing gaze that she will be rewarded if she continues stay relaxed. If you would have seen us when we first met dear Mindy; you would have yelled at us from much further away because she was easily startled, nervous and would have barked, lunged and spun in circles if she caught a glimpse of your dog. You would have never been as close as you were with your amiable dog.

We LOVE happy, social dogs. We want them to stay neighborly; to continue to wiggle and squirm at the sight of every single canine they see on the street. We are sorry if we came across as impolite. But, if your dog came any closer to our leashed dogs who were both paying attention to us; they would have barked. Our pleasant pups do not like other dogs in their face. And, if your pooch is uber sensitive, that one bluster could negatively change his behavior, forever. We would not want that for your pup. And, you were super lucky. Mindy and Wally are noisy. But, not dangerous, in any way. If your darling dog rushed the face of a different dog, you might not be as fortunate. Dog attacks can be brutal. And, nothing ruins a delightful walk more than a trip to the emergency room.

When you do not ask the person holding the leash of a dog you do not know “does he or she want to say hello?” a fun outing on a beautiful day can turn tragic, very quickly. And, we truly believe you would not want that for your dog. We want your pup to stay goofy and to always adore other dogs. So, please, ask. Without one question, “does your dog like other dogs?” your life and your dog’s life could change FOREVER. And, not in a good way.

P.S. Mindy and Wally were on leash because it is the law in Chicago. Please keep your dog-friendly dog safe by choosing fenced-in Dog Friendly Areas only for off-leash play.

 

Face of Blossoming Bravery

Jack Russell Mix "Callum" overcoming fear As we continue our Faces Of series, we want to thank all of you for your amazing input and support. It seems this little idea of ours is much needed and appreciated by all the awesome humans who love their dogs, imperfections and all. Our cherished canines sure adore us, despite all of our faults, don’t they? Another great story of a dog who can not be judged by his or her looks is Callum, our blossoming brave friend. Callum is one more perfect example of a precious pup who’s emotions, behavior and how he responds to the world can not be assessed by a snapshot of his face. Here is his story.

How did you and your dog find each other?
I wandered into Naperville Humane Society thinking I would sign up to volunteer and fell in love with a tiny puppy instead.

What is the biggest assumption people make based on your dog’s looks?
Callum looks like a Jack Russell Terrier; people ASSUME that he is high strung, immensely energetic, bold, stubborn, and annoying based on common, unfounded belief systems.

What personality trait does your dog possess that contradicts his or her physical appearance?
He is the laziest, lowest-stamina, snuggliest-ball-of-mush and we just love him. Callum is incredibly obedient, and afraid of the entire universe; the complete opposite of bold, daring and stubborn! He met a giant stuffed dog toy at the Morton Arboretum Dog Day’s event and ran behind me like it was coming to kill him. Fortunately, my husband and I know that laughing at his fear and/or forcing him to say hello would only make his angst worse.

What are the biggest obstacles you and your dog have overcome together? And, what was most helpful in helping you do so?
Callum is incredibly fearful. So, we go at his pace and expose him to the world slowly, when he is ready. Enrolling him in a CGC class and obtaining our CGC certification instilled loads of newfound confidence in him! Because Callum likes learning and thrives on pleasing us, tackling the ten tests helped him succeed. And, with every accomplishment Callum achieves, his bravery blossoms.

If you could make a sign for the world to see to better understand your dog’s individual needs, what would it say?
I am friendly, just afraid. Unlike that goober Gavin who throws himself at everyone; I need people to listen to my parents and approach me at a more relaxed speed. I know I am cute but I need you to buy me a snack before you profess your love. I am super sweet; but, can not be rushed into an interaction. It scares me.

Anything else you want to share?
Callum is an amazing dog who teaches me a lot about patience and understanding. What I thought was going to be a rambunctious puppy and playmate for our other dog, was actually a cuddle buddy to lean on. I thought we would be learning how to keep up. But, instead, he reminds us to slow down and take it all in. A valuable lesson we could all use.

Share your dog’s story, paint a detailed picture and don’t forget to email us a photo at training@barkerbehavior.com. Thank you for helping us help the world better understand dogs.

Face of a Big Baby

Rescue dog "Gavin", black pit bull mixOne fleeting glance, we think we know a dog. We gage their personality based on looks alone. And, if a dog on the street has the same physical attributes as a dog we have lived with or knew at any stage of our life; we automatically assign the same temperament because he or she is also fluffy, short, muscly, floppy-eared, has a mustache or boasts a smile. But, dogs are much more complex creatures and deserve the space and time to be appreciated for their unique awesomeness, quirks and all.

We are starting this series in hopes that by seeing the FACES OF wonderful dogs and reading their beautiful stories that we better understand a dog’s color, shape and size are not indicative of how friendly, cuddly, nervous or even, aggressive a pooch can be. Our goal is to reduce aesthetic stereotypes that prevent amazing dogs from being adopted. But, we also hope to decrease biting incidents because dogs who need space are not bombarded just because a human thinks he or she is cute.

We will kick off this series with a little diddy about Gavin, the FACE OF Bark Pouch and our Director’s sidekick and volunteer extraordinaire.

How did you and your dog find each other?
Gavin’s previous person was arrested and the remaining family members did not want him or his brother so they tied them up outside. During that time, Gavin was shot with a BB gun. Both dogs were taken to Animal Care and Control where they were assessed, loved and even attended a manners class and play groups with Safe Humane Chicago. It did not take long for Gavin to use his best shimmy-wiggle-pittie-scrunch-face to win the heart of ALIVE Rescue who cared for him until they brought him to my condo for a meet and greet. I opened my front door and Gavin immediately ran away into the other room. I crouched down. Gavin’s eyes lit up. He trotted to me and flopped his too-skinny (no one yet knew of all his food allergies), snotty-nose (from kennel cough) self into my lap. We both knew.

What is the biggest assumption people make based on your dog’s looks?
Gavin is black and pretty ripped for a dog who believes there is no need to go outside between the hours of 4pm and 7am. Twice, I was told by random people on the street that Gavin was vicious because he is a pit bull. Without even interacting with Gavin, a man walking past us asked me if my dog was a pit bull. I said “I think so, I have never had his DNA tested”. The man proceeded to tell me that his friend had a pit bull as he gripped his wife’s arm and that I should get rid of my dog because he was going to kill someone. I asked the man, “can you tell me where you received your master’s degree in canine behavior?” The man walked away shaking his head, at me.

During a second incident, a little boy ran up to Gavin and asked if he could pet my dog. I said yes, he is very friendly. A man seemingly with the child rolled up to us in his wheelchair then immediately squealed “OH MY GOD, THAT’S A PIT BULL” and sped away; leaving the child and I standing there, dumbfounded.

What personality trait does your dog possess that contradicts his or her physical appearance?
Gavin is the BIGGEST BABY. After a fire engine passed by Gavin too closely one afternoon when he was outside with his dog walker; our leash walks went from fun and relaxing to terrifying and stressful. I sometimes had to carry Gavin a couple blocks because he was so nervous that he could not move. People driving by seemed to think it was funny, neighbors watering their lawn made snide remarks about how spoiled my dog is. If I had the chance to interact, most folks apologized when I told them Gavin was scared and I refuse to drag my dog down the street.

What are the biggest obstacles you and your dog have overcome together? And, what was most helpful in helping you do so?
Fear and anxiety. Of course, daily training and behavior modification are key to his recovery and continual improvement. But, Gavin is the snuggliest dog I have ever met . And, I truly believe that if I withheld affection like some popular approaches tell us to do; Gavin would not be as silly, goofy and playful as he is today.

If you could make a sign for the world to see to better understand your dog’s individual needs, what would it say?
PET ME, LOVE ME. Gavin absolutely thrives on human attention. If every person who passed him on the street rubbed his shoulders and smooched him (yes, Gavin likes being hugged and kissed), he would forget about barking dogs and fire trucks.

Anything else you want to share?
What you see on the street is not always indicative of who a dog is or what he or she has overcome with their person.

Photo of Gavin taken by Christy Gregory.

Submit your story and email us a picture of your dog training@barkerbehavior.com