Sunday, November 2, 2008

Against the Grain

There are some things in life that we just know to be wrong. They feel wrong, even if no one has told us that they are indeed wrong. There's something in the way our gut twists when we do a thing that our souls tell us we shouldn't do.

It's no secret to any of you that I love my dogs in that goofy kind of way that means I often talk to them the way I used to talk to my toddlers. In fact the love of animals is so infectious that my son said to me, when our little Bodhi was just a puppy, "Mom, you have to stop talking to him like that. He won't learn English correctly!"

We both just looked at each other and burst into laughter. He had forgotten, just for a moment, that Bodhi doesn't need to know proper English. Just the basics: sit, stay, come, down, and high five!

It should also be no secret that I was greatly challenged by the big speckled beast during his daddy's absence. There were tears of frustration. There was some yelling. There were days I didn't know if I could go on.

But when hubby came home, he said, "I kind of expected to come home and find you curled up in a chair with Bodhi running the place. You did a great job with him!" I was very pleased to hear that he thought so. In the same way that it's difficult to see the minute growth of our children until we see months of it through the eyes of the grandparents, in the same way that we don't notice our waistline growing until one awful day in a dressing room with fluorescent lights, I could not see the improvement in my little pal.

I had already scheduled the dog trainer to come back out on Friday morning, so I kept the appointment. She is a trainer that works for a franchise that shall go unnamed here, and we had her come out once before when Bodhi was much younger. We didn't like her methods then, but I was beginning to think I had done everything wrong with him, given his penchant for dragging me around the neighborhood, knocking little kids to the ground (all in good fun) and rushing out between my feet when I opened the door. I needed the big guns.

So for an hour on Friday morning, I worked intently with Bodhi and the trainer, but it felt strange. Her methods again felt wrong to me. She works with action threat and the very basic negative correction that dogs supposedly use on each other. And we did all this with a choke chain. When he didn't respond to walking by my side with a mild correction on the collar, she suggested we use a squirt of water in his face. It wasn't long before he stopped cooperating with the training. It was quite obvious that he was no longer interested in being outside. He just wanted to go away. I couldn't blame him, really. She would show me over and over how to do the walk and the corrections. He looked over his shoulder at me at one point as if to say, "Mommy, can this lady go home now? I just want you."

Maybe I'm anthropomorphizing here, but that dog and I have the same connection as I do with so many of the beings who have crossed my path. Above everything else, he trusts me. He trusts me not to hurt him. I don't smack him and I don't want to use the collar on him anymore. According to the experts out there, it can be easily misused, resulting in injury to the dog.

It didn't help that at his skin recheck at the vet on Saturday, my vet reacted with disappointment that I was using the methods of this trainer. He explained some other options to me, and I thought I was going to cry right there in the office. Suddenly I felt 2" tall and very much like a backwards idiot. Surely I know enough about psychology to know that positive reinforcement is always better. It was out of desperation (and maybe my very large investment in this woman's lifetime-guaranteed services) that I called her back out.

The rest of Saturday and most of today, I've felt just horrible about even trying to use the collar on Bodhi. Honestly, it had been going well, but when we tried to take him out with Lily on another lead, he went nuts trying to stay ahead of her and nearly hurt himself. My corrections just added insult to near-injury.

So the choke chain is going to make a beeline for the trash. The vet gave me other alternatives and the business card for a trainer he trusts. I'm going to try to just look forward from here. The training didn't go on for very long, and he isn't hurt. But I don't want him to come to associate me or our walks (which I love most of the time) with pain or fear. I'm going to try to forgive myself for trusting an "expert" who was using outdated methods. Obviously she doesn't know how I feel about my babies.

Truth is, I was doing pretty well on my own, even if he sometimes nearly jerked my arms from their sockets (wish he could have the same empathy for me I have for him!). I may try the other trainer, or I may just try some of the things the vet suggested. He knows me and our babies well enough to know I would never willingly hurt one of our babies. I was just misguided.

But my gut? My gut knew all along. I should have trusted it.

Peace - D


Lavinia said...

Oh, dear. I felt so sad as I read this. Poor Bodhi! I think your gut is right. Especially where you wrote, Bodhi trusts you not to hurt him. I think of my Bebbers too....its so huge, their dependence on us. For every thing, down to the last little thing. Your Bodhi is your baby, and 'mother's instinct' must prevail. There are challenges, yes, but there are options out there that will feel right to you, and I know you'll find them. The choke chain has to be got rid of, as you say.

Best of luck with little Bodhi and give him a big hug from his Aunt Lavinia!!!

Jo said...

Riverpoet, I believe dogs are much smarter than we give them credit for.

Check out this man's website. He is an amazing dog trainer. He's funny, and very, very amazing.

Bodhi doesn't need a choke chain, and your gut instinct was right.

RiverPoet said...

Lavinia - I know. It just isn't the right training plan for us. I feel so bad about having tried it, but you know, I feel I'm not the expert. It's often hard to know exactly what to do. The choke chain, though, is gone.

Josie - Thanks so much! I have bookmarked his page to read later. I appreciate the tip!

Peace - D

Jay said...

I agree with Jo - Stanley Coren is amazing! Get yourself 'How To Speak Dog', and you'll be surprised at how much just reading that book will help you and Bodhi!

Don't beat yourself up. Everyone has moments in their past that hurt to think of, because no-one gets it right all the time. No-one on this earth is perfect - you know that, right?

It's actually quite easy to stop dogs pulling, but it takes a few days of consistent, dedicated effort. It's like 'alone training' - when it comes to it, the reason it doesn't work for some is that they haven't put aside enough time to work intensively on it. I'm sure you can do it though!

Maggie May said...

Well you wouldn't really hurt him, so don't worry. Not sure how else you can teach a dog not to pull on the lead. Except by reward & praise when he gets it right.
I think gut feelings should be listened to though.

Akelamalu said...

Yep you should always go with your gut. However, like you say, Bodhi isn't hurt and dogs soon forgive and forget so you can go back to where you were can't you? :)

Mental P Mama said...

Always go with the gut. {{{Bodhi}}}

Daryl said...

Oh do not be too hard on yourself... and your prize is on the way!

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

So sorry you had such a horrible experience and that Bodhi had a bad time of it, too. Do you watch The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic channel? I think he has the answers. It's all about training people, not dogs. He's amazing. And he doesn't use negative reinforcement.

Good luck to you guys and sorry the other trainer was so horrible.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

Don't beat yourself up. It is hard not to, but try. Even though you knew in your gut, sometimes we have to go anther path to come full circle. Weed out what we know to be bad to focus whole-heartedly on what will be good. Bodhi knows you are doing your best. He's not mad at you, don't be mad at yourself.

david mcmahon said...

These connections are not easy to define, are they ....

RiverPoet said...

Jay - Thanks for seconding the vote on Stanley Coren. I will definitely be doing something kinder for training. This experiment was short-lived and just awful.

Maggie - How true. I will be listening to my gut from here on out.

Akela - Yep, we're back to where we started, and that's just fine with me.

MPM - I passed the hugs on to Bodhi. He's doing ok today.

Daryl - I like the new avatar. Nice shot! Bodhi is doing well today.

CMGD - I just picked up Cesar's books and I do watch the show. I just need to try to put his methods into practice.

NATUI - Thanks, dear. I won't let it wreck me, but I was feeling pretty low about it this weekend.

David - No, it's really difficult. I feel like I need to be a licensed therapist to deal with this dog!

Peace - D

Moannie said...

JP lets Milou out on the reel leash and he pulls like a goodun, wheras I keep him reigned in and he obeys and doesn't pull. But then he is only a tiddler [but very strong] Still, he knows which one of us is the boss. Give rewards when he does it right...even by accident and lots of praise, he'll get the message eventually. Good luck.

Sandi McBride said...

They are like our children...they're family members, and they love us no matter what. I'm not a big proponent of the choke collar, and teaching them to heal is one of the hardest things to do. We trained our Digby (Old English)the Barbara Woodhouse way, she even learned to sit at curbs and wait for me to say "over"'ll get through this, with a little help from Bodhi.
Congratulations on your POTD

Carol said...

This broke my heart, as I adore my two puppies as much as I adore my two grown sons! I'm so happy you went with your gut. Personally, I hate those collars. We mortal mommas aren't perfect. I wish you and Bodhi happy memories in the days ahead.

I love your writing. Congrats on Post of the Day!!

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Wonderful post!
I found you via David Mcmahon's Congratulations on post of the day!! very well-deserved!
I also love dogs and have 3 of my own and can relate fully to how you feel, they really are our babies eh?!
My Labrador was quite hard to train in the beginning, but I just used my instincts and praised her when she got it right. Don't beat yourself up over the dog trainer... just put it down to experience, after all they are supposed to know what to do eh?! I feel positive training always outwins the negative way any day.
All the very best!!

mielikki said...

I can totally relate to this right now. We are training 3 dogs at the moment. And I have been frustrated, and in tears many times this week. The positive I am able to provide them works so much better. I just have to remember to remain positive in the light of some of the puppy games they are playing...

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Enjoyed reading this. We have been trying to train our youngest sheep dog with not much luck! Always nice to hear other stories.

Crystal Jigsaw xx

RiverPoet said...

Moannie - Thanks! I've noticed that hubby and I have very different styles with the little beast. We're working on syncing that up!

Sandi - I hadn't thought of Woodhouse in ages! She was the original dog whisperer!

Carol - Thanks so much for the compliment and for stopping by. I love new readers. Keeps me on my toes! I'm glad I'm not the only one who is nuts over my dogs.

Brit - Thanks for stopping by! Yes, the dog trainers are supposed to be the experts, but not this one. I guess we just have different philosophies.

Mielikki - Thanks for visiting! I can't imagine training 3 dogs at once. I don't think I have the patience. Best of luck to you, getting through those puppy games!

CJ - I wish you the best on the training. Some dogs are just way more stubborn than others.

Peace - D

cheshire wife said...

We do not have a dog so I can not really comment.

Thank you for visiting my blog and congratualtions on your authorblog Post of the Day.

RiverPoet said...

CW - Loved your blog. Thanks for visiting mine...D