What a Long, Strange Trip….

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I haven’t written in a really, really long time. Life has been hectic, I admit to a bit of depression and I just haven’t felt inspired. Today, something changed that. Don’t know why, it just changed and I wanted to write.
One thing that I felt the need to put in writing is a simple statement of fact: I love Hazel. I know there is nothing news worthy in that statement, as it’s no secret by a long shot. But, I love her, really, really love her. As an adult, I have shared my life with 5 permanent dogs and loved them all. 2 of those dogs are still here and I love them very much, but, the way I love Hazel is different. I often ask myself why and beat myself up and feel guilty about it, but, here’s what I have come up with in my own defense.
I ask myself if I love her so much because she is a “pit bull” and the answer is maybe.
I ask myself if I love her so much because she was so sick when she first came home and has come so far and the answer is maybe.
I ask myself if I love her so much because we do so much training together and therefore, our bond is that much stronger and the answer is probably.
I ask myself if I love her so much because she is a goof ball and the answer is probably.
I ask myself if I love her so much because she is so naughty and the answer is definitely. I embrace the naughtiness, revel in it, even, because it’s the thing I know I’ll miss the most when she is gone. It’s what I miss about Taz and his burying of bones, what I miss about Sugar and her wandering ways. I’ll miss Rocco’s blanket stealing and Savannah’s circle dancing at dinner time. I have never punished my dogs for being dogs- and, of that, I am most definitely proud.
Hazel is my “do over” dog. The dog that I get to live with and train and not make any mistakes with. Hazel is the dog who gets the benefit of my having crossed over to training using 100% force free methods. When I look back, I feel terrible for some of the things that I did with my other dogs. Leash corrections, choke chains, forced sits. You couldn’t pay me now to do any of that with ANY dog, let alone my own. My heart dog, Taz, wore a choke chain his whole life, Rocco wore a prong collar (except for that time I tried a Gentle Leader, having known nothing about desensitizing him to it) for years, Sugar wore a choke collar and Savannah, who is pretty much perfect in almost every situation, also wore a prong collar. Hazel will never experience any of those things. She will never be yanked on a chain, feel the dig of metal spikes on her neck or be pushed into any position. Hazel is the one that I get to do it right with, and that started the moment she walked into our home.
When I think about my dogs, Rocco is the one I feel worst about. For years, I called him “Reactive Rocco” and was taught to leash correct him when he behaves in a certain way. I was taught this in dog training school. Many dog trainers are, and many still do it. Years later, through attending another dog training school, I learned that there was a better way. A way in which I can address what is actually happening for him and not just what I am seeing. The difference has been nothing short of amazing. He is a different dog: calmer, more focused and relaxed. I wish that it didn’t take 10 years of his life for me to learn this, but, I know this: he is a better dog for it in every way and I am a better mama and trainer for it. And now, you could not pay me to leash correct a dog- any dog.
As for Hazel, she has taught me everything I need to know. Of course, the education has taught me a lot, but working with my own dog has made all of the knowledge practical and I get to see it in action where it matters to me most: at home. I work with lots of other dogs and enjoy it tremendously, but it pales in comparison to what I have created with my own dog. I work with Rocco and Savannah, too, but not to the extent I work with Hazel. She came to us very much the blank slate and I love installing behaviors and watching her work through a problem. Her joy at training is a thing of wonder to me. She is unafraid to try things out and always willing to keep going.
When I say “get to do it right”, I mean that in virtually every way. I get to practice my timing and mechanics with her, and I get to do it in a way that feels right and not just because it feels it, but because it is right. Dogs are sentient beings with the ability to learn. They can learn without pain and without force. No internet argument will convince me otherwise. I have spent too much time learning about behavior and too much time working with dogs to think that I ever need to use force. And, if I find myself in a situation where I think it’s called for- it’s time for some more education. Lots of people have lots of ideas about dogs. Lots of people practice dog training having no formal education and are proud of that. That somehow dogs are not deserving of dedicating some actual understanding of, rather than just watching TV and thinking that something works and hey! I can do that, I’ll be a dog trainer. At this point in my life, that sort of thinking, that sort of dog training makes me physically ill. There are lots of other kinds out there that also make me ill, but those are by far the worst to me.
But, that’s not really my point. My point is this: Sometimes in life, we get do overs. I am grateful to get do overs with Rocco and Savannah. I am even more grateful that I will never have to do things over with Hazel. Grateful that we do things in a way that never makes her distrust me or feel afraid. Grateful that I know down to the core of my being that I don’t have to hurt her to train her. Grateful that I knew that before ever doing it.Hazelforcefree 023

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