Back in early 2011 I came across the picture that would change everything. That one picture was all I needed to convince myself that there was a dog named Mickey, in a shelter over 100 miles away, who needed me. In the six years since, I have come to realize that I needed him just as much.
Three weeks ago, Mickey and I passed our exam to become a Registered Therapy Dog Team and soon our therapy work will begin. It is important to remember though that our work really began the day he arrived from the shelter. He was scared and confused and I was clueless. If you had told me then that this day would come, I would have thought you were crazy!
Today I will talk about knowing when to look for help and how to find it.
When I saw how erratic Mickey’s behavior could be I quickly realized that training him to be a suitable family pet was something out of my realm. While he demonstrated a sweetness and a love for the individuals and animals he knew, he was unpredictable around those he did not know - a huge concern. How could I take this dog out in public? Not that he even wanted to go out of the house anyway, but realistically I knew at some point he would have to.
So I did what any good, responsible, overwhelmed dog owner would do – I hired a trainer. Smart move, right? Wrong. What I did not know at the time was that all trainers are not created equal. As it turned out, this trainer (who had some very good references) was not equipped to deal with Mickey – in fact he was afraid of him. After several sessions, he stopped responding to my calls and I was left to my own devices.
I took what I could from the experience, trained Mickey in the basics, did a lot of research and asked a lot of questions. Progress was slow but it was progress. Eventually though, I hit a wall and resigned myself to having a dog who would always be a bit fearful, neurotic and impulsive.
Then, when I least expected it, I met another trainer who was eager to work with us. I decided to give her a chance and the results were remarkable. Mickey was on his way.
That was the first major lesson I learned and, because I wish I had known sooner, I hope my lack of awareness will help others avoid making the same mistake.
My advice: When you see an issue that you feel you can’t handle, don’t wait. Find a competent trainer or a behaviorist. It may take more than one try to find the right one but don’t give up. Assistance is out there. Do yourself and your dog a favor and seek it out.
Most issues can be managed with love, patience and the right support. Do your research, ask for references, ask questions, be open to new ideas and spend a few minutes working with your dog every day. The results will amaze you.
Just remember the following and you will be fine: Your dog may not be perfect, but really, no one is. Don’t give up on your dog or yourself. All good things take time and the time you invest now will pay huge dividends down the road. Remember you don’t have to go through this alone.
Dream big, work hard, believe in yourself. Take it from one who has been there - you can do this!