I have only owned three dogs, yet I had the chance to evaluate hundreds of dogs that came through Labrador Friends. When I first got Oliver in 1998 I knew very little about dog behavior, but I wanted a dog and I jumped in. I still remember the day when I called a friend from the top of a couch, high enough that puppy Oliver could not reach. I was crying, hands full of scratches from hism nibbling on my hands, tired of my legs being mounted on all the time. My friend had the best recommendation: the phone number of a dog trainer.
We started with puppy classes. We worked our way to obedience and Sunday morning walking classes. I had to work through temper tantrum so bad that people thought I was crazy… you know that lady with the kids rolling on the ground screaming? Well that was me, except that mine was a dog biting his leash and refusing to move unless we went where he wanted to go. When we failed the good canine citizen test for the third time, I gave up. Luckily he was a good dog at heart and I learned as I went. We became a good team, going on beach run, working together on my PhD thesis at coffee shops, and driving across country together.
When I moved to Atlanta and decided it was time for him to get a friend. I adopted my first rescue and… I had to start all over. Two dogs is a different ball game. Nala was Miss Houdini: She could get out of any crate, any fence, open the microwave, and loved to eat anything I owned made of leather. We slowly bonded and she learned that I was worth sticking with. Despite my best efforts she would occasionally escape to break into the neighbor’s garbage can: I would come home to find her waiting for me by the door and I knew it was time to go clean up and apologize. I had to learn quickly and I did. She adored me and that helped me work through her issues.
As time went on, I became lazy. Two dogs keep each other company and play together so what is there to train, right? Wrong. Two dogs are a mini pack. Two dogs become protective of each other and they feed off each other. Walking became hard: They would lunge and bark at other dogs. For a while my answer was to turn around and go the other way not to deal with that… until I decided that it was time to change. By then they were both seniors. I could have ignored them and just walk in the solitude of the night. But I wanted my relaxing walks back. So I started reading, I asked for help from a dog trainer. I worked diligently every day to get them focused on me and not on other dogs until we could finally walk peacefully again.
It is never to late to learn to train your dogs. Read, ask, pay for professional help. I have never regretted investing in dog training. My life with my dogs has been so much better because I made the choice to learn and teach myself and them. Every dog is different and every new dog will bring challenges and a new opportunity to learn at any age.