I should have known.
When I called Veronica’s breeder for an update on how my soon to be puppy was doing and got this report:
Breeder: Well, the puppies are almost housebroken! I took them out today to potty and let them play for a bit and then I called and they all came in.
Me: Oh how wonderful
Breeder: Yes! They all came in, ummm except for your Veronica.
Me: Oh. Well what did my Veronica do?
Breeder: oh she just stood there and looked at me.
Me: Is she deaf?
Breeder: Oh no! Definitely not deaf. She just has…personality.
And there you have it. I should have known. And deep down…I did. Sure some people may have thought “stubborn, obstinate, hard to train”. I thought, “well, now there’s a little budding “free thinker” in the making”. I’ll share a dirty little secret that I harbor. I don’t actually like biddable, milquetoast, obedient dogs that live to please their masters. I like dogs with a little bit a flair, a bit of “je ne sais quoi” - personality! I know there is a place in the world and a function for those Lassie dogs who live to find Timmy in the well…but; I don’t think the place will ever be with me.
So Miss Veronica-Lynn (not intentionally named after a porn star) came to our home four years ago…and has brought love, laughter, and the occasional moment when you are certain you are about to throw the mother of all blood clots and just stroke out right there on the spot. But I wouldn’t change her for the world.
What has got me reminiscing about all of this; was last night’s agility class. My trainer was unable to rent a spot for the winter, and we hadn’t been on an agility course in about 8 months. And truth be told last summer…it was not looking good. I have been making a valiant effort to keep up with Veronica’s training since she was 3 months old. We have had our share of ups and downs which I attribute mostly to my inexperience and a little bit to the Divine Ms. V.’s “je ne sais quoi”. But our experience on the agility field was definitely going down hill…as in Veronica was deciding she just didn’t want to play with me. She had started off well and according to our trainer showed real promise in agility but by the end of last summer she was more interested in running around making her own course and sniffing out mysterious smells in the grass than she was in me or my treats. I actually could have hung slabs of roast beef on my person and I think she would have still pretended that I wasn’t there. I just naturally assumed she was going into an obstinate phase and we would have to persevere.
Having time off from agility, didn’t mean time off from training. And in fact the focus of our time was turned to some behavioral issues related to Veronica’s difficulty interacting with other dogs. Not that I wanted her to play nice…but I did very much want her to SHUT HER FREAKIN’ MOUTH!! Especially with the hopes in the back of my head of one day perhaps competing with her,..in something…it would be nice if we could “blend”.
So it was a winter of learning and I made a few discoveries…about dog training, about Veronica…but mostly about myself. I discovered that I had become a stick in the mud…a real downer. I was so concerned about having the “perfect” dog…that biddable, obedient, hang on your every word dog…that I forgot it was actually a partnership. I forgot it was a relationship and got sucked into wanting to have a well trained dog so that I could look good. Veronica told me to go get @#$%’ed. It was then that I realized I’d lost myself.
I started agility because it was supposed to be FUN!! Veronica and I were supposed to enjoy a shared activity and have FUN together. I stopped making it fun when I started wanting to make us look good. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was very discouraging to an extremely emotionally sensitive dog. A dog that takes every verbal correction to heart. Not to heart in the way that she immediately tries to correct the behavior…but to heart in the way that her feelings are crushed and she slinks off (metaphorically speaking of course) to eat some worms, because nobody loves her and why even bother to try. My lack of praise, my lack of FUN, my constant verbal corrections and clear communication of my disappointment in her…shut her down…and she chose not to play with me anymore.
Coming back to agility last night…I think I was wiser (I know I was older, not too happy about that actually). My instructor had some time to think as well. We devised a new plan…10 steps back…and no more reactive “time outs” in the car after Veronica had been “bad”. We were going to be very proactive and make sure she was good. Instead of running the whole course, we decided I would do 3 obstacles at a time, stop praise to the high heavens and treat galore! I also decided that since my sensitive, emotional pet bull thrived on extravagant, over-the top, worthy of a Broadway show level of praise…then that is exactly what she would get. I would put on my best, effusive, high pitched, Edith Bunker-esque voice and praise her to the heavens. And if a passerby thinks I sound like a fur mommy on crack…well…screw ‘em!!
As you can imagine, since I’m writing this little blog…the plan worked like a charm. Veronica and I had an extremely successful first night back. Of course my definition of “extremely successful” has undergone an adjustment. What I mean is…we had fun…we had fun together…we had a blast actually. I could tell by the fact that my dog was once again interested in me! She wanted to play with me! She wanted to know what we would be doing next! I could also tell by the happy, excited grin on her face and her furiously wagging tail. So what if we never officially compete, or even if we do - who cares about winning…we’re having fun!
Truth be told; we’re a good match. Neither of us is particularly athletic. We each had our turn at “first night back” accidents. Maneuvering a tricky pinwheel out to a teeter; we crashed…and burned. I went down like a ton of bricks. Veronica took a jump too enthusiastically and face planted skidding a good couple of inches on her snout. (Which made her Grammy none too happy. When she saw her red, scraped snout Grammy launched into a tirade of; “OOOOhhhh what did Mommy do? What did Mommy do to you? You can’t take care of this dog! She’s going to have to come and stay with me!” Then Veronica had to allow Grammy to futz around her snout for a good 5 minutes, cleaning it and putting Neosporin on. I think she secretly enjoyed the attention, although she tried her best to look annoyed.)
Hopefully we are back on track!
Here’s a little video of our efforts; but unfortunately it doesn’t capture Veronica taking me out by the teeter; or face planting over the jump…just the girls enjoying each other.