Let me share a story with you.
It was almost time for Charlie’s walk. Yvonne looked at the clock and grimaced. Maybe she'd just finish off this email first. Oh and then she needed to do the laundry. And gosh, she forgot that there was that new series on Netflix that she really wanted to watch too. Yes, maybe she’d just take Charlie out later.
Finally the guilt got too much for her, she couldn’t procrastinate any longer. With a heavy sigh, she got up and headed towards the door.
Charlie came bounding along side her, tail wagging, bright eyes looking up at her in excitement of their impending adventure.
Yvonne’s heart broke a little. This dog, such a good dog. The dog who cuddles up by her side when she’s reading or watching a movie.
The dog who lays softly nearby, one paw touching her, when the world gets a little too much and it all comes out in tears.
The dog who makes her laugh so hard when he rubs his back on the carpet. Making funny little grunting noises as he wiggles his hips back and forth to get just the right scratch on just the right place.
Maybe today's walk will be better, Yvonne told herself as she reached for the leash.
But the minute she stepped outside her front door, she knew that was not going to be the case. Her beloved, good, wonderful-in-the-house Charlie immediately turned into another dog.
Sniffing the air worriedly, Charlie never looked at her, no matter how many times Yvonne said his name or pulled on his leash, no matter what food she waved in his face. His body stiff and unwielding, right at the end of the leash, pulling so hard Yvonne’s arm started to hurt almost immediately.
She briefly considered going inside again, but Charlie NEEDED his walk, he couldn’t just lie around the house all day…again. She pushed the guilt and frustration aside and muttered “come on” as they headed off down the street.
Half a block down she felt herself tensing up even more. The house that Charlie’s seeming arch enemy lived in was coming up. She sensed the subtle changes in him, the constant scanning of the environment had changed to a locked-and-loaded focus on that house. His pulling had increased even more, even though she didn’t think that could be possible. He’d started to make the low noises, half growls-half whines, that Yvonne now knew meant that he was about to lose his shit.
As they came level with the house, she hoped, prayed, pleaded and begged that the dog wouldn’t be in the yard today. If they could just please get past this house, it’d all be ok.
But there the dog was. Waiting for Charlie. She tightened up her leash, hoping that a shorter, tighter leash would mean more control. “Don’t even think about it” she hissed through clenched jaws at her best friend.
One sharp bark from the other dog and their world fell apart. Her sweet, loving, gentle dog turned into the devil himself at the end of the leash. Barking, lunging, teeth and spit everywhere, noises that scared the hell out of her coming out of his mouth. She hung on to the leash for dear life, trying desperately to gain some semblance of control. It was all she could do to hang on, never mind walk away.
When she finally managed to stumble away, dragging her snarling, snapping, barking dog with her, she noticed the people staring at her from across the street. They shook their heads and clicked their tongues. “Tut-tut, what a badly behaved dog” Yvonne could hear them thinking. “I’d never allow my dog to behave that way” drifted after her as she rounded the corner, her cheeks burning in shame. Tears forced their way out of her eyes, against her best efforts to keep them contained, to shove them down, to blink them away.
“Lucky it was just a head shake and comment today” she caught herself thinking, remembering the many people who had actually yelled at her or offered all kinds of unsolicited advice on how to “fix” her dog.
She’d tried everything. She’d hired a trainer, who told her that her dog just needed her to show them who was “the alpha”, and if she proved your dominance this behaviour would stop. And that Charlie was behaving this way because he didn’t respect her because she had him wearing a harness. But after pinning dear Charlie to the ground once and hearing him gasping and struggling for breath walking on a collar, she vowed she’d never be able to do that again.
The second trainer told her that her dog was just trying to protect her and she needed to show him that she was in control of the situation, or just tell them to leave it and move on. But that didn’t work.
The last trainer had shamed her so badly, singling her out in class and telling everyone to look at how badly behaved Charlie was, and then listing all the reasons that his behaviour was her fault. That had almost made her give up on the idea of ever trying training again.
She’d tried prong collars, choke chains, treats, saying leave it, yelling no, yanking Charlie along by the leash, and nothing had worked. What was going on with her dog? Why couldn’t he just get it together and stop behaving so badly?
Trembling with anger, embarrassment, confusion, shame and a host of other unidentified emotions, she cut their walk short and headed home. Maybe tomorrow they’d just skip the walk.
She knew that there had to be a way to help Charlie. To change his behaviour and still have a good relationship with this dog. Her best friend.
So she didn’t give up. When she found me, she gave it one more try.
She did the work needed for both herself and for Charlie. She stuck with it. She invested in herself and her dog because she is a rockstar and she knew that her dog needed her to.
Today, Yvonne and Charlie enjoy regular walks that are fun, enjoyable and stress free.
Their relationship is better than ever. Walking Charlie is no longer a CHORE! But instead something she looks forward to every day.
Charlie is waaaay more relaxed and chill in general. Not just on the walks.
She has a community of people who all have struggled with the same thing with their dogs, rallying around and supporting each other.
In fact, there have been some wonderful friendships that developed from that community.
AND they all go for regular walks together. WITH THEIR DOGS. If you had told her 6 months ago that that was something her and Charlie would be doing, she’d have laughed in your face, because the thought was so impossibly beyond her scope of being able to imagine. But now it’s a reality.
Just the other day, out on their walk, a dog popped around the corner and startled them. Charlie looked at the dog, then turned and looked at Yvonne, calmly and quietly and they both kept on their walk, with no blowout, no losing of shit, no stress.
In fact, Yvonne had the biggest shit eating grin you’ve ever seen, on her face as they rounded the corner and headed for home, together, a team.
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