Guest Post: A Love Letter to Badger
Here’s what Monika wrote:
“There’s something wrong with you.” I would mutter to the 12 week old border collie puppy who lay contorted on his back in the middle of the living room. I had been contemplating this for the past two weeks, since I brought him home from the farm where he was born. I’d think to myself that I would need to take him back, he wasn’t right. As a professional dog trainer, admittedly early on in my career I knew that there was something wrong with my new dog.
“I think you’re… delayed.” I’d tell him.
Despite being an obedience instructor myself I decided to take my problem child, the disinterested and far too independent puppy, who rarely wanted to cast a glance in my direction, to a local obedience class, run by a friend, so we would both have some structure in our relationship. By then he was 8 months old and I was at the end of my rope with a dog that refused to be taught, wandered too far, bolted if he got outside without a leash on, and overall just made me feel like the most undesirable owner on the planet and worst dog trainer ever.
We had completely failed to bond. I did not like him, and he did not like me.
The first day of that class, however, the dog who I thought could not possibly get worse than he already was, was attacked by a loose dog, four times his size, that injured him badly and made him from that point on a DINOS.
He recovered physically in about two weeks, but emotionally and mentally my dog was shot. Attempts to re-socialize with friendly dogs resulted in bad experience after bad experience. While my little man doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and probably doesn’t even know how to snarl, his immediate belly up and pee himself reaction attracted every bully in the vicinity. He’d be pounced on, bit, grabbed, and once he was so blind with terror when a young mix breed tried to play with him that he ran straight off a cliff and required three people to rescue him, bruised and bloodied, from the bottom.
All his confidence and independence was gone, the shift in his personality was devastating for us both, but it created another shift, one in my personality, for the better.
I had spent months being frustrated with him, angry with him, upset at his lack of willingness to please or work or listen or come or follow… the list goes on. In the months that followed I became patient, calm, gentle and forgiving. I backed off on all the things I was trying to push him into, obedience, flyball, agility, and signed him up as a therapy dog for a seniors’ home instead.
But when I backed off, he stepped up. He started to run in flyball, he learned to stay without running to the nearest small dark hiding place (sure he was 21 months old by the time he did, but I’ll take it!) and he runs his agility courses with a huge grin on his face, even launching himself to a down on a table with other dogs, posing for a group shot.
We still have our days, he still has his fears. He needs my help with new dogs and I spend a lot of time explaining to people that he’s afraid, but he has learned to run to me when he is afraid instead of off cliffs. Fearful puppy barks are a part of his daily vocabulary despite his adulthood and I find myself questioning what he would have been like had this not happened, had I kept him home and kept him safe? On the other hand I also have to wonder where I would be as a dog trainer had he not happened to me, and this not happened to him. Would I be able to help as many DINOS as I have to date? How many dogs might I have turned away as “hopeless” had I not refused to give up hope with my own?
Of course we have our good and bad days, but he’s become affectionate and would now do anything to please me. Best yet, he has helped other DINOS learn to play. So, to this day, I still look at him and say “I think you’re delayed” but now it is with affection instead of despair, and I would never give him back.