Once upon a time, I adopted a puppy named Ernie from the Humane Society Of Tampa Bay in Florida. And once upon a time, that puppy made me think I was going to lose my mind. The incessant chewing and barking and eating of wood was enough to warrant immediate research on my part for a solution.
Ernie was the first dog I had ever “chosen” to bring into my life. All of our past furkids had been strays and chose us. But Ernie was different. A dog that had been in the shelter for all of his six months, he had no training, no boundaries and definitely didn’t care. He also didn’t care that my husband picked him out of hundreds of online pics of rescue dogs. He was his own person and we were in for it.
Upon his arrival the first day, I knew that we had to find a solution to his chewing “problem” and I booked the first class I found to get the most coveted certificate of obedience.
As quickly as Ernie started chewing our brand new bed, we decided that his name didn’t fit. Ernie was changed to Peanut Butter Brickle. But just like the ice cream, Brickle was his own “flavor” and as I took him to obedience school each time, he decided that he knew how to do the tricks. He just didn’t want to. As each dog mastered the art of sitting and shaking paws and “leaving it”, he just looked at us all with those deep, amber eyes. He would do the tricks. Perhaps later.
When it was time for the test to get his certificate, I knew he could do the tricks, and I wanted the certificate perhaps for my own self worth. Oh, he did the tricks. But as suspected, he refused to look at me on the way home.
I found myself comparing my dog to all of the other dogs in the class who seemed so happy to be there and follow each and every command of their owner. Why didn’t my dog want to listen? Why didn’t my dog want to do tricks? And why did I expect him to want to do it?
Sure, I see the value of training our dogs to walk on a leash and listen to basic commands for their own safety. But I still don’t like this either. Here they are…dogs who we have brought into our world, and they are expected to no longer follow their own instincts as dogs. How is this fair?
For Brickle, he proved to be only one of two untrainable dogs. For Digby Pancake who was a hunting dog, kept in a cage most of his life, he also lacked basic training and listening skills for sure.
After trying to train him off leash and loosing him for hours in dangerous areas, I read every book I could in hopes of finding out how I could get him not to run away. And then I realized something. Digby was a dog living in an unnatural environment to him. He was bred to hunt, to explore and to smell.
He didn’t, and couldn’t recognize traffic was in his way. And I decided that he would not ever be trusted to voice command. It wasn’t worth his life. And again, here he was, a dog in our world expected to be something he was not. A dog.
So with these two dogs who I chose to come into my life, it came with a lot of eye opening moments for me. If I recognized that my dogs were actually true individuals, why would I require them to sit for a treat or shake my hand if they didn’t really want to? To show that I was their master? But why?
Of course, I am not naive to the fact that training of some dogs definitely has its place such as for service or therapy dogs. And basic understanding of ways to keep our dogs safe while in our world is important as well. However, for me to expect them to react to my every command is just not something I am going to endeavor to push onto them. What if I was expected to live in a world where I couldn’t talk or be free to even walk outside when I wanted to? What if I had to ask permission for everything that I did? Why do we expect this from our dogs?
If a certificate of obedience would have included barking for no reason, dirty looks, chasing after the UPS truck or eating horse poop, my dogs would have passed with flying colors. But alas, Brickle’s one and only preschool certificate that was given to him out of sympathy from the trainer will just have to do. And I am more than ok with that.
For the next person that tells me, “you should train that dog” when they see them playing on their leashes or barking at strangers for no reason, I have only one thing to say. I could care less if my dogs are trained. What I care about is letting them be their own individuals and happy. Neither of us need a certificate for that.
-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person, 2 Traveling Dogs