When Kimber was a tiny puppy we took her to puppy training. The first week was a socialisation class, and the new puppies were allowed off their leads first. The trainers explained that this was because they’d be really shy and a bit scared to be among all these new faces and unknown puppies. So we tentatively put Kimber down, and instead of cowering behind our legs as she was supposed to, she trotted off across the room and went up to each puppy, one by one, to say hello and try to get them to play. The reaction of the head trainer was a rather scathing “Well, Kimber’s a very confident puppy, isn’t she!”.
That should have sounded warning bells, but I was too desperate for help with my puppy to hear them. The truth of the matter was that Kimber wasn’t the best behaved puppy at puppy training. In fact, she was the disruptive influence of the class! She would put up with the training for a little while, before heading over to another puppy to see if it wanted to play with her. The trainers were contemptuous about our ability to keep her attention, and clearly thought we were the most incompetent dog owners. Which was fine, because we probably were. What really pissed me off was that they were also judgemental and scathing about our tiny puppy.
One of the exercises we had to practice with her was recall, We stood at opposite ends of the hall, and when the husband let her go she was supposed to come to me. Not go looking for another puppy to play with. This was when the trainers told us that Kimber was ‘the kind of dog’ (!!!) ‘that could never be trained to come back to us’. She said we would find it very difficult to be more exciting than anything else that Kimber wanted to go and see. (Their idea for getting a dog to come back to its owner, was for the owner to act like an idiot, jumping up and down, and pretending to be much more exciting than the smell they were following or the squirrel they’d spotted.) Kimber, according to these ‘gurus’, would always choose another dog, squirrel, scent over us. We could not trust her off the lead because that’s how she was.
Bullshit. Kimber is now three years old, and guess what? We let her off the lead all the time and 99.9% of the time she comes back to us when we call her. And the 0.1% she doesn’t come back straight away, isn’t her fault. It’s ours.
For a while I bought into the trainers’ nonsense that my puppy was flawed. And then one day, she did a wee-wee in the living room. I was about to get cross with her, when I realised that she’d made all the signs that she was going to do a wee-wee, and I hadn’t acted on them. It struck me that she wasn’t flawed, she just didn’t know what to do. I needed to show her and keep showing her until she got it. From the moment I took responsibility for her behaviour, everything changed. I became calmer and much less frustrated, and she started to get what she was supposed to be doing. And I realised that this didn’t stop at toilet training.
I dismissed what the trainers had said about Kimber, and began training her to come back to me. Starting in the garden, and then on a long lead in small enclosed spaces. I gave her so many opportunities to succeed that she started to get it. There were times when she didn’t come back, but those were times when I wasn’t paying enough attention, and hadn’t reacted quickly enough to a particular situation. So we’d go back to long lead training for Kimber, and mindfulness training for me!
These days, Kimber will come back when I call her even if she’s running full pelt towards another dog. The only time she’ll ignore me is when she sees a cat or a squirrel, and that’s my fault for not getting her attention before she’s fully engaged in the chase. If I get her early enough, she’ll leave them for me. My best friends when it comes to encouraging Kimber to come back to me are my whistle and her favourite treats. The whistle’s great for breaking her train of thought, and she associates it with getting a treat! She’s such a good girl on our walks, and so far from ‘untrainable’ it’s not funny. So Ya Boo Sucks to the supposedly highly qualified dog trainers who tried to write off our tiny puppy: she’s now an adorable little fluffball, who’s kept her character and comes back willingly, even without her mummy and daddy acting like bloody idiots. Go Kimber!