For all the advocating I do about positive training, I sometimes feel like a failure with my own dogs. Boca still barks at my dad while we're eating dinner every night. Ruby is still reactive to everything that moves on our walks. I have to remind myself that while we are far from perfect, what keeps me passionately adhered to positive training techniques are the deeper levels of relationship that are possible when your currency is trust instead of fear.
I have witnessed Boca's wariness with certain people, and I take very little credit for how she behaves with me, except that I've been very careful from the day she arrived off the plane from The Bahamas to never give her any reason not to trust me. We play and snuggle and nap in a big dog pile together, and I do my best to keep every promise I make to her. If I ask a difficult question I take responsibility for confusion and I reward her earnest answers. Because of this, Boca has starred in a series of puzzle toy videos in an unfamiliar environment, with very little formal training but a lot of faith. She tolerated months of frequent visits to the ophthalmologist during her corneal ulcer and resulting graft surgery, wore the Cone of Woe for ten weeks and endured administration of twice-daily eye drops. She is so little trouble that it's easy to forget just how remarkable she is. I know I can count on her, and I think she knows the same about me.
Ruby is a different dog entirely, a constant riot of energy, anxiety and suspicion. My dad recently called her the most courageous coward: she would chase a one-thousand pound horse if given the opportunity, but is terrified of the clatter of keys and the rustle of plastic bags. Ruby's trust is conditional; gained gradually with the potential to be lost in a heartbeat. I have had to adjust my interactions with her to account for her extreme sensitivity, not sacrifice her security for the appearance of progress. We have worked long and hard on foot handling and nail clipping. The other night I was giving her a paw massage while she slept, and last night I clipped both front dew-claws and all the nails on one front paw in a single swift session. We accomplished this with a peanut butter bottle and baby steps. Ruby now runs and jumps on the sofa for a pedicure when I say "peanut butter paws." It takes longer to counter-condition instead of coerce. It's a two-way discussion instead of a one-way demand. I can't think of something more worth it, though, that turns a previously scary task into something anticipated with joyous spinning and barking. All you need is love, patience, and peanut butter.
The gift of positive training is in the richness of relationship, in the unexpected ways my dogs engage with me and the interesting conversations we have. I couldn't ask for a sweeter companion than Boca, a more captivating sidekick than Ruby. It is because of them that I strive to be a little better than I was yesterday, that I started and continue this blog, that I advocate for kindness and change. Every day, my dogs give back what I put in and so much more.
This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads,Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. This month's theme is Giving Back and the next hop begins on January 4th. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week - please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training!