A Lesson in Loving What’s in Front of You

Marissa MartinoBehavior & Training Resources

A few weeks ago I received a call from a guardian that needed assistance right away.  She and her family had recently adopted a young female dog named, Nola.  Unfortunately, Nola and the resident dog, Jim, were not getting along.  Nola was a larger dog with buckets of energy, constantly asking Jim to play.  Despite his communication efforts indicating he was not interested at all, Nola did not get the message and the frustration between the two dogs increased to a dangerous place.

After I met with the family, observed the dogs in a controlled environment and conducted a lengthy deliberation, we decided that Nola was not the right fit for their home.  When we shared the news with their two young daughters, they were devastated!  As I watched these children sob, demanding there had to be another way, I was fighting back tears, swallowing them whole.  The girls had grown so attached to Nola since she was playful, affectionate and energetic.  To them, Nola was a “real dog”. 

What is a real dog…..

I was curious about what a “real dog” meant to this family and wondered why Jim was not considered as such.  I learned that Jim was given to the family 1.5 years ago after the husband’s mother passed away.  This experience had been very traumatic for Jim.  He arrived to their home very defensive, scared, undersocialized and in poor condition.  He would growl and snap at the family and was fearful of many different things in his new environment.  He did not play and simply co-existed for a period of time.  The family nursed him back to health, gave him everything they could and decided to accept Jim for who he was.  However, they still desired a dog that would play with the children and be an active member of the family.  

The terrier with potential

While the family was sharing Jim’s history, I couldn’t help but see a small terrier mix with amazing potential.  I understood why the family carried that perspective of Jim; however, I longed to shift the perspective and hopefully give them the “real dog” they were hoping for.  I hesitantly shared my opinion with the family as I did not want to upset them or make them feel judged.  To my surprise, they eagerly listened to my ideas and scheduled a training session for Jim.

A new start for the family

I came back to their home a few days later and met with the family to discuss Jim’s needs and show them how to train him.  We taught Jim how to touch our hand using his nose, to spin in a circle and how to sit.  The girls had such a fun time learning how to use the clicker while Jim remained engaged in the training process.  I showed them fun games to play with Jim such as Chase and Hide and Go Seek.  We all ran around the house while Jim chased us giving him treats each time he “caught” us.  The girls and I laughed a ton and their mother indicated to me that she had never seen Jim so happy before.  We all had tears in our eyes!  

Jim taught us all to focus on what we and others

CAN do instead of focusing on what we cannot do.

It was one of those days when I realized just how grateful I am to do what I do and for all the clients that bless my path.  Jim taught us all to focus on what we and others CAN do instead of focusing on what we cannot do.  What an amazing lesson for every child to learn and for all of us to remember!