Wednesday, 1 July 2015

I Promise You Moments, And You'll Give Me Memories

Welcome to the first post of my new blog.  This blog is intended to be a resource for enrichment activities for pet dogs, with a highlight on quality of life for reactive or aggressive dogs, but also including plenty of enrichment for all dogs: puppies, high energy dogs, physically restricted dogs and senior dogs.  I will periodically also share training tips and other thoughts from my job as a professional trainer at Ethical Canine Training and Behaviour Modification.

My first post, though, is going to be about adventures and moments.  You see, a Very Good Person I know and her Very Good Dog are going through a Very Hard Time.  My friend's dog has been given a serious medical diagnosis that may mean her life will be unfairly shortened.  She has posted on Facebook that a priority now is making sure that she gets to share some beautiful memories with her dog before the time comes to say goodbye. 

Before learning about my friend's situation, I had just been thinking that with the way my summer has gone so far: school, work, illness - I hadn't been giving my dogs enough attention.  I'm lucky enough to have fairly low-maintenance dogs and a very helpful husband.  But still, I want to hang out and do activities with my dogs...after all, that's kind of the point of having dogs.   Specifically, I want to share moments with my dogs that we all enjoy.

This led to more thinking about what it means to spend "quality time" with my dogs, or any dogs.  I've come to two main conclusions: one, the moments don't need to be "momentous"; and two, what every dog (and every person) considers quality time or experiences will be different.

Very often, people with reactive or aggressive dogs feel guilty that their dogs don't get to enjoy all of the activities that "normal" dogs do.  I understand that feeling all too well, although it's less of a worry since I moved from a city apartment on the mainland to a farmhouse on the Island.  The amazing thing about dogs, though, is that it's so easy to create a special moment or go on an adventure with them: they don't always have to day long hikes or parties at the dog beach.  Creating a memory with your dog can be as simple as sitting in the sun giving them a massage, taking them for a car ride to the drive thru, playing some games for a few minutes, or bringing them a cold meaty bone on a warm day.  Some of Marlo's favorite moments from the past little while include things like group walks with my roommate's dogs, getting a new food toy, napping in sunbeams, playing ball in the yard with his sister, running in the hayfield and visiting with a (human) relative who stayed with us.  These seem like small things, but to Marlo they were all times that he was really enjoying life, and his enjoyment made me happy as well.  Becky's moments are the same in some cases but different in others: she has had lots of leash walks with Timo, nose work classes, time hanging out in the farmyard (eating goat poop), car rides, and sitting on the porch surveying her domain.

These differences lead me to my second point: what constitutes a special moment, adventure or memory for you and your dog will probably be different for everyone, and that's OK.  Many dogs don't need to or want to attend big events (yes, even if they're pet friendly), or hang out at a busy farmer's market, or go to a party, or even go to the pet store.  Some dogs do, and those dogs are having a great time: if you are the owner of a dog like this, you will be making some very special memories indeed.

But if your dog prefers quieter adventures, don't force both of you into situations because they look like the sort of thing that dogs and owners are "supposed" to enjoy.  Instead, look for adventures that make you both smile, and allow you to re-charge while you enjoy each other's company.  After living with reactive dogs for more than 10 years, my criteria for successful time spent together has changed from "my dog held it together and didn't freak out" to "my dog and I spent time together that strengthened our bond, reinforced our working relationship, and/or helped him feel safe around his triggers."

I don't know if my dogs save memories the same way I do: I don't know if as Marlo naps on the couch he dreams of what it's like to play in the grass or chase his ball.  I do know that some day, we all will be faced with the mortality of our dogs, and for some of us it will be a lot sooner than it should be.  I also know that when that day comes, I will have many memories to look back on, even if they are small ones, and I will be able to tell myself "my dogs and I had it pretty good together".

This summer I will also be thinking of my friend and the memories she's making with her dog. I know she's going to be so awfully sad, but she is a person with a lot of compassion and caring for other people and their dogs, and I think it might help her just a little if her story inspired others to collect and cherish a few more adventures and special moments with their dogs.

So for the rest of the summer, I invite you to join me in creating, enjoying and if you like, capturing and sharing special moments with your dogs (one of my favorite things about Facebook is being able to look back at the memories I've made with my dogs: it helps so much in the fight against "dog park guilt").  This morning, I got up an hour earlier to take my dogs for a long-line run in the hay field while it was still cool and quiet outside, and it made me feel great.  This won't happen every day, but that's OK.  That memory of the half hour we spent together is in my collection now, forever and always.

(For Casey and Mokie's story, and a link to donate funds towards Mokie's medical care, please visit: )

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