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Needed: The Dog Whisperer! Hard Lessons Our Dogs Have Taught Us

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In October, I shared on Mile High Mamas that I made two goals for our homeschooling year – on top of the regular goals I hold each school year, that my kids will learn new things, expand their minds, and all that. To that, we adopted two border collie puppies. Yes. Two. Puppies.

My grand plan formed over the summer was that we would get these wonderfully smart herding dogs in early autumn and train them to do amazing tricks like tap dance, do somersaults before deftly catching flying discs, pick up their own poop, and slobber their love all over our family.

Dogs would help to teach my children patience and responsibility. All those character-building buzz words would be nurtured and instilled the care-giving of a loving relationship between child and dog. The children would learn the art of management by training the dogs.

What greater lesson in life, I thought, then to set an 11-year-old and 7-year-old to the task of teaching a dog, two dogs? Fine tuning their management skills would magically happen while experiencing the frustrating agony and exhilarating joys of lesson repetition. This would be the foundation of their future aspirations and careers, I can see it clearly.

Our super dogs would be all trained up by February, see it’s right there in the plan. We would build a coop and adopt feathery critters to bestow upon us their delicious eggs. The dogs would herd the chickens thus giving the hyperactive fluff balls a job, we would enjoy the fruits of the chicken’s labors, and all would be happy and filled with delight.

Well, yes and no. We did adopted two border collie puppies at the end of August. Cam and Junebug, brother and sister, were taken from shelter that was going to put them down due to over crowding and brought to a dog foster home where we met up with them and melted in their puppy-eye pools.

We checked out “The Dog Whisperer” from the library, read books and watched videos. The Whisperer must not have been talking loud enough for the dogs to hear because they weren’t doing what the dogs in the videos were doing.

My pups would come, sit, and stay when treats were involved but, they certainly went hard of hearing while barking at the neighbor children and dogs and we had a heck of a time herding them back into the house. It was a sight. An adult and two children trying to herd the barking herding dogs.

All right, it wasn’t entirely the dogs fault that they weren’t brilliantly trained in record time. We could have, should have, put in more time every day training the pups. But, really? Why couldn’t they just watch the YouTube videos with us and glean the finer points of amazing dog tricks?

And we had another issue. Cam, the male, was aggressive. We didn’t recognize the signs of him trying be alpha dog over us people. It got worse until he started using his mouth to get what he wanted.

He bit me. He bit my husband. And he bit the kids. He even bit our friend. This method really worked for him because I became afraid and would stop whatever I was doing and leave him alone. The result was he wasn’t being trained and I became afraid of my dog.

We needed help with our dogs, more so with one than the other. Junebug is easy going and happy to accept me as her alpha. I hired a dog trainer.

The trainer was great and Cam was great with the trainer but he was having none of our authority over him. Cam attacked my husband, tore up his arm, when he tried to remove a training collar. It was terrifying. I spiraled into a 3 day long panic attack and stayed away from the dog.

Our trainer worked with us on a whole different approach that involved Cam in a kennel unless he was being trained to ensure our safety. My husband and I changed our lives and integrated hours upon hours of walking and working with Cam.

Four weeks later, Cam had made some progress but, he tried to attack me, twice. My panic returned and I realized that I couldn’t get over my fear of the dog hurting me and hurting my family.

He had to go but darn it, I still love the pup and my kids adore him. Cam needs to be with a person that has more of a dog trainers character who can be a real pack leader for him.

He’s a good dog. What I mean is he can be a good dog for someone who’s better suited to his disposition and can give him a border-collie-energy job. He’s not a bad dog, really and we’re not bad dog trainers or bad dog owners. It’s just we didn’t work together.

As a family, we made the decision to give Cam up. It was a hard decision and I had to make sure that he was going to someone who understood what he had done and what he needs to thrive. I wanted to make sure he made it to a good home where he could live a happy, fulfilled doggie life and not putting other people in danger or for someone to exploit him.

Most of all, I want him to be dearly loved and cherished by a family who can handle him.

Cam went back to his original foster mom. I cried and cried when we gave him back. My son acted out for days while my daughter was fine. He felt that he let Cam down by not doing a better job training. He said I let him down by not being able to get over my fears. Knife. In. The. Heart.

Many long, hard talks later, my son is starting to understand that Cam is better off in a different environment. We can’t change who we are and the dog can’t change who he is. It’s best if we don’t live together. If you love something set it free.

Cam’s foster mom was able to give him more focused, intense training then we could. Yesterday, she took Cam to the mountains where he’ll live on a ranch with three other border collies, chasing sheep and trotting happily along next to horses. His new family have a great deal of experience with border collies and he’ll have a demanding border collie job.

Cam is bounding through the mountains and we’re happy with having only one border collie whose energy we can handle. No more panic attacks. The new owners say we can come visit Cam once he’s settled. He’ll be able to give us slobbery kisses – during short visits.

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 26, 2012

    We really want a dog–I was raised around little ones–but this confirmed my fears in training one. I have no idea how to do it so don’t want to make the leap for fear it will end badly.

    • comment avatar Heather April 26, 2012

      Oh, Amber, don’t get me wrong. Training dogs can be hard but there are breeds that can be easier to train. Border collies, while incredibly smart, can be stubborn and we knew this going into adopting them, we knew they would require lots of training. And while Cam didn’t work out with our family, we have Junebug who is a delight. We’re able to spend more time with her know that she’s our only dog and her training is improving by leaps and bounds – literallly, she’s a super jumper.

  • comment avatar lana April 26, 2012

    It’s not easy, that’s for sure.

    i am house training my rescued 5mo peekapoo. My pet peeve is when i stand outside for 15 min in the cold and bring her back in and she shits on the floor like 5 min later. Things are a bit better now.
    I know if she eats to watch her closley until she poos. If I can’t be there in the room with her I put her in her exercise pen with her pee pee pads just in case. I take her out every 15 min after that until poo happens or if am busy working i just watch her like a hawk. Any sniffing around and she goes out again.

    I realized i was missing her cues to go outside. She would come up to me and put her front paws on let and look at me. I was so stupid to miss this. Recently I have been noticing if i even walk out of the room she will be almost as if in spite. ( even if I walked her 20 min ago) this is very frustrating and I feel like she will never be house broken!

    • comment avatar Heather April 26, 2012

      I was right there with you Iana. Potty training is hard. I had the same issue. Why do they come in from outside and do their business on the floor. Oy! We had read about putting a bell on the door to the backyard. We put a set of vertical bells on the back door – it was a Christmas bell that I decorated the front door. We trained both dogs to ring the bell when they want to go outside. It works great!

  • comment avatar Candace April 26, 2012

    It gives me a headache to train my dog in my own way, so I decided to call for help which is to search about training them and walla!

    • comment avatar Heather April 26, 2012

      Training is hard and takes lots of time. Once we, the people, got some training on the finer points of training it goes much smoother now. The process is all about repetition which can be frustrating. It really is much like a working environment and raising kids for that matter. How many times have told the children not to let the door slam, put their shoes away, and on and on.

  • comment avatar Karen Hudson April 26, 2012

    Oh dear friend…you did the right thing. I am so sorry but Cam is probably much much happier on the ranch. You were very brave to last this long!

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