This is a copy of the original article on Medium here.
I saw this cartoon today. It inspired me to write this.
Twenty-one months ago
Within 72 hours of adopting Beanie, I was in tears and contemplated calling it quits. I had hardly slept because Beanie cried overnight. I was following some terrible advice about being his pack leader and letting him “figure things out”. Among other inexplicable actions, this also involved yelling “NO!” at a cowering dog for even looking at my cats. It didn’t feel right.
A frightened velcro sighthound, young cats who teetered around him in a house that they previously lorded, my total inexperience in working with dogs and a full time job? I am not ashamed to admit that I almost gave up.
Crying, feeling like a failure, afraid for my cats, grounding my old life to a halt and having not slept in three days, I called Alison for help (who now has her own business Carefree Dogs). I’d spoken to her entirely by chance at the doggy daycare that Beanie now goes to, when I was initially looking into the logistics of having a dog. When she agreed to visit me, I asked, “You do charge for helping me, don’t you?” I remember she chuckled on the phone. Yes, she did charge. Dog training was a real thing.
It was only much later that I realised that she had introduced me to force free training. She came home, took Beanie’s Greyhound muzzle off, held his long line just in case, used some treats to keep him focused on her whilst my cats just walked the lounge and left the room. She said, “I think he’ll be fine.” I cannot forget this moment.
That was also the day she taught me the “Look at That” (LAT) game, not the name though, to teach Beanie how to behave around cats (see hereand here). Within three days, he walked into our study with me, coincidentally saw my Oonsipie in the room and bounced his head back at me. That felt amazing. And oh boy, how often have I used LAT since!
Beanie and I clicked instantly (pun intended!). It turns out that we’re both worriers, we like company, we are lazy and we love a good project into which we could sink our teeth.
Many things made Beanie nervous. He was afraid of cutlery falling. He was afraid of moving chairs. He is still afraid of twigs, mops, ball-throwers and anything resembling a stick (if he doesn’t have forewarning). Much to my surprise, I realised he suffered separation anxiety, after listening to the voice recording at home made during his first time alone. You see, when I was looking to adopt, I was told sighthounds cope excellently in full-time working households. They sleep a lot. They are used to being without human company. They are invariably crate-trained. They hardly need any exercise. What else is there to it? All true factoids each but do not necessarily add up. I remember discussing with Alison at one of her training classes many weeks later if he’d still be better off with someone else.
Where are we now?
There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t wonder how I could be so lucky to live with Beanie. Why did someone give up on him? What goldmine did I blindly fall in to adopt this genius who will do anything as long as he did it with me?
Beanie can tell apart colours, he can copy, he has trick titles, he can count. He can sleep all day, he can climb mountains, he can come back when called, he can match items together, he can show consent. He can be alone, he can walk off leash with my cats in the park. He can take half an hour to sniff 100 yards on a cycle path. He can just be. He isn’t perfect but I know who he is now.
We are two of the same. He reads me. I read him. I am his voice and I do not care how many people that offends. He trusts me becauseI stand up for him. It’s impossible to describe the depth of that bond. When Beanie had to have an operation on his hind leg recently, knowing he was out cold was the loneliest I’ve felt in a long time. Of course there are some important people in my life but none of them are Beanie.
The concepts training, the fear issues, the walks, the holidays, the cafes, the afternoon naps, the blinks back and forth on a lazy day across the lounge, his soft licks when I rub his ears as he sleeps, his old-man groans as he stretches under a blanket, the play bows we give each other before he gets the zoomies, the ‘Eureka!’ moment he has when he nails that trick for the first time (typically followed by mega-leanings and the frightening-to-the-uninitiated idiotic display of teeth). All of that. Now when did that happen? I have no idea.
Oh my. Look how far we’ve come, Beanie.