Not the Dog I Wanted, but the Dog I Needed

Very, very few people adopt a dog with the desire or knowledge that the dog has or will develop behavior issues. Other than the odd shelter worker, behavior professional, or other dog industry worker, we all hope that the dog we take on will be perfect. We’ll make sure they’re well trained, well socialized, well nourished, and well behaved.

And then you get an Olivia.

I adopted Olivia at 10 weeks from a rescue. She was listed as a dachshund mix, though as is often the case with a rescue, it turns out she was a collection of different breeds. Mostly Chihuahua, with a hint of Lab, Dachshund, Border Collie, and an amalgamation of other large breeds. (My favorite is telling people she’s my Rottweiler mix. It’s the truth! She’s a whole 4% Rottie!)

I didn’t have much behavior experience at the time of her adoption, so whatever red flags Olivia displayed as a puppy I didn’t notice. I don’t really remember anything other than a cute, snuggly, occasionally nervous pup. It wasn’t until she was a year and a half that a trainer I worked with mentioned medication as an option for her. Though I am a huge proponent of medical intervention where appropriate, my first thought was “My dog? Really? Her anxiety doesn’t seem THAT bad!”

But then I really sat down and thought it through. She barked and lunged with frustration on leash, and when she went into that mode, there was no connecting with her. In fact, even just standing outside put her out of her “think and learn” zone. On top of all of that, she was very sensitive to noise in general. Even innocuous things like opening a soda or a bug hitting the window would cause her to startle and sometimes flee to a safer place in the bedroom.

Why hadn’t I noticed these things before? Well, regardless of your depth of dog knowledge, a wise behavior professional once told me, “it’s very difficult to be your own consultant.” 

So with this new insight, we began the journey that many of our clients take: I worked with a knowledgeable behavior consultant, got on the list to see a Veterinary Behaviorist, and saw our primary vet in the meantime for assistance with Olivia’s anxiety to try and rule out any physical ailments. 

It is about 2.5 years since we started Olivia’s medication and behavior modification journey and Olivia has improved by leaps and bounds. Though we have had to adapt our life in ways we didn’t expect for Olivia’s comfort, I have also discovered her resilience, her intense love for the people she knows, her obsession with burrowing under blankets, and her ability to cope with stressors that previously knocked her down. At times, I still get overwhelmed with the work we have put in and how much is left to do, but this dog has taught me incredible lessons, and lord knows she has been incredibly patient with my learning process! My favorite result of this journey is how Olivia and I have learned to communicate to each other. She has done wonders learning to tell me how and what she needs.

I wanted the perfect dog. I wanted a dog I could take with me everywhere, that could assist me with lessons, that could be a model dog in group classes. What I got was far more difficult, but just what I needed. 


Now What?

It’s okay to grieve the pet you thought you were getting! It doesn’t mean you love and treasure the pet you actually got any less. Being a “big feelings” dog parent is hard! 


Happy Training! 

Claire Laster

4 thoughts on “Not the Dog I Wanted, but the Dog I Needed

  1. Bravo! I love the title of your article & your words of wisdom!!!
    I am experiencing some stubbornness and fear with my new adopted dog Luna that I hadn’t experienced in my previously rescue dog, who was very laid back. I had to step back at look at my actions instead of blaming the dog since my frustration was not helping, plus I had to update my expectations since every dog is different. Most importantly I had to become a more holistic dog parent on a new journey filled with more patience, love and compassion. Something that has helped me, as much as it has helped my dog Luna. Which is why I resonate with this article’s, especially the title. I think I still need to ask for some professional help for her fear of loud noises, so thanking you for reminding me “it takes a village” sometimes.

    1. I’m so glad you found it relatable! It’s really tricky to not compare our dogs to each other, past and present, especially when you had one that you were heavily bonded to. Similar to what you stated, I try to remind myself that the dog in front of me has had different life experiences and processes their feelings differently than the dog I saw just an hour ago. That isn’t to say I don’t still need a moment to myself sometimes to feel frustrated. Major kudos to you for being able to take a step back and give both you and Luna some grace.
      And yes, you are not expected to do this journey alone! We’re here for you.

  2. Thank you for this story. I can relate in so many ways except that I have TWO dogs like this. A brother and sister rescue of Australian Cattle Dogs – Loki and Ella. The are both almost 4 years old now. Loki is reactive to other dogs and Ella is terrified of noises and people outside of our Home. Despite that, I Love them dearly and I persevere walking them together once a day. It is stressful for sure but mostly my concern is their happiness and quality of life. I am taking steps to get them and myself help with this and I know it won’t be easy but I am willing to put the work in.

    1. I’m both grateful and sorry that you can relate! Having more than one kiddo with behavior issues is especially exhausting. It sounds like you care for them immensely and are doing your best with what you have available to you. Reach out to us at [email protected] and Corinne can help you figure out the next steps for you journey!

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