The Advice That Allowed Me to Show Up for My Dog

Throughout my time with Griffey, I have received all sorts of advice, both solicited and unsolicited–something so many of us with pets with behavior challenges experience. 

But there was one conversation that is seared into my memory so deeply because it was the thing that let me show up for Griffey and help him learn the skills that empower him to be the absolutely incredible creature he is today. 

So this is something I want to share with other pet parents. The ones who may hold a little resentment toward their pet’s challenges, or that find themselves in despair of the life they wanted, or that are finding it hard to bond with the creature that is in their house. 

Your journey with your pet is yours and yours alone, but I hope this can help you even half as much as it helped me.

So let’s get into it.

Back in 2017, my partner and I were gearing up to get our Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner credentials. Since we were both applying to the program we needed two dogs, one for each of us to work through the program. We had our wonderful companion, Laika, and it was the right time to bring another dog into the family. 

I distinctly remember sitting down at our dining room table talking about my concerns because, for those of you who don’t know, the KPA-CTP workshops are no joke. It is tough for both dog and person, so I was looking for something incredibly specific in our next dog. Our next dog needed to be good with other dogs, good with other people, interested in learning and training, and had to be able to be left alone. We had things so easy with Laika that I was really worried about shaking things up.

Fast forward: we went to a few shelters looking for the right companion for this stage in our life. At the last shelter, we saw these immaculate ears poking out over the bottom panel of the kennel door, and we asked to meet the dog who grew them. 

Out in the meet and greet yard, he was interested in engaging with us, took treats from total strangers, was a perky little fella, and reports were that he got along well with the dogs that they introduced him to at the shelter, and with the shelter staff. It was a done deal. 

As we were learning about him before departing, we learned that he was an owner-surrender, and the only information they had was that he “could not be house trained”. We made sure that he got a full vet check to ensure there wasn’t anything medical going on and, with that confirmation, had no concerns that would be a challenge for us. 

We drove him home and did a quick meet and greet with Laika, which went spectacularly. After such a long day, I went to the bathroom, shut the door, and he immediately started screaming like someone was causing him severe physical damage. I remember being frozen in the bathroom thinking, “Oh, god. What did we do?” We immediately started implementing some strategies and started to learn more and more about our new little friend. 

Of course, over the next few months, we started the KPA program and got to know the quirks of the creature we now know as Griffey. Potty training wasn’t that challenging once he learned he could go to the bathroom in front of us. He was a decent walker on a leash. He and Laika were great friends. But he was scared of other dogs out in the real world. He was wary of strangers, but not everyone, and even bonded with our best friends. He did puke every time he got in the car, so that was just one more thing on the list.

All of those challenges were one thing, but then when you added the shrieking like a banshee when separated from me, it was too much. The stress of the number of things we needed to work on with no support system had me shutting down. 

One night, at an event, I was speaking to one of my mentors, Dr. Susan Friedman. I was sharing with Dr. Friedman how stressed I was about the gigantic impact this was having on my life, while trying to help him live the comfortable and happy life I was dedicated to giving him, without much of a support system. 

Dr. Friedman, being the incredible behaviorist that they are, certainly noticed the slight tears welling up in my ears and the cracks in my voice. 

And they said to me, “Have you grieved him yet?” 

I remember thinking, “What a strange question. He’s sitting at home as we speak.” So I said, “I don’t understand.”

Susan shared with me that sometimes, we need to grieve the expectations that we had. We may need to grieve the dog we wanted and expected. We may need to grieve the life we imagined with our companion. We may need to grieve the plans we had. But until we take the time to process our grief, it is incredibly hard to show up for the learner we have in front of us. That doesn’t mean that we don’t love them, that we aren’t dedicated to them, that we can’t make progress. But there will be a wall between us, them, and the way we want to show up for them. 

That had never occurred to me! Of course, I had to swiftly excuse myself to go process some feels in the safety of the restroom instead of the middle of a dining hall, but that was the turning point for me.

I was able to approach my feelings, the ones I was feeling so guilty about carrying, with kindness and compassion–which meant I could process them rather than suppress them. 

And from there, I was able to show up for the dog Griffey was, not the dog that I had dreamed he would be. 

Now, I know that this advice won’t help everyone. But it had such a lasting impact on me, and many of the clients I’ve shared it with, that I wanted others to be able to find it if they wanted it.

So, dear pet parent: I hope that you are able to grieve those expectations you had. I hope that you can find kindness and compassion for yourself, even if you’re ashamed of the feelings you have toward your pet or their behavior. And I hope that you can find the support you need to show up for your pet in the way that you want to

Because once that happens, you and your pet can do incredible things. Even if today, that feels entirely impossible.

 

Now What? 

  • I’d love to give you actionable steps, but this part of the journey is extremely personal. What I can give you is the promise that Pet Harmony consultants are here to support you and your pet, wherever you are in your journey.

Happy Training! 

Ellen

4 thoughts on “The Advice That Allowed Me to Show Up for My Dog

  1. Wow, you guys really nailed it again with the blog post.

    I realized recently that I need to stop comparing my dog to other dogs. My mom‘s dog has great recall and is well-behaved, but will not sit on command. She dropped him off at one of those board and training facilities, which was an awful experience.

    My dog and I did puppy kindergarten, and then later worked with a personal trainer. I’ve enjoyed the Hands-on approach and would never dream of dropping my dog off at one of those board and train facilities. It’s been very rewarding to watch him make progress. It has strengthened our bond.

    It’s also been extremely frustrating at times and I constantly have to remind myself that I am looking for a progress, not perfection.

    There are a ton of other dogs in my neighborhood. A lot of the dogs I know and a lot of the dogs are OK with other dogs. There are a few that my dog flat out hates and sometimes I wonder if it’s the owner or the dog or both that he hates.

    Recently, I met up with my friend to go for a walk. She asked if I wanted to bring my dog. I hesitated for a minute thinking maybe it would be OK. But then I decided that I needed some me time and also knowing that he’s reactive with kids, I said no. My friend made me feel good and said that I know my dog well. It was also the middle of the day and would’ve been too hot to walk with him.

    It’s taking me about five years to start to feel more OK with all of this. To start the grieving process as mentioned in the article.

    1. Yes! Comparison is the worst! It sets us up to be disappointed.

      It sounds like both your pup and you have some incredible people in your corner.

      And I’ll be honest, I return to the grieving process often as we enter new life stages, either for me or for him.

  2. I love this and thank you for it!

    I’ve been realizing that I can grieve things even years and years into having dogs. I’ve been a trainer and into rescue for 10+ years combined. I’ve always taken on this “superhero” approach, sacrificing so so much of what I would want. Not even giving myself the option to think about it really. I’ve had some big life changes and find myself thinking more these days of what my life would be like without dogs. I have three wonderful babies, one of whom is my 13-year-old best friend I’ve had since she was 3 weeks old. I feel the worst thinking about what would my life would be like without her because she’s always been so easy and I love her deeply.

    But being able to offer myself compassion and truly grieve those desires I have while telling myself I’ll have plenty of time down the line to do those things helps so much <3

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful! I know hearing this changed the way I viewed a lot of things, and it is an honor to share it with others.

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