I’m not sure we deserve dogs. Their resilience, their ability to move on and forgive will never stop blowing me away.
Bernie, one of my three wonderful dogs, has always had low confidence around new people, and especially around other dogs. He was my first dog, and I made a lot of mistakes with him, as I’m sure many of us have at one point or another.
He came to me at 4 years old, mildly reactive to other dogs, and not knowing better at the time I was told to correct him for this behavior instead of realizing that his reactions were information, a cry for help, a way to communicate his worry and stress. Doing this, of course, made the issue worse. Now not only were new dogs scary but they made his human upset! His reactive behavior went from mild to spinning, lunging, and redirecting onto me. This is when I realized that I was not heading in the right direction, and I got started down the path of animal behavior, learning more about how dogs learn, and what I could do to help Bernie feel safe.
Now Bernie is 8 years old. His confidence has improved tremendously, and just this past week he was happy to help me with a reactive dog. He was calm, he ate some cheese, we played Look At That, and strolled back and forth across the street so my reactive dog client could get some counter conditioning and Look At That practice. I wanted to cry.
I had spent so long feeling so incredibly guilty for my early mistakes, and for taking a huge chunk of his confidence away, for damaging his trust in me. But dogs are resilient, and so forgiving. It took time, patience, understanding, and good timing(!) creating a more positive association with other dogs, but now we can walk past another dog in the neighborhood with no fuss, assist with a nervous dog to help change their fear, and I am so proud of him, and so happy to have gained his trust back.
Don’t be too hard on yourself for past mistakes. Learn to do better, learn how to help and understand your dog, and you will be amazed at what they can overcome!