Monday, April 25, 2011

Defining Moments

I've been thinking about this post for days, knowing I had lots to say, but I've been unsure how to go about getting it out.  Life is a series of defining moments, I've become more convinced of that lately. These are moments that make life crystal clear and the direction you are aiming for very certain. Or they can change the course of your life forever.

I've had several of those, and an unusual amount of crystal clear moments this winter and spring. But, most are way beyond the scope of this old blog, so will have to remain as just that; defining moments in my career and personal life that are changing who I am and where I am heading.

I've been very aware that I am just coming up on an anniversary of one such moment; nearly 5 years ago, I was in a car accident that caused the loss of my beloved, albeit way to much dog for me, dog Mortimer. It set into motion a series of events that brought Spike into my life and a determination to have a dog who could run dog sports.

Another such moment is just past; 3 years ago at Easter time, my niece Katherine was diagnosed with Leukemia. This changed my path as I found myself living in the Saskatoon area, when I had planned all along to go to Edmonton.  Katherine is about 9 months past chemo treatments, has a head full of red curly hair and enough spunk to propel her forward into life. She's full of energy, joy and happiness. Yes, she's well on the road to being just fine.  But, still a defining, life changing moment and with one simple declaration from a doctor changed my family forever.

This past weekend was another moment for me, in several ways. I attended an agility seminar with Spike and that was a moment for me. We accomplished more than I thought possible, and for the first time this winter I walked away feeling like I CAN run agility, Spike and I CAN be successful and I am able to do this!  I felt that way in the fall, after running a couple trials but I am feeling like I am getting there, not just my dog; I've never doubted Spike's ability, but I have questioned mine. I want to run agility, be successful,  and someday teach and judge agility myself. It's a new goal.

The other moment occured thanks to Sophie. Sophie met my friend this weekend from Edmonton who has multiple labs, all very sweet, all very good agility dogs. Sophie was her usual, wild self and my friend set me straight. She told me the truth, which I heard loud and clear: Sophie is an unmannered, badly behaved dog. And, I heard the message loud and clear and as such have changed Sophie's life forever. I am on a journey to learn to be a better dog owner; I babied her because I felt bad about how bad she felt. I babied her because she was cute and gave me "the eyes". As a result? I have a dog who is difficult to live with and I now have the task of cleaning up the mess. So, end result? Sophie is on "manners bootcamp" where she has no freedom in the house, is on strict leash walking routines, and is earning back privileges like "sleeping outside of the crate at night". It's hard work being consistent, but I am way more stubborn and determined than she is. I do not want a dog who snaps at another unsuspecting, undeserving lab. I do not want a coffee thieving, food thieving dog in my house. I do not want a dog who has no self control because I haven't taught her to use what she has. The defining moment was clear; I do not have to live like this anymore.

I've struggled with Sophie's behaviours for a long time. There's no doubt that she is a spirited, willful dog but I haven't had the plan in mind until last weekend. That's when it became crystal clear; I can have a normal, happy, EASY TO LIVE WITH lab, if I decide that's what I want.  So, stay tuned on updates about Sophie's "manners bootcamp". We'll get there, her and I.  I'm way more stubborn than her and already in the span of a week have seen "baby steps" towards improvement. At this moment, I'll take what I can get.


Jean said...

Way to go, Jen! Yes, teaching dogs to be well-mannered is a huge challenge, especially when they are already grown (and since I lack patience, that's one of the reasons I don't foster or adopt ill mannered dogs - I am SO not good at it!). Labs are especially challenging, I find, because they tend to be 'puppies' until they are about eight years old, whereas many other breeds seem to mellow out around three or four. And, of course, labs can be big and powerful - but funny and cute as can be, which makes it hard to be firm and consistent with them. Best of luck with Sophie - she will one day thank you for it.

I'm so glad to hear your niece is doing well - I recall thinking, when I first read her story, that there must be few things more frightening than having one's child diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

Sarah C. Ptatschek said...

I was thinking about Mortimer the other day. He not only changed the direction of your life, but changed the direction my was to take as well. He made quite the influence in such a short time!
I thought you might enjoy this poem, it seems to sum up a lot of what you have mentioned in this Blog. I carry it with me in my training books, it gives me the reality check on those toughest of days!

When I Got My New Dog
I asked for strength that I might rear him perfectly;
I was given weakness that I might feed him more treats.

I asked for good health that I might rest easy;
I was given a "special needs" dog that I might know nurturing.

I asked for an obedient dog that I might feel proud;
I was given stubbornness that I might feel humble.

I asked for compliance that I might feel masterful;
I was given a clown that I might laugh.

I asked for a companion that I might not feel lonely;
I was given a best friend that I would feel loved.

I got nothing I asked for,
But everything I needed.

(Author Unknown)

Good luck on your journey.

Jen said...

He did, didn't he, Sarah? I always feel a little wistful for what could have been, this time of year and more than a little sad. And, feel more than a little sorry for what happened. But, after being angry at myself and Morti for a long time, I have come to be grateful for what he taught me, and for the open doors both you and he gave me. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have found agility. If it weren't for Morti, I wouldn't have found the dog that was meant to be, Spike.

It's interesting that I am back in that space of learning what to do with a wilful, challenging dog, isn't it?? Only difference is that I have let her get away with it for a long time. That's ok, I still have the lessons you taught me (and thank goodness for the copy of Ruff Love because that's what I'm working from) and a new friend Kiersten who boldly told me "get that damn lab under control!" Soph is a fast learner, and I will get there too. :)

Hope you are doing well Sarah, and I miss you.

Jean, thank you! Yes, labs can be tough because they are pups (and sophie really still is, at barely 4). She's little but she's mighty but fortunately, she's not particularily stubborn or unadaptible. She's proving herself to be a quick study, so far. I have set goals for her- St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog test, maybe even by fall if all goes well because she CAN. It gives me something to shoot for! And, hanging with Kiersten at a trial in July where I want her to prove that she can behave under the same sort of circumstances.

And, thanks for the well wishes about Kath. It was the most terrifying, horrible 2.5 years I think my family has ever lived. But, we are on the other side, it seems and are likely better for it. I know, I for one have learned so much about LIVING from a 5 year old girl than I thought possible.

Schnauzer Days said...

That's such a lovely post to read, it's hard to face some things at times isn't it but how much happier both you and Sophie will be once she knows her place. Yes, there are life defining moments, I've finished a lot of treatment for a serious illness and am now well on the road to recovery with a new appreciation and interest in life. I have some remedial work to do too, the boys training went on hold for a year and we have a lot of catching up to do manners wise, so we're on a similar path to you Good luck to you! xxx

Mango said...

You know, I used to really baby Mango a lot too and he was unruly and out of control and ran the household. When I finally buckled down with him and stopped treating him like a fragile beast he responded by being not only better behaved in general, but better company and more in tune with me. It took a loooong time, but so worth it. Good luck on your journey.

Mango Momma

Erika and Blair,xoxo said...

Jen, I just started following your blog. So far I am amazed by all that you have accomplished. You do so much with your dogs and with school you are definitly a role model. I am currently living at home while my cat lives with my grandma. Last spring I had one of those defining moments which caused all of this to happen. School wasn't working out and I needed something different. It was so upsetting to leave school, my friends, my apartment and my cat. A year later I am in a totally different place. I love my job, I am doing school again, and I am looking forward once again. You inspire me by doing school along with your love of animals. I hope to also accomplish that!

Erika (Blair's Mom)

Sophie said...

It's always hard to hear that maybe you aren't doing so good with your dogs - I've heard that before. But I'm glad you're getting such a handle on it now, so that you can help teach Sophie some good self-control.

georgia little pea said...

Dear Jen,

Sounds like you had quite a remarkable winter spring, full of epiphanies and lucid moments. I love those myself and wish I could have them more regularly!

Although you only wrote one sentence about Mortimer (what a great name), I'm sensing he was a very special dog. As for your niece Kath, she sounds like a fighter! I can imagine how stressful it must have been for family, and am so glad to hear she's doing well.

I never realised that Sophie was a handful. I thought I knew all the "difficult" dogs in blogland, having sussed
them out for comfort when dealing with Little Pea's growing pains and behavioral issues!

Spike and out doggies. Jen is about to
change YOUR lives forever! :) xox

Jen said...

Thanks for the comments Georgia Little Pea! :)

Soph is difficult in that she has had physical ailments her whole life, which has led me to spoil her terribly. She is not particularily difficult to train or stubborn, but if she's given an inch, watch out! However, some of her reactions to other dogs are VERY difficult as they come out of pain/lack of trust/inexperience managing herself around them. That part IS difficult and may never really be "fixed". I have put countless hours/dollars into training and therapies to help her feel better/behave better and the only thing that has made much difference has been chiropractic treatments, but she has 4 years of 'I don't trust other dogs not to hurt me' to unlearn which will take awhile.

Is she really a difficult dog? Yes and no... I will always have to watch her with other dogs, but I do think she is very trainable to get her behaviour back up to snuff in the house. Sometimes it takes someone to say "wait a minute, you're letting THAT go?" before you make a change, LOL! Yes, there are implications for Spike and Murph in this too.... all of us will likely be a little better behaved at the end of this journey, LOL! :) It's all good and I got a little perspective last night thanks to Sarah and it reminded me to cut Soph a little slack as she has had a tough go of it physically.

ForPetsSake said...

Wow - Sarah P hit the nail right on the head there! They really do teach us the lessons we need to learn and those things always seem to be addressed at the most inconvenient
Seriously, though, we are going through much of the same here, but our approach is calm, assertive leadership and not letting anyone get away with anything. Boy is it tough! But you'll get there and I'll be right there with you :)

dogsforlife said...

You have had a very eventful time over the years. I also believe that there are paths to follow and things seem to map themselves out. You have lovely dogs.

achieve1dream said...

Since I'm a new follower I didn't know anything about your niece or other dog that died. Sorry about those tough times, but you're right, you're probably better for it. I'm glad your friend was able to give you perspective on Sophie. Sometimes when things are so close to us it's easy to miss them. I got the same wake up call from my farrier about Chrome regarding letting him get away with bad behavior. And imagine a poorly behaved 800+lb. animal! I'm glad she said something because that's what kick started me into clicker training with him. I just have to get back to it after my long break due to his injury. This is a great post and I know you can make a difference with Sophie. :D

Khyra And Sometimes Her Mom said...

Since my mantra is things happen for reasons, you have to know what I'm thinking about this post!

Khyra's Mom