So we finally got a dog. Following a successful three month dog sitting experiment with Mario, our friends' eight year old black lab, we felt confident that our home and work set up would be a great evironment for a pooch of our own. Mario had given us a glimpse into the world of being a dog owner, he taught us first hand how much of our time, energy and other resources would be needed to give him the safe, fun and relaxing life he deserved.
It was difficult dropping him back to his owners, seeing his face as we walked out the door, equally happy to be back home with his family but somewhat confused as to where his new friends were going. That was a tough car ride home, but it gave us the confirmation we needed that we were ready to go for walks in the early morning cold and pick up dog shit in the rain on a regular basis. Our preference was to rehome a dog that had either been handed in, abandoned or a stray. We werent particularly fussed which type of dog we wanted to rehome, so we started our research and long drives across London and Essex. After an unsuccessful visits to the Dogs Trust in west London and a failed adoption of a dog from a kill shelter in Spain, it became apparent that we would have to be patient.
As we got in the car and hit the indicator to go right towards Battersea, i suddenly had the urge to tell Hayley to swing it around and head back out East to Essex and give the Dogs Trust another visit. Something was telling me that we should be there on that day, so we powered through the traffic and set on our way.
Trick 1 - Trust your gut.
As we strolled around the Dogs Trust again, we were greeted with smiles from the staff and loving looks from the doggos who were waiting for their new best friends to come and pick them up. 'Sorry guys, still nothing for you i'm afraid' said one of the ladies at reception. To say we were once again gutted we couldnt be paired with a pooch was an understatement, back to the drawing board then as we slumped off out through the double doors and into the carpark, all the while listening to all the happy dogs as they were jumping into cars ready to go to their new homes.
'Wait a sec' shouted another behaviouralist as she came out from the office holding a piece of paper. 'We've had a new dog just come in, her name is Daisy, shes a 8 year old black lab, would you like to meet her?' I called Hayley back and got this lady to repeat what she had just bellowed to me. 'Daisy is a black lab just come into us, shes so calm and lovely, would you like to meet her?'
We shared a look of hilarity and without hesitation almost in sync said 'of course its a fucking 8 year old black lab!'. It was meant to be.
Trick 2 - The stars will align but you will likely have played a part in getting them there. I am trying to kick a habit, that habit is putting my achievements down to luck. A friend of mine has called me out on it a few times, so i now correct myself. Most of the time we probably make our own luck but tend to ignore all the hard work that put us in the position to be lucky in the first place.
Daisy has now been part of our little crew for just over 10 weeks and we have had some real success in getting her comfortable and on the way to changing some older, less favourable behaviours. We are starting to see her true personality now and she is a hilarious diva. We've all had a great time, most of the time.
As she was either abandoned or a stray, her background is a little sketchy. We dont really know her real age, we're not 100% certain shes a full on lab (although her endless desire for food and hilarious drool makes me think she is more lab than not!), we dont know what condition she was living in previously and we dont know what type of people were looking after her. What we did learn after week 1 was her anxiety and fear around other dogs. As we slowly introduced her to the park, she became increasingly aggitated with all the other dogs, so much so that she would jump up, lunge and bark, almost as a warning to other dogs that she was so scared she would make a big scene as part of her fight or flight response. We removed her from that situation and took a breath. We had not anticipated this happening but it was clear that the park was a no go area for some time. Daisy wasnt happy we put her in that situation and it was not the best way to create a bond between us. We would have to totally reassess everything and overcome it. This was a stressful time for us all.
Trick 3 - Building resilience helps us overcome those things that don't go the way we thought they would. Having that ability to bounce back and adapt in the face of a challenging situation. This personally felt like another hurdle to overcome but was able to turn my mindset around quicker than previously.
So it turns out that she was attacked by another dog, we arent sure how recent this was but that event clearly has an impact on her behaviour. We would just have to make some changes to our routine and put measures in place that kept everyone safe and calm.
Over the next few weeks, Daisy got accustomed to our home and us as people. We got to know each other and had fun figuring it all out. When she wants to go to the toilet, she will sit in front of you and stare. When you then get up she'll lead you to her bag which has her lead and harness in. Thats her way of saying 'take me out human'. When she is hungry and knows its nearly dinner time, she'll do the same but lead you into the kitchen where her bowl is. When you are cooking she will observe and project manage it, optimistic that something may come her way if she just keeps turning up. She's starting to make some great noises, huffs and puffs when she doesnt get her own way, plus yawns and moans when she is doing her downward dog stretches. These stretches will generally mean that she wants to play for a bit. Daisy doesn't bark at all, unless she is in distress, so we really have to be aware of what her body and movements are telling us. She is giving us clues regularly.
Trick 4 - Be aware of what is going on around you. I can be oblivious to whats going on sometimes, however my emotional intelligence is loads better than it was a few years back. Pick up on the subtle behaviours of others and allow room to understand what is not being said.
We use every walk as an opportunity for training, the everyday activities of a south London road near a train station are all potential hazards for Daisy. Its a bit like playing paperboy on nintendo, having to throw the papers into the letter boxes whilst trying to avoid drains, cyclists, cars and tornados. In Daisy's game her obstacles are people, dogs, things that look like dogs, dog smells, squirrels, cats, birds, balloons, leaves (yes she sometimes thinks leaves are dogs) and crossing the road. Each one provides a different challenge to her and us so we've made sure to reward her for what could be considered as small achievements, ignoring a stranger without wanting to sniff them, keeping still before crossing the road and walking nicely on the lead are prime examples of this. Each time she does one of these she gets a treat. She now knows what she has to do to receive the treat and of course a 'good girl' from me.
Trick 5 - Celebrate the small victories. I am guilty of not pausing to celebrate my own personal achievements, no matter how small they are. Always striving for perfection and managing extremely high, and sometimes unrealistic, expectations of myself. Every morning we celebrate the small wins with Daisy, she knows when she has done a good thing and now expects to get rewarded. This is something i can bring into my own life. Maybe a kitkat for me when i've done something good?
On the face of it, we are training Daisy to do certain things to give her the best life possible, but actually she has been secretly training us to be even better versions of ourselves. I suppose its also worth mentioning her skill of looking at you right in the eyes and farting, another gift that keeps on giving.