Every dog has its own idiosyncrasies that are often a mirror of his owners’.
Working with a shepherd mix that was found tied up in Tijuana, Mexico, was a very rewarding experience. Toby was covered in bleeding sores when he came to a training vacation with me. I took him to the vet and started loving him back to health. He was closed off like a tight shell. He didn’t take food from me, didn’t want to be touched, or to connect with the other happy dogs that I introduced him to.
It took me a few days of private dog training, but he started eating and he let me rub the different creams on his wounded body. I was baby-talking to him, and soothing him with my voice and my face expression, as he still preferred not to be touched for very long. But then he gave me a kiss. And then another, and another. I was so happy and I reinforced it with a singsongy tone of voice saying Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiss, each time he kissed me. I smeared yogurt on the back of my palm for him to kiss (lick), as I reinforced it with words and smiles. I also used coconut oil, almond butter, and hummus.
Something in him clicked and he began trusting me. All the joy that he was never allowed to experience came out and he was like a little pony, running around and playing with me, other people I introduced him to and other dogs.
2 weeks into the private dog boarding, his owner came to take him back home. I got a call a day later that he was growling at the house manager. That was so unlike Toby, and I had to see it for myself.
The house manager was a woman. She was from Eastern Europe, and she proceeded to tell me that the dog was staring her down, and she wanted to know how to “overpower” him. I almost died. I spent the next two hours providing dog training online trying to convince her to smile at the dog, to no avail. I then tried to get her to say his name in a happy tone of voice, to no avail. I tried to play the happy Come Game with her, to no avail. She was so harsh, insisting that she’s a kind woman. Toby was at a loss.
It didn’t matter what she was on the inside, as she was harsh and scary on the outside. Absolutely militant.
That woman was emotionally stuck. Somewhere over her life, she developed that armor that helped her to survive something that had happened. How do I know it? Because I believe that no kid is born that closed off and that harsh, that even a scared doggie doesn’t soften him or her. I truly believe that it’s a learned behavior, and that Toby is in her life because it’s time for her to be free of that mental prison that she’s living in.
No, Toby is not her dog. But as the house manager, she spends most of the time with him. He is an angel in her life (she almost spit at me when I suggested it). I can see that Toby is going to be her training wheels to practice on how it feels to smile, how it feels to exhale, how it feels to be gentle with someone. He is there with no judgment, simply mirroring and giving her an honest feedback on how scary she comes across (despite the kindness in her heart).
This is the beginning. I don’t know if she will recognize that this is an opportunity for her. That Toby is a gift from the universe, inviting her to soften up. I’m praying that she will be able to lower her armor and love on sweet Toby. If she will, her life will take a different direction all together. I hope that LOVE will win 🙂