A few years ago, a long-term dream had come true and I had finally got my dream dog. Life was going to be great. Perfect, in fact. Or so I thought…
For many years I had dreamt of owning a Siberian Husky. The beauty and majesty of these dogs had always been breathtaking to me — and still are, in fact. Everything about them fascinated me: the beautiful coat and its colours; their ability to pull sleds and almost infinite athletic ability in walking and running; the wolf-like howls often emitted by a happy, talking Husky; and of course, the many cute and appealing antics of Huskies in videos on YouTube. All of this appealed to me and I couldn’t wait to get a Husky of my own, which had finally happened and I was really looking forward to enjoying all of these things and more.
My Husky was a rescued Husky from a rescue centre, and as with many rescue dogs, they are very happy to be rescued and have a new home where they can relax and be comfortable. However, this often doesn’t happen right away and can take days, weeks, or even months for a rescue dog to feel comfortable in their new surroundings — even though they are infinitely better than the rescue centre environment that they have come from. Fortunately, my Husky who was 2–3 years old, settled in quite quickly and bonds started to develop. He would enjoy sitting with me, lying on the bed with me, going for a walk, and playing happily around the house. As soon as I got my Husky, I decided that I would learn how to train the dog and my goal was to be a great pet owner, respected by my dog, and whose dog was admired by others — not just for its beauty but for its behaviour at home and out in the wider world.
My goals were admirable. My results, however, were not.
At this particular point in my life, I was very successful in my professional life and I was longing for the same success in my personal life. I was struggling with my position within the family and my social life and longed to be as able, confident, and as good a leader in my personal life as I was in my professional life. With this in mind, I set out to figure out how to do that in establishing the relationship with my dog and planning how to lead my dog to be the best that he could be.
So my first port of call as a source of information was the TV. I managed to find a TV docu-series about a famous professional dog trainer and began binge-watching episodes every day. I then started to research this trainer more online and read their articles and books. My second port of call was the pet store to purchase some equipment to use with the dog training following advice from online and from staff inside the pet store. The equipment that I bought was a leash, a choke chain, and a shock collar. I combined these with the dominating approaches I had seen and read about. At the time, I didn’t know any better and these were decisions made based on quite a lot of reading, watching, and of generally seeking advice. However, these methods did not work, led to additional problems, and so began the decline of my relationship with my dream dog — this beautiful black and white Siberian Husky. I could see this happening and was so sad and worried that I was doing something to cause this dramatic shift: my dog no longer wanted to spend time with me, became unresponsive even to his own name, and would move away if I walked by or went to his space in the room.
As I’m sure we all do when we’re faced with a current approach that doesn’t seem to be working, even though we’ve followed instructions, advice, and recommendations to the letter, I started to think: “There has to be a better way, right?” I began doing even more research and thankfully discovered a different approach to dog training after finding a different professional trainer to model. This trainer used had a much more positive outlook and used way more positive training methods. I started to admire this trainer, their methods, and successes greatly and really got into it deeply. This helped me realise that THIS is what I should’ve been doing all along.
I decided to read, watch, and find out as much as I could about this method of training using positive reinforcement as opposed to the positive punishment methods I had previously come across. I also wanted to find organisations and other trainers using these methods to diversify my learning and so I followed and contacted a range of organisations and trainers who shared this new philosophy. In fact, the pull towards this new philosophy was so strong that I gave up my previous career and decided to focus exclusively on dog training as a new career and lifelong passion.
However, navigating this new career path hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
Of course, there are people who strongly believe in the old-school way of doing things much more so than the new, more positive ways. Not to mention the many, many people who admire Trainer A in my story and despise Trainer B. So for a while, I wasted a lot of time trying to convince the haters online or face to face — but now I focus on trying to spread the word of positive training and working with owners who identify with my story and want a kinder, better way to train their dog so they can achieve a better life with their dog.
What I’ve achieved now is a very harmonious life with my dog and ability to keep him happy and healthy through my knowledge of training, nutrition, behaviour, and a whole host of other areas. It’s also great to know that I can effect change without inflicting harm unintentionally.
The realisation that dogs have evolved to live among us — but we need to evolve too in our understanding and treatment of them in order for both of us to enjoy our lives together to the fullest, was a a great revelation and now my lifelong goal for myself and others.
Moving from the need to be a leader to the desire to be a partner.