June 28, 2016

Old dog. New tricks.

There's a fair amount to be said about this new-to-my-life doggy. First, the details: his name is Ace, he's about two years old, and we found him, (you know, the mutual finding) at a GSD Rescue not so far from us.  He's not the old dog, by the way. I'm the old dog. He's the one teaching me about relationships.

To back up, we lost our sweet Max, an 11 year old German-born GSD. He left us in January because a tumor, much more than he could handle, made him acutely anemic, and as quickly as we learned about it, we had to let him go. It took a day of saying goodbye, right after Christmas.

It was a hard goodbye to one of the best friends we've all ever had. Then, because God is good and He knows us, we went home to the love of Lucy, our mix-of-some-kind puppy we brought home two summers ago. Lucy added joy to Max's life and was trained well by him. Lucy made the landing softer for all of us. All 20 pounds of her buoyed our sad spirits for a good while.

Knowing there would be a next German Shepherd Dog, just not yet, I contacted a breeder or two of German-style GSDs and thought maybe by summer we'd be ready to think about a new dog. Then one end-of-January morning, my husband walked out of the bedroom dressed to go and suggested we all get ready to visit Westside GSD rescue -- just to look. Pause. If you're a dog lover, you know what just looking means.

So the meeting was funny. He didn't give me the time of day, but leaned on my daughter. My husband thought he was beautiful and well-mannered. We had to go back twice to let him meet Lucy. (They still haven't figured their friendship out and that's a long story). Needless to say, he was ours the day we met him. He went directly to about seven weeks of in-board training with Robert and his team at Assertive K-9 Training. Diana (Foster) Vorhees and her son Robert own this facility. Diana is a highly credentialed trainer who has an uncanny understanding of dog (and human) behavior. Robert is the most direct, almost magical, trainer we've ever met. In our opinion, Assertive K-9 Training is the best place to have a dog trained by professionals who know how to train the mighty GSD. More on them later.

Now, to the point -- the reason for this post.

The truth is I just now figured it all out. This boy, who was in a high kill shelter, then a rescue, then training, is now home. He's been home for about eight weeks. In this training method the first four weeks home are tough for people like me who want to roll on the floor with their dog. You don't get to do it. You maintain a loving, respectful and distant relationship as they settle in to learn the family routine. There's not a lot of talking and greeting. There is feeding and moving from in to out and back, and lots of walking and training. He heeled and sat and downed and stayed a lot these four weeks. He also played ball and frisbee and hide and seek. And as time goes on and he adjusted, the commands have become a language between us. We ask for a behavior and this working dog is happy to offer. He's finding his way. And so are we. While he's been studying my ways (and the ways of the family) I've been learning about him. When I think we're practicing obedience training, we're actually relating. He looks for my knee to stay with me and then my eyes and I tell him how great he is to check. We walk into the yard and I ask him for the big finish, a half hour down-stay. He was really good at this before he left training but when he got home here, it became a bit of a struggle. He pushed. I pushed. And sometimes had to reset him in his spot fifteen or so times before he stayed. (Insert all the things we think and say when things don't go the way they're supposed to, when we're pushed to our limits. I sweat like crazy and lose most of my dignity.) Then I remember, he wants to know if I'm serious. I want him to know I'm the leader. And it just seems to work out.

Every Saturday we get up early and hop into my old Land Cruiser and drive way out to the training facility. We heal and sit with a bunch of other GSDs and a Catahoula Hound-Mastiff mix named Lucy who we love.  Most of them younger than Ace. Some more stubborn. All trying to learn how to do what their people are asking. This past week we turned a corner. He was the star of the day. Sitting and downing and staying like a champion. They pulled out agility equipment at the end and we really got to play. Up and over barrels, through tunnels, over hurdles and then home. It was then that it all came together. Its a relationship.
And for this guy, who spent the first two years of his life who-knows-where, it's one requiring agreements. Shelter, food and water for sure. But presence and love and play all the more. As I was helping him into the truck as we were going home, he licked my face like I was made of steak. Kisses. A profusion of kisses. I think he was thanking me for the day at what must feel like Doggy Disneyland. And for being his family. And for training and loving him.
We are beginning a relationship. He's no longer a foreign dog in my home. He's my dog. I'm quite ready to learn all he has to teach me.

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