Some days the profession I’ve chosen makes me sad.
Clicker trainers have excellent observation skills. We see things other people don’t even notice. We see the dog that licks his lips as his person approaches and know that dog is feeling stress. We notice the panting dog, the slight flinch of the head. We see all the signs that tell us a dog is frightened, confused, scared, or stressed. Signs that lots of people don’t notice. It can be tough.
Sometimes, however, those same observation skills lead us to see some great changes in a dog.
One of my clients rescued a breeding dog who’d birthed who-knows-how-many litters. The dog is seven years old and looks like a worn-out mama. Her belly sags and she’s got gray around her face. She’d lived in a kennel all her life. Oh, she’d been able to come indoors when she gave birth to her pups, but once they were weaned, it was back outside for mama.
She wasn’t abused, she wasn’t neglected, she wasn’t tormented.
She probably got food and water regularly, and her cage was probably kept clean. But she missed out on so much that we take for granted: a relationship with her owners. She wasn’t a pet, she was a means to an end. She produced puppies, which then earned money for her kennel.
When she first came to class, she was very dull.
Her eyes were dull, her tail hung down, there was no connection with her owner, or with anyone for that matter. She was friendly enough, and wagged her tail if you talked to her or pet her. But she had no idea that people could be fun, reliable, the source of good things.
She’s been coming to Canine Building Blocks for about three weeks now. Last night, she was a different dog. There was pep in her step, she was on the same page as her owner, there was real cooperation going on! The dog was offering behaviors in hope of earning the oh-so-desirable click (and treat, of course). She looked like she was really enjoying herself – and I’m sure she was.
Clicker training can change a dog.
It can change you. It can change the way you interact with your dog, and it can open up a whole new world for the two of you. It’s phenomenal. It can take a dog who’d not developed a relationship with a person for all seven years of her life, and turn her into a thinking, learning, and loving dog. Wow. It doesn’t get any better than that. For me, for the dog, and for the owner.
I love this stuff.