What have I learnt from Axel?
I have learnt the struggle of ‘How do I communicate with my dog?’
He lost the plot every time he saw another dog. I didn’t know what to do, and felt completely out of my depth. What had I taken on when I adopted this two and a half year old Cairn Terrier? Had I made a terrible mistake?
I understood, only too well, how easy it is to give up and assign your dog to the back yard and avoid the struggle of walking him/her. However, I also understood that I had made a commitment to Axel, to give him both a home, and a family, and in order for him to be happy, I needed to be able to understand how to work with him, to walk him, to resolve issues that arose—those issues that made me feel out of my depth. Axel was not going to be assigned to the back yard for the rest of his life, and not be allowed to explore life and share experiences with me. I did not want to be miserable and have a miserable dog. I had to find a way to deal with all of this.
I was already doing dog training at a facility, but we had not yet reached the class on how to deal with a dog going nuts, we were still working on the foundations, so, feeling in desperate need of help, I contacted a canine behaviourist for extra help. Between these two I gained a vast, and very different, appreciation of how to work with Axel. I wanted positive training, and for him and I to both have a good time, and for it all to be fun!
It is not that I want Axel to be blindly obedient to me, it is that I want to understand him, and for us to have a mutual respect and awareness of each other. Already I understand the look on his face and the sound he makes when he wants help because he has pulled the stuffing out of his ball! He wants me to come and fix it. I am committed to learning about canine communication and signals.
I am also learning a deep and abiding respect for animals and how to approach, and not to approach, them, and to respect their space. (You would be horrified to know how many people come straight up to a dog and pat him/her with no awareness that that is not how to greet a dog, and no respect for whether the dogs wants to be patted or left in peace!)
Why bother with all this learning? Because I want this to be a great relationship, not just between Axel and I, but between the entire family! (We have another dog in the family and a cat too, as well as other humans.) With understanding, we can be together in harmony, peace, and love, and be on the same wavelength, so to speak. I want Axel and I to understand each other.
I reinforce positive behaviour that I see instead of ignoring it. I gently call him away from behaviour I do not want to see, engage him in positive play, and reward him. He comes to work with me, to the shops with me (and waits in the car), and he is very at ease with all of that. It’s as if he knows that when we are at work he has to behave. There is no Plan B. And he gets that. He understands that I have to work, and he is content just to be hanging out with me, and for the playtime during the day, and also before and after work. He loves the customers, and they love him!
When we are out walking Axel may lose the plot when he sees other dogs, but I am learning how to deal with that. It takes time. And I never let Axel meet another dog ‘head on’, which is kind of hard when we are both walking along the same footpath. I learnt (from the canine behaviourist) that dogs naturally ‘curve’ when they see another dog coming (if they are off leash), so when I saw a dog coming, and crossed the road with Axel, and then crossed back again after we had passed the other dog, he said that was ‘curving’ and that is what dogs naturally do. So, here I was working with the dog’s natural behaviour, to support him and also to make life easier on both him and the other dog (and it’s owner). And yet, how often do we insist on walking along the straight footpath with our dogs and force them to meet head on, and then wonder why they get uncomfortable. That is not to excuse Axel losing the plot, because he does that when the dog is on the other side of the road if he sees him the moment we get out the front door! He just gets crazy excited!
Forcing our dogs to fit into our human world without respecting their language and their rights, is as crazy as insisting an immigrant who does not speak English nor understand out customs, immediately live the way we are telling them too! They don’t know how we live, and they can’t understand anything we are saying to them. But, if we can learn some of their language, and respect the way they naturally live … then we can truly live alongside each other in harmony.
Awareness of how dogs communicate is becoming more common, and it truly does make a massive difference to our enjoyment of our canine family members.
I plan many adventures with Axel, and our other dog too … camping trips, hiking, beach trips … And all the way along, I will continue to learn and observe, and build a relationship. Axel has already gifted me so much.
I will share this journey with you … and hopefully I can inspire more people to take the time to learn the art of communication with their dogs, to read the signals, the body language, and to develop a kindness and a respect towards all dogs. We are barely scratching the surface of the kind of bond we can have with our dogs.