By: Cheryl Van Voorhies M.ed
After suffering numerous life tragedies back to back to back, the death of my mother, a ten-year relationship done, the death of my fifteen and a half-year-old Pekingese, who was “perfect” and my house burglarized – I found myself spiraling into a world of going to work and staying at home alone. I had lost all my confidence. The silence in my house each night was almost deafening. I started thinking, “If this is what life is like until I die, my spirit will be dead long before my body.”
So, I decided to get a puppy, YIPPEE! A big dog puppy, a German Shepherd puppy, to help keep me company when l was lonely, to protect me if someone broke into my home, to do new and exciting things with….a new adventure! Yes! Yup, a new adventure all right, but not the one I expected.
I thought I did all the right things when choosing a puppy. I went to the breeder two times after the puppies were born and observed the mother. She seemed slightly timid but was receptive to strangers, and the puppies seemed to be in a very active, clean environment. I ran through a giant pasture with what seemed like a gazillion puppies running after me. I sat down under a tree, my new puppy crawled into my lap and bit my nose. The rest was history! Seele pronounced Zeelah, means spirit or soul in German. Be careful what you name your dog, boy is she full of spirit!
Once we got home I realized she was not the typical puppy I had growing up. She did not like to be held, she was not a kiss-your-face kinda dog, and all she did was chew on my legs and hands whenever I tried to pick her up or play with her…I renamed her the piranha dog. So, off to puppy class we go, where she did seem a little skittish with other dogs and people. Mind you, all the puppies I ever had were not schooled, I just taught them the basic sit, stay, come as we all did when we were growing up. I really got an understanding of how fearful she was in the third class that she took. Larger dogs were enrolled and as they were given some social time (most dogs just played and interacted quite appropriately) Seele hid behind the chairs and was panicked by the noise of the dogs running and playing. I left class really upset after seeing such frightening behavior in my dog.
I have to tell you, even walking my dog to try to socialize her was a nightmare, I didnʼt know what to do to help her when she became fearful and either attempted to run away or barked ferociously at the object, person, or dog that terrified her. She was frustrated, I was frustrated feeling inadequate as a dog owner, feeling like my dog and I would never get along. I was in tears a lot with this puppy that I felt never seemed to like me.
I attended every dog class I could with Seele, nine plus (but whoʼs counting). We went to puppy classes, agility classes where a class member told me my dog would make a good “stay at home” dog (that certainly didnʼt help me become more confident with my dog), obedience, rally, and private lessons to name a few. Mind you, my dog was fairly good at all of these, the problem being her initial fear and reactivity-it scared other people in the class. Her reactivity made me feel sad, as Seele was high energy and needed a job, and I wanted something to do too.
At home, she was very obedient and loved to learn and play. She was quite “silly” at times but due to my frustration, I never appreciated it. I wanted her to be “perfect”, sit and stay on command, come when called, and just act perfect. After attending a Body Language Seminar at Lucky Dog Sports Club, presented by Dr. Radosta, I realized I had been reading my dog somewhat correctly concerning her fearfulness but I wasnʼt helping her deal with it correctly. Her reactions were telling me “help me, I am terrified” “Why are we doing this?” “I am not having fun here…hello?” How do I deal with a dog that is fearful and is not confident when I was not confident either?
I enrolled her in the Reactive Dog Class and learned techniques to help me and my dog work together through any situation that would have normally stressed both of us out. I remember a quote from Dr. Radosta that resounds in my brain, ”Do what your dog loves, not what
youʼd love your dog to do”. I didnʼt really “get it” at first until the first time I saw my dog participate in “tracking”. She wasnʼt reactive. She was calm and totally enjoyed herself. We were both so not stressed. I was so happy for her. She had fun for a change. It was then I began to see Seele in a different light, I saw her always trying to please me, always willing to work, but best of all a happy, silly, goofy German Shepherd that just loves life. I started making sure any activity we took part in was right for her not right for me. I started getting confident in the fact that I could read my dog and not put her in a “reactive” situation. This confidence quickly transferred to my dog and we are now an awesome team!
Seele now participates in tracking, Nose Work, and Treibball. She has a few favorite “play buddies”, and I have met amazing people and made wonderful lifelong friendships due solely to my dog. I am even teaching Nose Work Classes. We are constantly on the go!
I look back on the last three and half years and think, WOW, have WE come a long way! We came from a time filled with frustration and a lack of communication to now, where this wonderful dog has taught me so much more than I could have possibly taught her. Every night she crawls up on the couch with me and kisses my face, and yes, still bites my nose. She is no longer that insane puppy that drove me crazy, but this wonderful soul that has taught me patience, how to laugh and have fun, but most of all she has taught me unconditional love….why? Because, no matter what, Seele will always be “perfect” to me….just the way she is.