Monday, March 3, 2014

In the Beginning...

Once upon a time, on June 11th, 2005, I brought home the most amazing dog. No, wait, actually I brought home a possessed demon deceptively shaped like an adorable puppy. It was a trap.

Puppy see, puppy do<---Really, who would suspect that?

I had spent most of my 22 years reading every dog training book I could get my hands on, and had trained my cocker spaniel to do every trick I had ever seen or heard of, so I figured I was now an experienced dog owner. It was time to start fresh with a brand new puppy of my very own, to mold and shape and socialize into the perfect dog. I had just graduated college and was working at a pet store, it was exactly the right time to get a puppy.

This was going to be my ultimate dog. He would be a canine athlete and excel at agility, obedience, flyball, tracking, dock diving, scootering, disc dog, musical freestyle, and herding. He would be a therapy dog and an animal actor. This puppy held the promise that I could do everything I had read about while I was growing up, everything that my cocker, Oakley, was too old for. She knew oodles of tricks, but was already blind and arthritic by the time I was adult and finally able to fully participate.

Baby Brisbane hidingOf course, life has a way of sending you the dog you need instead of the dog you want. Brisbane was devastatingly cute, but was also a monster that came packaged with issues I wouldn't recognize for years. He was, and continues to be, a whole lot of dog in a relatively small package. Briz cut his baby teeth late, and finished getting them in just in time to start losing them again. This meant roughly six months of teething puppy. He also had noticeable spinal issues from about 4 months on, and various veterinarians have speculated that he could have been born with damaged discs.

That was just the physical stuff. Behaviorally, Brisbane was also a terror. When he wasn't sleeping adorably, he was biting something. Not chewing, he was never a big fan of gnawing on random objects. He just liked biting stuff in an obsessive fashion. Anything was fair game, from shoes and books on the floor, to the pants I was wearing, to Oakley's ears. I used to cover everything in Bitter Apple spray each morning.

Basically a puppy hamsterball
On top of all the biting, Brisbane was overstimulated by everything. In retrospect, the biting was actually because he was so overstimulated. Basic handling, grabbing his collar, trying to clip his nails, everything sent him into a screaming, flailing meltdown. None of my puppy books had taught me how to deal with this. I took him to puppy class at Petsmart, and the trainer there was equally baffled. It took me most of a year to find the right books, the right online communities, and people who understood how Australian cattledogs work. It took even longer for me to learn the right words to describe his behavior, and the right books to read.

Owning Brisbane has been a fascinating education in all things canine. His innate behavior issues drove me to learn everything I could about dog behavior, body language, and behavior modification and management. His physical issues forced me to abandon the plans to make him an agility champion and flyball star, but taught me far more about conformation and structure than I ever would have learned with a more functional dog. He is confident enough to let me know how he feels about things, and infinitely trainable. Brisbane will be nine years old in a couple of months, but he still looks like a dog in his prime. I'm sure he has plenty more to teach me, and he has worked hard to train me to listen.

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