Making the Right Decision

10406615_10156003312825162_4983023436368637414_nFour months ago, I brought home a wiggly, goofy, brilliant and sometimes challenging dog and named him Dodger.

We spent almost every waking moment together, training, walking, playing, snuggling. What a delight to work with! I couldn’t believe how quickly he would pick up on things and how easily he would generalize most behaviours. We worked through many challenges together but there were a couple issues that were a little sticky.

One, was his leash-based issues with other dogs and the other was his fear of public transit and large trucks. These may not be major issues for other people, however I live in a condo downtown where the chances of sharing an elevator or narrow sidewalk with a dog is higher than not, off-leash dogs are common, and I’m surrounded by two streetcar routes, one bus route, a Greyhound bus route, and a major construction zone next door.

Week by week, his foundation behaviours strengthened by the mile, our bond did too. He made me laugh until I cried almost daily. We took our own Cranky Canine class and he thrived. People pulled their cars over when they saw us walking because of our games and our gorgeous heelwork. We had an audience on every walk. Unfortunately, when we walked closer to the streetcar routes or a bus passed by, poor Dodger (or “Dodgeball” as I affectionately call him) would pin his ears and drool. While he could still perform basic behaviours like “touch”, “sit”, “down”, I could see that his emotional state was not great.

Our world was not getting any bigger. I couldn’t take him on transit outside of the core to give him relief and I could sense his growing frustration. I knew that he needed to run and I had nowhere to safely do that. My goal was to give this dog an amazing home and in most ways I did. I resolved his health issues in the first month and a half, provided him amazing home-cooked food and supplements, spent much of our time together training and playing brain games, and laying on the love pretty thick.

I couldn’t erase his fears and while I was able to get pretty close to a Conditioned Emotional Response to his triggers, it just wasn’t enough. He would trigger-stack daily; on one walk, the buses would grate on his nerves, on the next walk, an off-leash dog might charge us, on another walk, a close call in an elevator, and by the end of the day, he would step outside and immediately drool from the anticipation of the next stressor or he would bark and lunge at a dog across the street, which would normally not cause any reaction at all.

The realization that I may not be able to control our environment enough for Dodger to live a full and happy life was the most heartbreaking one of all. My love for him (and his for me) would not be enough. I could use medication to lower his anxiety but it would only be a Band-aid solution as the reality is…I live downtown and this Border Collie needs to run.

Making the right decision was not easy at all. I flip-flopped for weeks and tried to convince myself that it could all be done. I struggled with the judgement that would come – a professional dog trainer who can’t fix her own dog. I cried my eyes out at the thought of losing the perfect dog because of an environmental / geographical issue.

The truth is…sometimes loving a dog means doing what is best for him and not necessarily yourself.

In early October, I sent Dodger back to the rescue for five days of boarding while I visited my family for Thanksgiving, and when I saw the videos and pictures of him off-leash, running, and playing with dogs…I knew that I could not justify bringing him back to Toronto. I cannot offer him what he needs in his life and therefore he has a better chance of happiness if he is placed in a home in a rural or suburban area where he can have playmates and off-leash time.

The reality will set in over the coming weeks and I miss him already but knowing he’s happy and not being triggered daily is enough for me to know I’ve made the right decision. He’s going to find a wonderful home and I hope they love him and find as much joy in him as much as I have. The way I have to look at this is that perhaps I have just been a pretty fantastic foster home for him. That gives me a little comfort…

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3 Responses to Making the Right Decision

  1. Amy Paterson says:

    So sorry to hear this Caryn! You did so much for hum and of course helped him tremendously. You are always welcome to a love sesh from Baloo any time you need one! We hope to see you in cranky canine level 2 once it gets up and running!

  2. I’m so sorry, Caryn. I understand your heartbreak as I had to return a retired racing greyhound some years ago after realizing that I wasn’t equipped to deal with his stress levels after a couple of weeks. I cried so much while knowing I was doing the right thing for him.

  3. Tasha Estey says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and experience. You made the heartbreaking choice to do what is in Dodger’s best interests. What an act of love and compassion!

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