Photo by Dr. Karen Thompson
I believe I've learned more from my mistakes with dogs than from my successes, and my failures have been many and public, and sometimes, controversial. My successes have been numerous also. Anyone who trains dogs and claims a perfect record is not in reality. I have learned much, and have much to learn.
Rose was a triumph, Lenore one of the best trained animals I have ever known, and Frieda the most difficult – and still ongoing – work with dogs that I have done in my life. I am getting good at this. Want to be better yet. Frieda is perhaps the greatest success. I've worked with Frieda every day for nearly three years and she is really just beginning to get there. I've had four different border collies, trialed a half dozen times, seen a dozen trainers and worked with sheep on and off for nearly 10 years.
I see Red as a challenge on a par with Frieda. He has different issues and needs but they are complex and will challenge me. First, there is the challenge of working with him. He is a great working dog, and he needs that focus and consistency to his life. Then, there is the challenge of acclimating him to a different kind of life. Inside a house, riding in cars, going on my rounds, meeting new people, being a pet as well as a working dog.
I can already see from the messages pouring in about him that some see this as a trauma or a drama. He will be needy, traumatized. I'm not putting that on him unless I see it happening. This reminds me a bit of my first encounters with Rocky, when so many people insisted on seeing him as a piteous creature in need of rescue. That is not the case with Red. And I want to be upfront about it: I'm not going there. If that is what people do with their dogs, it's their business. It's not what I do. Training new dogs is not a drama. It is a painstaking, lengthy and life-long process.
It would be hard to find a better-trained or well cared for animal than this dog, or a more competent animal handler than his owner. Dogs are adaptable, it's how they survive and prosper in the cruel and fickle human world. Just look at the power of those eyes. I would not want to be a sheep crossing him. Or a human, for that matter. The intelligence and desire to work in those eyes could cut through steel.
The challenge is for me to be patient. To get to know Red. To give him work. To get him stable and secure. To housebreak him. Walk with him. Write with him. Take photos of him. To figure out what he needs to live a more fully-rounded life and to be my great pal and companion. Maria's too. I love these challenges with dogs, they are my work and my life.
I have written before that the challenge of new and social media is to share life, but not surrender it. I am not seeking advice. Other people's stories are not necessarily relevant to Red's. The only person who knows him well is Dr. Thompson, and her opinions count the most, more than mine at this point.
I will share the process step by step. I think Red could be a wonderful book from what I already know of his story, but it's too soon to really tell. I don't want to put that on him. I'll do a Big Red Diary on the blog. I love challenges, and I intend to do well by him. How lucky I am to have this opportunity.