Are You Connected to Your Dog
Walking through the park the other day I passed by all sorts of dogs; a few adorable terrier mixes, a Vizsla, two very elegant Standard Poodles, countless lab mixes, a very goofy Beagle, a tiny Chihuahua, a Maltese, a Briard, a trio of Bloodhounds, and even a Pyrenean Shepherd. It was a veritable jackpot for a dog fanatic like me. Aside from the vast differences in physical type, there were also dramatic differences in their behavior. Not just in the ways you might expect, such as the Bloodhounds having their noses glued to the ground, or the Chihuahua strutting about with way more confidence than most creatures have that are so small. What struck me most was how different the connection was between each dog and the person at the end of the leash.
For the vast majority of dogs, if I could have seen the thought bubble above their heads, it would probably read something along the lines of “This perfectly wonderful romp in the park is being ruined by what’s his name back there who keeps yelling at me and yanking on the leash! Oh, there’s a squirrel!”
There was one outstanding exception though. If I had to give a blue ribbon to one of these canine/handler teams it would surely go to a pit bull mix, who I later found out is called Mogul, and his person, Martin. As I watched this pair navigate the park it was clear that Mogul was thoroughly enjoying his outing. He was taking in all the activity around him and enjoyed a good sniff of the ground every so often. But, he consistently checked in with his person by looking to him and even touching his hand. This fellow seemed to get it that going for a walk could be an endeavor that fulfilled his personal desire to do lots of those things dogs love best, but it could also be a team effort and one that resulted in both members of the team having a wonderful time.
After a bit, I mustered the courage to approach them and let Martin know how impressed I was with his dog and his handling skills. He was thrilled (as I would be!) to have someone acknowledge what a wonderful dog he has. But, it turns out it took a bit of effort to get him to admit that he also deserved some of the praise. What a wonderful pet parent, wanting to let his dog take all the credit!
As it turns out, Mogul is a dog Martin rescued just 6 months ago when he was 2 years-old. According to Martin, the shelter told him Mogul had been surrendered when he was about 6 months-old because the family said they were moving and couldn’t take him. He was adopted in a month, but then re-surrendered 8 months later because the family said he was out of control. He remained in the shelter until Martin adopted him. I asked him what made him choose a dog with a history like Mogul’s and his response was one that is so simple, but the same sentiment is responsible for saving many dogs who have been neglected and abandoned…”I felt sorry for him.”
As you can imagine, my first impression of Martin was that he was a pretty sweet guy. But, I still wanted to know what he thought he had done to develop such a nice relationship with his dog. His answer was a bit sad and sweet, but don’t worry, it has a very happy ending. He explained that his long time girlfriend had broken up with him right before he adopted Mogul and that he really needed a friend who would tolerate his pretty sad state of mind. At this point he admitted that Mogul was suffering from some behavior issues when they first met. He was fearful, anxious, very jumpy, and excessively barky. But, Martin said the worst part was that he would rarely make eye contact with people and was reluctant to be petted, let alone to cuddle, something Martin had hoped his new canine friend would do. None of this is a surprise considering Mogul’s history.
So, Martin hired a trainer to assist him with teaching Mogul some basic manners which he feels really helped. But, ultimately, he says that he thinks they bonded so well because of something a friend said to him. “This is definitely a dog who will make you work very hard to earn his trust.” Martin said he hadn’t expected to have to earn a dog’s friendship. But, he was commited to him and said he saw the situation as an opportunity to focus on something other than his failed relationship.
He set about earning Mogul’s trust by being patient and setting aside lots of time to spend with him doing things that he thought would make the dog happy. He took him to the park and hung out on a bench (he said Mogul seemed calmer when just hanging out in one spot), he fed him his food by hand, sat on the floor of the living room when he was watching TV so it was easier for Mogul to choose to come close, “I basically made it my hobby to get to know the inner workings of Mogul” he said.
At this point in the story, Martin had warmed up and laughed about the irony of the situation. He said part of the reason he thinks his girlfriend left him was because she thought he was impatient with her and distracted. “I probably sound like a self-help book, but helping Mogul helped me as well.”
I told him he had clearly accomplished something wonderful, a very connected and rewarding relationship with his dog. The moral of the story? Sometime those friendships we have to earn end up being the best.