Last night I was teaching our Reactive urbanK9 Orientation and  my two eldest dogs, Guinniss and Deja, were with me. They love these nights and I am always so proud of them when they are there. Guinniss always works the room and melts everyone’s hearts. I love sharing his story and he has become a beacon of accomplishment, encouragement and success. He seems to just understand his role and immediately wanders the room ensuring he spends time with each person. He looks them in the eye, rests his head on his lap and gives them the up down in search for some treats. I love joking with the class about how we perhaps overdid his work with people as he has become such a attention seeking sweetheart. I watched him do this slowly last night, spend more time on his bed sleeping and struggle with the demos. He gave it his best and escorted everyone out for special goodbyes and I knew it was time for official retirement.

Initially it broke my heart and I thought about how maybe he still had some left in him. And then I remembered the most important lesson he has taught me: acceptance. I’ve been working on another blog post for the Reactive urbanK9 program on acceptance and realized it would become so much more. I wanted to start the series with a tribute to my special boy. Guinniss was the reason I opened dogma. I realized Calgary lacked the appropriate places to help our fearful/reactive dogs that were screaming for help. Facilities were often ran (and unfortunately still are) with too many dogs being supervised by untrained staff. Classes involved bringing all dogs in the room, and even though there may be visual barriers, this is way too stressful for the dogs. I knew Guinniss needed something different, and knew all dogs like him did, so together we decided we needed to create it. Guinniss took the role of my teacher and taught me more than I could ever have learned from people, book or seminars. He has been patient and has allowed me to make many mistakes while always being forgiving and ready to get out and work some more. The lessons have been immeasurable and one of the greatest is acceptance.

So how have I accepted Guinniss? My initial goals were for him to be with me at dogma at the daycare, assist more in classes and just be involved in more of my day to day work. Could I have done this with him? I think we could have accomplished this with time and the right set ups. We are an amazing team and he has already come so far. And he continues to progress and surprise me this late in his life. Would it have been the best choice for him? Absolutely not.

Accepting our dogs is challenging for us. And I see this over and over; well-intentioned dog owners often feel that the only way for their dogs to be happy is for them to be going off leash, maybe attending daycare or being able to attend certain classes. As I learned the importance of making the right decisions for the dogs in our care, we have been faced with a variety of reactions. Most often, dog owners show relief and are thrilled that they don’t need to continue the pressure to have their dog love everything. They have already accepted them and love being reassured. Occasionally, we have some that become quite angry. They take this personally and place blame on us for not working their dog through their challenges. They view it as a failure and become discouraged with our decision. I would like to believe that most come to realize that these decisions were made to provide the best for their dog (and the others in our care), but I understand their frustration. However, we need to learn to accept the dog we have and provide the best environment to keep them happy.

I decided early on that Guinniss would not enjoy daycare. He was older, the dogs were full of energy, and I would risk setting him back, or at the very least, put him under a great deal of stress with my goal that he enjoy it. I realized if given the choice, he would prefer to stay at home and enjoy walks with me in the trees. And what is wrong with that life? Nothing. It has been wonderful and has likely increased our bond even further. I learned to listen and accept. And last night I was reminded of this decision. I would love to have him come with me more. I want people to experience him and learn from him at dogma. But, he has done his job. How lucky we were to have him at the ones he could attend. How happy I am that he has touched so many. I need to accept his age and limits. To return the acceptance he has given me. I will continue to take this lesson and encourage others to help make the best choices for their dogs. And so I thank you, Guinniss. It’s time for an official retirement.