When we adopted Gomez, I had a few friends and family members essentially ask me, “With so many dogs that need homes, why Gomez? Why didn’t you adopt one that was easier/better trained?” This line of questioning might seem a little callous, but I was pretty frazzled when we originally brought him home. I was hardly eating and so exhausted that I could not keep my eyes open past 8pm. I was having nightmares. I was dressing even worse than I normally dress. So those inquiring about our choice of Gomez were coming from a place of concern rather than coldness. They meant well. Each time I would respond meekly with some version of, “But he’s a really nice dog. He’s just… he’s a lot of work.” Then I’d burst into tears and each time the person would respond concernedly, “There, there. It’ll be ok. Also, not to be a jerk, but please don’t just show up crying at my house in the middle of the night again. I think my neighbors have called the cops, so… you should probably go home and put on some pants.”
I’d love to say we adopted Gomez because I’m the Mother Theresa of homeless dogs and would settle for nothing less than a hot mess of a canine reject. “In fact,” I could self-righteously exclaim, “I’d love Gomez even more if, in addition to being a homeless orphan, he were also blind. And a leper.” But that’s just not the case. I think it was a healthy mixture of well-meaning ignorance and overconfidence in my dog whisperer abilities. My mentality was essentially, “Well, my greyhound Emma was almost as big as Gomez. I can handle a big dog, no sweat! And though Asha presented some early challenges, we trained her pretty easily. We’ve got this!”
In retrospect, there were some very early and obvious signs that Gomez was going to take a good chunk of work. For instance, when his foster mom Stacey came by to visit our house with her two very polite, pit bull savvy kids. Her eleven year old son Daniel, seeing the wimpy little baby gates I had purchased, looked at me and matter-of-factly said, “Oh, he will jump right over those.” My first thought should have been, “Hmmm, maybe I need taller/stronger baby gates.” It wasn’t. Instead I dismissively thought, “Yeah, he can jump it, but that doesn’t mean he will.” Sure enough, Gomez has shown on several occasions that he is perfectly able to jump my dumb, cheap baby gates with ease when he wants to do so. Stacey’s fourteen year old daughter Carlitha offhandedly mentioned how Gomez often stole her clothes and refused to relinquish them. Instead of thinking this was a potential issue, I thought, “Well, we’re not children, Carlitha. We keep our stuff picked up.” Because I’m a grown up and grown ups are assholes. Little did I know how fast Gomez could be when he wanted to steal something that wasn’t his and run around the house with it. If kids tell you things, you should listen to them. Despite these signs, Gomez seemed like such a nice pup. The only thing I could think was, “He’s good with people and he and Asha like each other. Everything else is gonna just fall into place!” Ha.
So when Gomez came home a spazzy, exhausting, 70 pound ball of blockheaded canine energy, what made me power through? After all, the adoption group we got him from has a “return policy” that made clear we could, within ten days, return him with no problem if it didn’t work out. But I never considered this. Partly because I’m stubborn, but also because, despite my fears, I knew I could do this. And I knew that Gomez deserved to have somebody stand by him. On some level, I acknowledged that this was an opportunity to truly succeed. Because it is only when you have the ability to do something, but give up because it’s hard that you truly fail. Sure, I didn’t have all the answers, but I was going to guide this guy down Good Dog Road if it took everything I had. So I chose to double down and put my all into training this well-meaning caveman. It hasn’t always been easy, but the pay off so far has been monumental. I know we made the right choice. Every new challenge brings about an opportunity for more success. And with each success, Gomez’s confidence grows. And so does mine. You can’t beat that.
About a month or so ago, I got an email from our trainer Tammy that included a picture of her dog Lilly and the following message:
“Here’s a picture of my beautiful Lilly at the ripe old age of 14, the summer before she died. Lilly was my Gomez! She was a wild child! Lilly is why I became a dog trainer. She pushed every button I had. But with lots of work, she became a wonderful dog. So when I look at this photo, the only thing I can see is a very good girl. Gomez will be your Lilly — a very good dog indeed! So keep up all the great work. And when you think you are going to lose your mind and sell him to the gypsies, look at this picture of old Lilly and know there is hope for that big brown dog who ate your boot!”
As I looked at the picture Tammy had sent, it occurred to me that Gomez has made so much progress down Good Dog Road that he’s already become a very good dog. Indeed. Heck, the most “mischief” he’s caused today is setting his head down on my iPad and opening my GoodReads app with his big, floppy jowls. (I did notice a book called Opening Your Own Line of Credit and Other Things Humans Don’t Want You To Know has been added to my reading list, but that’s probably a coincidence, right?) As I write this, he’s curled up against my side with his head in my lap. It probably sounds cheesy to people who don’t understand, but Gomez (and Asha!) make me want to be a better person. They make me want to continue to push myself to learn more about training and to develop a skill set that could help other dogs as well. And I can do this. We all can. The more we learn about force free training, the better we can advocate for these dogs who cannot advocate for themselves. Every dog deserves the chance to journey down Good Dog Road.
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