(NOT) JUST A FEW INDIVIDUALS WHO TAUGHT ME A LOT
Cooper, the English Bulldog, senior and afflicted by persistent skin conditions (and afraid of the dryer) taught me an old dog can learn new tricks and may even still have an inner puppy who's dieing to come out and play! We turned drying into a game, and a massage, to transform a negative experience into something he looked forward to. After a while he would talk (rouwl wrwouwlhal) to me and if I didn't turn the dryer on him he would gently mouth my arm and paw at the dryer hose until I obliged (even if he hadn't had his bath yet).
Chewey, the Lhasa Opso, taught me appearances can be deceiving. He came in with a house mate (Bertram) who lacked confidence. I was petting Bertram, who finally accepted me, when I notice Chewey's posture and face change. Coupled with the new low growl he was making, I interpreted his behavior as aggressive. His intense stare down and unhappy noise triggered me to stop touching his pack member, and as soon as I did he began to try to position himself to be petted. Chewey, it turns out, had some confusing methods of communication and became jealous of Bertram very easily. Understanding this, I made sure to give equal amounts of affection and both boys were soon running in!
Pepper, a senior and arthritic Shih Tzu, came to me with a sad story. Pepper taught me to never give up on a difficult case. His owner, a caring woman who only wanted the best for her beloved pets, had been seeing a groomer who worked in a vet clinic. The story was that during a grooming session with that groomer Pepper bit at her, and wouldn't allow the groom to be finished, so the groomer told the owner he would need to be fully sedated in order to be groomed in the future. Several years and many sedated grooms later the groomer stopped working at the vet clinic and Pepper's owner needed to find someone willing to be Pepper's groomer, and that's when she came into my life. First, she inquired about sedation grooming, which I could not and would not do. Instead, I offered to work on rehabilitating him. Grooming Pepper was dangerous at first, his depth perception was bad and he wouldn't give warning before he bit so self inflicted injuries were just as much of a concern as becoming injured myself. To protect us I would use welding gloves and an Elizabethton collar. To ease his nerves I would talk, sing and play music while he was there. I would save a special appointment for him when there were no other dogs in the shop, so I could focus on creating a positive environment that I had full control over (I even locked the door, so no uninvited humans could interrupt us). I found letting him run around without staring at him, while I sat on the floor busying myself with paperwork for ten minutes before putting him on the table took the edge off for him. I would give him breaks and show him my empty hands, so a moment of affection always followed the grooming moments. Anything to ease the old man's difficult experience. It worked. After a bit, the E collar went away, then the gloves. He communicated to me when he was becoming over stimulated through subtle signals and as long as I respected his limitations he would trust me to finish his groom. He spent the rest of his life in comfort and love and was never sedated again.