What Could Have Been

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.

 - Buddha

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This is Stan.  Stan is ridiculously perfect.  He’s owned by my daughter’s 1st grade teacher, who decided Stan should become a therapy dog.  *poof* Done.  Yes, it was that easy.  It was like deciding to try to make Halle Berry beautiful.  Yeah… not so much effort needed in that endeavor.
Stan’s owner had a lot to do with it:  she’s a damn good Pilot.  She did her homework and practiced leash walking with him until she had it down cold (if you could use a refresher on your leash walking skills, read this).  She asked me to check out Stan’s disposition to make sure he’d be suitable for a classroom therapy dog.  So I took him for a test drive.  We went shopping.  We went hiking in the deep, dark woods.  We went to school together and practiced walking by things that might be scary to a dog:  children in wheelchairs (putting my 7-year old daughter in a wheelchair and asking her to wheel around as bait, which was a sobering experience).  Stan hardly blinked at all of these things.  Steady as she goes.
Test drive through crowded, noisy pet stores, and scary automated doors.  No problem.

Test drive through crowded, noisy pet stores, and scary automated doors. No problem.

I believe in thoroughness.  I didn’t want Stan to enjoy being a therapy dog whether he liked it or not.  I wanted him to thrive.  And thrive is exactly what he did through these situations.  He was so….easy.

And I became jealous.

It made me think of Sparta.  My dear Sparta of the “Kill First, Bark Questions Later” mentality.  Sparta who has an endless stream of questions.  Sparta who I work with endlessly to ensure her questions are answered.  I love her so much, but why couldn’t she be easy.  Sometimes it seems as if I’m trying to carry water in a sieve with her.  An uphill climb.  Those of you who have worked with your reactive dogs know exactly what I’m talking about.  Why can’t Sparta be Stan?

But then I stumbled across these pictures, and it got me thinking.

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Yes, she was holding the shower head for me while I lathered her up.

Yes, she was holding the shower head for me while I lathered her up.

This is Sparta getting de-skunked.  She didn’t even get sprayed.  I didn’t realize that our cat had actually gotten sprayed and then made himself cozy in Sparta’s bed.  I had told Sparta to go to her bed, which she dutifully did, and then stood stoically in the tub so I could bathe that smell she acquired out of her.  Sorry about that Sparta.

Which led me to pics of Sparta holding random objects.  I was bored, so over the course of a summer, I would take pics of her in various scenarios holding different things, including:

Styling hair at the local salon

Styling hair at the local salon

Doing the dishes

Doing the dishes

Playing bathroom attendant

Playing bathroom attendant

 She did over 130 of these shots, never once balking at what was next.  She IS pretty amazing.

And then today, I finished making dinner for guests, but forgot to grab a bottle of wine.  So I rushed out the door to go buy some, and neglected to lock up Sparta…leaving her with a freshly roasted chicken on the counter.  I didn’t realize my mistake until I came home – and saw the chicken just as I had left it.  What a wonderful dog.

Sparta would take a bullet for me.  She would defend my life with her own.  Hell, she’d give up her own life to merely keep me from breaking a leg!  She’s not perfect, but guess what: neither is Stan.  Stan happens to be easier in certain situations.  Sparta has made a tremendous amount of progress with her “aggression“.  My guests who came over today?  When they arrived, Sparta went to her room as soon as the doorbell rang (that takes a lot of faith on her part).  She stayed there, not showing interest in my guests until I called her out about an hour later.  She still didn’t even look at my guests (although she was staring me down, waiting to see if I had any orders regarding said guests  – good girl!).  She very politely took offered treats from them, eyeing me the whole time for further instruction:

“Mom, is this right?”
Well done Sparta.

She even suffered through some affection from said intruders guests.

“I’m trying, Mom”.
You sure are, Sparta. I’m proud of you. 

And do you know what?  I realized that Stan was bred to be a therapy dog.  Everything about him, from how he views the world, even to how he looks, is designed to be warm, loving, happy and carefree.  Stan was born with the equivalent of a silver spoon in his mouth.  Sparta was bred as a guard dog.  She was bred to protect.  To be wary of strangers, animals and odd situations.  Sparta would have thrived as part of a K9 unit.  Or as part of a team in military service.  But she’s here.  In the suburbs.  With strangers all around her.  It must be like someone who is terrified of heights living in a high rise.

But Sparta has become so much more than the sum of her parts.  She has moved beyond what she was meant to be, and has done so much more than the best she could.  She trusted me enough to do the best I thought she could do.  And she’s soared!  An off-leash dog on the street that a few years ago she would have mauled has come charging up at us with no more than a “Really?!” from her.

So rather than comparing the dogs, which I never should have done in the first place, what I should have done is compared where they started.  Sparta was quite literally the underdog.  But she’s come so far.  So what if she’ll never be a therapy dog.

Or maybe she already is.

My girl.

My girl.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

3 thoughts on “What Could Have Been

  1. Pingback: Time to Say “Goodbye” | Darwin Dogs

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