I have a love-hate relationship with my dog. We adopted Max about a year and a half ago through Summit Dog Rescue. (A great organization, very thorough, laser focused on making great matches.) Max came to us all the way from central America – he was a street dog in Cancun, Mexico. At 2 or 3 years of age before he was rescued by some ex-pats, he developed several deeply-ingrained street survival instincts that he will probably never completely leave behind.
Like being so sneaky at stealing human food. (Argh – Pizza! Double Argh – Fresh grilled steaks!!!)
Or like having a spastic disposition. Maybe on the streets he had to have his guard always up, ready to react to anything at any time. In domestic life, that translates to sometimes utterly unpredictable spasms of high energy. He doesn’t understand ramping up – he simply turns his “Excited” switch from OFF to ON, leaving the rest of us with heads spinning. Max is the definition of an excitable boy.
Or like not understanding the value of personal space. He very much wants to be around his person. And while there has been no evidence of separation anxiety, when I’m home he wants to be RIGHT THERE at my feet. Every step and everywhere. Like a shadow. I think if he could get under my skin, he would. Oh wait, too late!
Max’s biggest issue is trust. He has certainly bonded to our family but I’m not sure he yet trusts, even after a year and a half, that this is his forever home. He still needs reassurances every day through some affection and love, that he belongs here now.
Now let’s shift gears. Because on that particular note of affection and love, Max is an absolute love muffin. Truly, he is a sweetheart and he loves to lean in, to snuggle, to cuddle. He will even stand on his hind legs and wrap his front legs around you in a hug. He won over my daughter (that took about 0.3 seconds) and he also won over my son (a few months). He is a very affectionate and loving dog. He’s also respectful – he pays attention and he’s willing to work and learn new skills. We work every day with treats and rewards. He loves this but it’s still difficult for him to submit to authority; after all, he called his own shots for what is still most of his life. But he will try to do what you ask. He wants to be a good boy.
Max does not behave like any other dog I’ve had, or any dogs I’ve watched for friends. He is far more independent, and he has issues interpreting certain environments (not unexpected given his background). The consequence is that I’m always on guard when I’m taking him for a walk, and I’m never relaxed when I have unfamiliar people at the house. Max may misinterpret another dog’s tail wag, or a friend’s amiable petting, and react aggressively. I could handle messes in the living room or chewing of the shoes (neither of which he does, by the way) but actions on his part over which I have little control that negatively impact other people — that’s very difficult for me. It’s been a hard road to accept this reality will be part of my life for the next 10+ years.
He and I both learning some things, however. Over the past 18 months he is noticeably more comfortable being on leash, no longer pulling and quite confident now with the various routes we take for our walks. He is more willing to follow my lead and respect my commands, even when other dogs come into view and I tell him to “Leave It”. He used to jump and whine and pull and bark, and I was convinced he couldn’t hear me. But today he whines a little and keeps walking beside me, albeit while looking over his shoulder. I have to admit he’s really gotten better at that.
And for my part, I’m learning to let go of whatever vision I have in my head of how a dog is “supposed” to act. And I’m learning to simply accept Max for who he is. I think this acceptance is the key, and maybe it’s the reason I wrote this post. Instead of trying to twist the world to meet my expectation, or try to train Max into the dog I thought I wanted … it’s far more peaceful for me (and I’m sure for him) to accept him for the sweet-tempered and sneaky street dog that he is.