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The non-negotiables…



A few days ago, I was lamenting to my friend and colleague, Barrie Lynn, @barrie, about this fostering pilgrimage we signed up for. “Sometimes I feel like we’ll never get there, Barrie, He’s still so…still so…timid!” I said. “How long is this going to take?” And Barrie, who is really my personal “Wilson on the other side of Tim “The Tool-Man” Taylor’s fence,” said, “Mary, Aaron doesn’t have to be the perfect dog when he leaves. You only have to get him to the place where his permanent owner can take over.” Hmm. I hadn’t thought about that. Why hadn’t I thought about that? Of course! It can take many years to build a relationship with a dog. You don’t just get a dog off a shelf at Kohl’s and have the perfect friend and companion. It simply doesn’t work that way. If you want a relationship that is built on trust you have to work at it. And it doesn’t happen overnight or in two weeks… or in two months.

If only I could wave a magic wand and see a few months down the road, to catch a glimpse of how this all turns out. I’d love to know now who will eventually adopt this dog and continue the work we’ve started. Which makes me wonder. What skills should Aaron leave with? What should he take with him? What should he know how to do? What’s the bottom line in the “smarts” department? At the heart of it is a question, which I’m convinced is worth pondering: What are the non-negotiables? The He’s not leaving here till he can do these things non-negotiables. What abilities should this dog have to optimize his chances of future success? What are the basics that will help keep him in a permanent home and out of a shelter? (Though his microchip will guarantee that if he’s lost or abandoned, he’ll be returned to us and not end up in some doggie slammer.)

So, here’s my list:

Non-Negotiable #1: Aaron must be house broken. No just-for-the-hell-of-it peeing and pooing anywhere in the house. Ideally, by the end of this adventure, he should ask to go out. But right now, it’s good enough for me that he does “his business” outside, even though I still have to lure him out the door with food. And, he is and does, in the last few days, with 100% accuracy. That’s great! Bravo, Aaron! Check. Click. Treat.

Aaron's crate

The new upstairs crate

Non-Negotiable #2: Aaron must be crate trained. And….he is! He seeks out the coziness and security of his crate and has done so since his first day with us. In fact, the old fashioned steel crate that I scored for $25 on craigslist from a guy over in Danville is now Aaron’s comfy haven. He’s taking it with him when he leaves. After a stylish new coat of Rust-Oleum satin green paint it looks pretty darn good. It’s an old crate, for sure. But it’s wire, collapsible, heavy duty and most of all, Aaron likes it. I’m even including the crate mat I sewed for him on my old Brother buy doxycycline online cheap sewing machine. Bravo, Aaron. Check. Click. Treat.

Non-Negotiable #3: Aaron must be leash trained. And, officially we began that training yesterday, after a long conversation with Deb Jacobs, @fearfuldogs, author of the book, A Guide to Living With & Training a Fearful Dog. Deb is a mighty good mentor for me and Aaron. With her help, we have a concrete plan to help our fearful fellow deal with the angst he experiences when there’s a leash attached to that nifty martingale collar. Deb’s voice has been ringing in my ear all day. “First things first,” she said. “Break it down. What do you want Aaron to learn?” I answered, “Well, Deb, I just want him to have some level of comfort on a leash. He needs to be able to go out for a walk. That’s a given. His permanent family can work on other leash matters. I merely expect that he be willing to engage in the process.” Then Deb patiently outlined a step by step plan to get us walking. Eventually, we’ll be strolling down Thurston Pond Rd. We started with a basic idea…Deb’s idea. “The leash shouldn’t predict anything,” she said. Well, okay, maybe it predicts only good things. So, that’s it. That’s what we’re working on. And today we made great progress. Leash on- “yes!” – treat. Leash off- “yes!” treat. Repeat. Over and over. In this case, it’s science, not art. Collar grabs. No problem. Lead a few steps forward on leash toward a food lure. We’re good. The third non-negotiable is taking shape.

This is my current list of non-negotiables. Maybe the list will change as we press on. I just might add a few as I continue to discover what Aaron’s capable of, but I’m not planning to let him off the hook for any of the three that I’ve mentioned. There are many, many other skills I’d like Aaron to have when he leaves: sit, down, stay, leave it, hand targeting. We’ve been working on these as well. Also, I’d like him to not be jumpy or bark too much. I’d like it if I could get a solid recall. I’d like him to enjoy being around men with beards and hats and screaming children. It would be great if he got on well with cats and other dogs. Oh, and I don’t want him to be scared of thunder, gun shots or any other loud noises. But these are all negotiable. At a certain point, it will be time for him to continue his journey with his permanent parent who may or may not share these same aspirations. We’ll see.

On another matter, the meet-up between Aaron and Jane went quite well, as you’ll see from the video. I truly think this clip of the meeting, which actually lasted for over 8 minutes, has some great moments, particularly for dog trainers to comment on. So, please! Comment away. What went well during the meeting? What’s troubling in either Aaron or Jane’s body language… or… my own? One thing though….keep it playful!