I remember when my husband and I had just gotten engaged and started living together and were talking about getting another dog. I was looking on Pet Finder every night and after filling in the basic search information with our location and that we were looking for any age male dog, I scrolled down to make sure to check the check box for “Special Needs.” I wanted and sincerely thought I would end up with a white, large, deaf dog of some sort. And I was going to teach him sign language.
While it’s true that Special Needs dogs have a harder time getting adopted, that’s not why I specifically searched for one and wanted one. I wanted a challenge. I wanted a dog that had some sort of specific issue that I would have to work on. I wanted a dog that I would have to train with constantly for the rest of its life. I wanted a dog that was bonded to me more than my husband. I wanted a dog that we would take everywhere when we travel, and it seemed like it was easier to make that happen if the dog had an issue (I mean, if the dog was deaf, it needed to be near me for the sign language and not dropped off at a boarding facility where they might not know the sign language as well, right?).
But then Buster came into our lives. He was such an easy puppy. He slept through the night after about two weeks. He was practically perfectly potty trained by about 17 weeks. I never had to explicitly crate train him because he just took to it and loved it after the first time in it. After about an hour of working on “Sit,” he knew it. He let me trim his nails and give him a bath with no problems, by myself. I taught him the more fun tricks in about 2 days, tops. We never worked exclusively on recall because even off leash, he just never strayed from me. I took him out and about all the time, and he loved meeting the new people and dogs. After realizing how easy and smart he was, I had all of these thoughts running through my mind. I thought that he’d be a Canine Good Citizen and that would be our foundation for training to be a therapy dog. I had a hope that I would become a dog trainer, and he would be the perfect model dog who knew everything.
But then, something happened. We boarded him once, and then we were never able to trim his nails or bathe him as easily as we once had. He got bit once, and his entire emotional response to seeing a dog and way of thinking changed. He became a reactive dog.
While he is the polar opposite dog of what I truly thought I would end up with, I would not change it for a million dollars. Imaging my life without Buster isn’t only depressing as hell, but it’s also just boring. I remember the feeling I had the first few times that Buster was reactive toward other dogs after his dog bite. I remember being a little scared, feeling embarrassed, but most of all feeling like a failure of a pet parent, even though I had done nothing wrong. I remember trying to Google information but in between heaps of helpful information, there were the occasional articles basically stating that any outburst by a dog was unacceptable and “aggressive” and “aggressive” dogs should be euthanized.
But then I started to read the positive, helpful articles and books and realized that we expect too much from dogs, and that reactive dogs are common and are perfectly fine. Heck, usually they’re better pets and better trained than non-reactive dogs.
Now I worry that owners with dogs showing signs of reactivity are Google-ing and coming across the same information I did. I worry that instead of seeking help, they start to feel more embarrassed or like a pet parent failure. I can only hope they click on the positive articles and realize that their reactive dog is still a great dog who just needs some help.
So, I embrace my dog with issues. I embrace the challenge and the constant training for the rest of his life. I am confident that one day his reactivity will be easily managed, and I hope that we will give hope to people with reactive dogs who might be feeling scared. People probably think I’m nuts when we’re talking and I say, “Oh yeah! My dog is reactive, so we’re constantly training,” with a huge smile on my face. I mean, what kind of crazy person wants a dog with issues that they have to constantly work on? Buster is a GREAT dog and an even better companion, so this crazy person will gladly take on his issues, and I know that one day we will be an inspiring story for others.
Would you consider adopting a special needs dog? Does your dog have any issues, no matter how big or small, that you constantly have to work on?