Last October, I adopted Nala, the most adorable puppy in the world. That’s not a surprise to you if you’ve interacted with me at any level since the beginning of last August. If we’ve had more than a five minute conversation, you’ve probably also noticed that dog training and behaviour has become an all-consuming hobby for me, definitely bordering on an obsession.
If you’d asked me to bet on that happening a year ago, I’d have laughed at you. In fact, I distinctly remember talking with a friend about how little training I planned on doing a week or so before I brought Nala home. I had enrolled her in a day training program a coworker recommended, and completely assumed that at the end of it I’d have a perfect well-behaved dog who was all set up for life.
If I had brought home a different dog, that might have been all I did. Sometimes I see people out in the world with puppies who are perfectly chill in any situation, and just totally content to settle in a crowded space, and I’m pretty sure if I had that puppy I wouldn’t have felt the need to work on anything past basic manners. I did not get that puppy.
From the first day, Nala was a rambunctious fireball of energy who did not want to stop moving for even an instant. She was incredibly confident approaching any new situation whether it be a tennis ball or a new person and I was in no way ready to direct her energy. At some point, I stumbled across a Reddit post talking about an online dog training course, thought the results sounded pretty great for not that much money, and signed up thinking it couldn’t hurt. The course, and the podcast which went with it, helped me to learn that there’s so much more to dog training than just “lure and reward” and got me onto this path.
After finishing that course, I started reading (and listening, I really love podcasts) to other voices in the dog training community, and learned a ton more about what’s going on at the forefront of animal behaviour research. I’ve started geeking out on the learning theory behind the training even past the specific skills I’m working on with Nala (thanks to every group class instructor who has dealt with my very esoteric questions you were not expecting in your basic life skills class).
I’ve also gone from loving dogs as a general concept to seeing dogs as real individuals who have real personalities, skills, and needs. I’ve thought a lot about applying the compassion I feel towards those individuals not just to dogs but also to the people in my life.
Without Nala, I could not possibly have learned everything I have and would be a hugely different person than I am today. If I’d known how much I would enjoy dog training, and how much was possible to train, I’d probably have told my past self to adopt an adult dog and put in the exact same amount of effort, but I doubt I’d have had the motivation to put in all the time without needing to do so for Nala.
As it was, Nala was the exact perfect dog I needed in my life. She needed a level of attention that I couldn’t skimp on, and a level of experience that I didn’t possess. Thanks to her, I started building towards having that experience, and realizing I enjoyed it along the way. I also have the most absolutely adorable puppy with the best personality who I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. So, like so many things in my life, I don’t think I made the best decisions I could have, but I’m insanely glad I made exactly the decisions I did.