So here he is - the new dog for you to work your magic on and transform from shaky heart breaky wreck of a hound into a PAT worthy pooch. You look at the dog in front of you and see a past of uncertainty and confusion, possibly (god forbid) cruelty, and a well earnt lack of trust of humans. Once again we pat ourselves on the back as a species for ruining another beautiful perfect creature that we ourselves aided the domestication of to serve a higher purpose than being our punching bag. But regardless, as behaviorists it is up to us to do all we can to try - to restore at least part of the innocent natural trust that canines for some strange and humbling reason still honour us with - and attempt to get this wayward friend back on track.
So.....in this scenario their are different paths we can take - we can attempt to bribe the friendship with nice tasting titbits, toys and so on - and don't get me wrong - with your less terrified dogs these can work a treat (scuse the pun) - or we can simply 'be' with the dog and attempt to create a deeper emotional connection by simply 'being' around the dog - sharing energy (no i haven't inhaled too much incense and maxed out on dailyinspirationalquotes) - and working out some kind of relationship. With some dogs it can feel almost like bargaining at times with 'look I'm trusting you here - please don't bite me' and with other less confident yet just as fearful souls it's more of a 'I'll sit here till you decide to creep a little closer to me and sniff and see that whilst yes I stink of coffee and too much perfume I actually smell like a non threatening individual.'
So a few sessions in and perhaps you're now at the stage where aggressive displays have disappeared and replacing them are brief but all important offerings of the olive branch - increasingly relaxed body posture and softer expressions from mr wasbarkyandsnarlyafewhoursago -begins to approach you in a more inviting manner - or remains quivering but allows you to get closer because it secretly kinda wants to be pals but is on the fence for now. Are our thoughts of full rehabilitation really just a pipe dream?
At the stage where sitting and waiting turns into talking and walking/dog regarding us as insane for blabbering endlessly at them in an overly cheerly voice and praising them repeatedly for peeing, pooping, sniffing and just 'being a dog' in a helpless attempt to further deepen our bond by verbal encouragement - we feel a sense of achievement - and so we should - even if the dog ignores us the entire walk and seems desperate to pretend we're not there - 'where's the human? i don't see a human?' It's all in those the brief sceptical looks towards us when we are (rather cunningly i might add) gazing out into a distant field (whilst secretly watching them from the corner of our beedy all seeing eye the whole time), or the slight momentary lean into us when we pause marching for a seemingly random and non thought out minute to reconsider route, or even that precious interlude when they forget their a scared non welcoming pooch and can't resist lunging slightly after a stick you've thrown before remembering themselves and swiftly re-building their walls before we notice their accidental lapse and mistake it for a breakthrough - which of course it is - however small.
And that's my point. When it comes to the behaviour of dogs and the 'successes' of the behaviourist their can be no deadline time wise, nor should we focus on achieving a 'tumblr' of homeward bound 'runintoownersarms' photographic moments because despite our hard work, some dogs never get to turn back time into that irresistible happy pup 'stealandchewonyourshoesthengiveyoukisses' stage they once had - some cuts are too deep and jagged to fully heal. But - much like the potter who moulds clay into desirable entities, we must accept that once broken some creations cannot resume their natural selves - they can however be stuck back together to the best of the handlers ability, and great things can still shine through even if not as vibrant as before or as appealing to the average customer. Each re-built item though, with its overcompensated sanded down edges, overload of shiny new colours painted on to cover the cracks and each re-moulded segment, much like the half wag of a dogs now almost neutral tail, may never be quite what it was - and our ideal finished result a mere pipe dream - but it is still a thing of beauty in its own right.