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Wagging Tails & Beating Hearts

I grew up loving dogs. My favorite movie as a kid was Balto. In my kindergarten class photo I'm sporting a 101 Dalmatians sweatshirt and holding my very own stuffed Pongo. I visited Alaska as a teenager and fell in love. Part of that trip included seeing the kennels of Susan Butcher, the first musher to win the Iditarod four out of five sequential years.


Fast forward to getting my very own husky. Our first interaction was her snarling at me from underneath a cabinet as I tried to pull her out from the corner she had retreated to. She was covered with fleas and full of worms. She didn't like other dogs. She didn't like people. She definitely didn't like kids. She ate socks and later vomited them up. The sheer amount of fur everywhere was unfathomable. And it took the better part of a year to get her house-trained.


There's a saying in the Academy for Dog Trainers that I love, "No one gets a dog to add more drudgery to their lives." What does that tell us about dogs and how we think of them? Maybe that they are the embodiment of joy. That living with a dog makes our lives better. All of this points to the idea that there is an innate goodness to dogs, and thus, to including them in our lives.


This belief grows every time we meet that friendly dog on the street, or when our neighbor's new puppy gives us kisses. It grows even more when we watch films like Hachi. We can't talk about this subject without mentioning Lassie, the most iconic of television dogs.


Is there anything more fun or exhilarating then getting a new dog? The possibilities seem endless. We just know that our happiness, and that of our families, will increase tenfold. But where has all that happiness gone when that dog we were so excited to get is banished to the backyard, posted "free to a good home" on Craigslist or relinquished to the local shelter?


Our excitement has vanished slowly, as each new day brings chewed shoes, soiled rugs and seemingly endless shedding and barking. Perhaps the problem with all those iconic TV dogs is that they make it all seem so easy. No one explains to us just how much training Lassie, Eddie or Benji had to go through to be able to play that part. And remember that friendly dog we met on the street? His guardian doesn't take the time to tell us about the 6 weeks of puppy class they attended or all the work they put in with a trainer even before bringing their puppy home (part of which was discussing expectations vs. reality).


The truth is, dogs can be difficult to live with. No one knows that better than a dog trainer. A lot of folks I know became dog trainers because their own dogs were so tough to live with. Here's the good news though, this can all be helped. Do your homework before getting a dog, work with a certified trainer to learn what to expect and how best to prepare. Go so far as to enlist their help in how to choose the right dog for your family's lifestyle. You'll be glad you did.


I know none of this lends itself to the sheer excitement of waking up one morning and deciding to go get a dog, but it does lend itself to the contentment of keeping that dog for the long haul and making him a part of your family.


Well what happened to that husky I mentioned earlier? As you already know, she is still with me. I'm not sure if it's due to perseverance, fate or sheer dumb luck. But here we are, 9 years later, enjoying most of life's promises about dog ownership.


I may not live in Alaska or have my own crop of Dalmatian puppies. I may not be following in the footsteps of Susan Butcher or Gary Paulsen anytime soon. But as I ran behind her on our most recent cani-cross outing, I couldn't help but think that this is exactly where I have always wanted to be - in the woods, with my dog, enjoying life.


Know that there will be difficulties. Work with a qualified trainer. Do this and your dog can be everything you ever wanted and much more, because they won't just be a character in a movie. They'll be the wagging tail and beating heart beside you.

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