“The white dog stayed by the water for a long time. She was there every day. She stood by the water’s edge, very still. She just watched the waves. She watched the water. Sometimes she walked along the shore. I wondered what she was thinking, walking along like that. She looked thoughtful.”
In January 2000, I was at a week-long seminar on the West coast. Off topic — well , on topic for me — I participated in a “Find Your Spirit Animal” class. There, I was guided through a scene where I supplied my favorite beach. I was introduced to a white dog, my spirit guide. It was a wonderful experience and I left secure knowing I would be guided in life by a strong, beautiful gentle white dog.
Two days later a psychic told me that a very furry dog would be entering my life and she would make a huge impact. I told her about my spirit animal journey and that must be the dog she is seeing. She smiled, “No, this is a dog that will come into your physical life, a real dog, and there will be a lot of fur.” I told her that wasn’t going to happen. I was fine with my pack of two at home and in fact, on the beach a few months before, had just declared my life was perfect. I was the happiest I had ever been.
We agreed to disagree, although that funny look in her eye made me nervous. I went home from the conference feeling exhilarated, and educated with all my new information. I didn’t think of the psychic again for six years.
Within a few months, my perfect life started to unravel. One of my real dogs became ill and she was gone before I knew it. She was my soul mate, and I was devastated. I had learned about traditional “old fashioned” dog training at her expense, and I had spent the last ten years undoing the wrong that I had caused her. It was only a few months of her early life that I had used punishment-based training, but I had a lot to make up for.
I still didn’t have a replacement for that “awful” training. What I had already learned in life was going to be the way: be respectful to all sentient beings, don’t cause harm and be a faithful, loyal friend. That was easy. I could treat her well, not hurt her and keep her safe; after all, she was my best friend. I had walked the uncomfortable path of avoiding dog training for ten years. I had two dogs who were a huge part of my life and I took excellent care of them, but I was not going to train them the way I had learned.
The two dogs I had, raised me from the time they were six weeks old. They were well socialized and sturdy. When they were very young they learned some good and safe manners. They were expert at waiting for permission to leave the car. They had no issues, fears or phobias. They watched me be a loud, bouncy sports fanatic without a care. They slept through storms. They slept through everything.
The new dog came on a Friday, just under a year after the conference. She was exactly what I saw in that guided journey on the beach. I was not looking to get another dog, but when I first laid eyes on her, I was in love. Within forty-eight hours she was in the back of my SUV toward her forever home. She taught me my first lesson the second we arrived.
She was my first lesson in sensitive dogs. It literally came the second I opened the back of the car to leash her up and take her to the park to introduce her to her new brother. I opened the door assuming that she would sit there and wait for permission to get out, after all that’s what dogs did. She then, bolted out of the SUV over my shoulder and landed in a snow bank on the curb. I did what came naturally, I yelled, “Hey”. That was all it took, and the dog hit the ground on her back in a heartbeat. I took advantage of the situation and clipped on the leash. Then I made my first mental note, “DO NOT YELL AT THIS DOG”. My first lesson in positive dog training. Don’t yell at the dog. OK, I think I can do that, after all she is my new best friend. No more yelling.
I said gently, “it’s okay girl, you’re okay” and she started to wag her snow-covered tail. She got up and shook herself off. It was then I noticed she started to prance. She looked good. The greeting went well and the two dogs walked home together. The new dog pranced.
The energy between us was awesome and it was no surprise to me that she fell sound asleep on my leg right after the park and walk home with her new family. This “wild and frenetic” dog just needed to get out of the small cage at the shelter and find somebody to love. At the end of her nap, she sealed the deal by peeing on me while she was sound asleep. I knew at that moment that she was mine and apparently, I was hers! I then understood more about her past and why she may have ended up in the yard full time.
She woke up soaking wet and bolted off the couch and ran outside. The back door to our protected yard was open and she leaned against the outside of the house and tried to become invisible. She closed her eyes and shook. I followed her and stopped three feet away from her and told her it was “okay girl, don’t worry girl, it’s okay, you’re safe now.” She peaked up, looked me in the eye and crawled over to me and started a tail wagging routine that perfected itself day after day for ten years.
Her tail wagging should be entered in contests. Her testament of happiness is apparent in every wave. Later that afternoon the new dog got her name. While standing under a snowy bush across the yard, the sun glistened through the bushes onto her like a star, and at that moment she became Little Star White Dog. She taught me more about my self that afternoon then I’d ever known.
A few months after meeting Star, I found my first positive training book — Pat Miller’s The Power of Positive Dog Training — and it changed my life. It allowed me to pursue training again from a completely compassionate viewpoint. I was thrilled to know there was an official way to train a dog with gentle methods and respect. After that, it was no surprise to me now that Little Star led me into a pet store one day. It was there we first saw clicker training, well before it was established in the dog training world. I was on my way.
With Little Star as my training partner, we traveled to a very highly respected dog training academy a short time later. As I worked with Little Star for the first time in front of my teacher, she watched silently. I had my clicker, I was so careful of my timing and body language and cues. When our repertoire was over, I stood there uncomfortable for a moment and then she leaned toward us and said, “I love the relationship you and Little Star have”. It was the best news I could have heard from her, and Little Star and I went on to have a wonderful week at training school.
I wanted to make sure I had the science of training down and then I wanted to take it further. I wanted to work with dogs and most importantly, I wanted to make sure I could be the kind of trainer that I would want Little Star to have. I wanted to always look at dogs I train as an individual, each with their own personality and issues. I wanted to help them find the way to keep them on their best path for their happiness and their family’s happiness. Now with positive training, I had the resources to do that.
I learned to advocate for dogs because of Little Star. When a local trainer I was working with performed a leash correction on Little Star, I told them both that will never happen again. I took the leash and then that trainer was gone. In return, Star learned to trust our relationship. At an agility class graduation, the instructor asked for a stair climb that Star had never seen. I knew she would be safe with me and apparently she knew it also. Even though it was clear she was scared she went right up those stairs with me, her eyes only leaving me to get her footing. We graduated and I was so proud of her. She trusted me. After that the sky was the limit.
Little Star excelled in all the training that we did together. As I continued my education in peaceful, positive dog training I practiced everything I learned with her. She loves to train and has always had a fun, rewarding time. I did keep my promise to her and she has never received another leash correction. It’s not so funny that I have rewarded her thousands of times for behavior, and yet I still remember that one hurtful event.
She told me things with her eyes and I listened. She told me with her body, and I watched. I put a harness on her and she slunk down. I took it off and she pranced. Together we found a better solution. That was all. It’s so important to not just train, but to really watch our dogs and find what makes them happy.
Little Star White Dog changed my life. They can do that, they can change our lives and they don’t even have to try. Little Star helped me laugh again after thinking I never would. Some dogs come into our lives for very important reasons. Some dogs come to take care of us and it’s up to us to make sure that we treat their journey with respect and love. We as humans can learn so much from them if we let them teach us. If we close ourselves off after our hearts are broken, we will lose the chances that are there for us.
With the loss of my soul mate, I was able to meet my heart dog. I am so grateful to have them enter our world and heal the parts in us that have been broken by living. And because of their gift to us, we in turn can heal them, peacefully, gently, and with compassion.
One day walking with Star the wind blew some of her fur around, I remembered the psychic for the first time in six years. It dawned on me that that week in January when she was telling me about my furry dog, Little Star was being conceived. Then I pranced.
With them we are ten again, alive, free, and bounding with energy to keep up with their enthusiasm for the day. One minute at a time, living in the present.