A Letter Long Overdue

Dear Shiva,

I apologize. I haven’t written you a letter for a long time. Mostly due to ridiculous feelings of guilt. We haven’t gotten as far in your training this summer as I planned. In early June I had all these goals set and I don’t think we have achieved one of them. You are still barking at the front door when people pass, you still don’t know how to stand on your front legs, you still leap at dogs on the sidewalk, and you are no closer to swimming than I am to flying a plane.

You probably don’t care about these things the same way I do. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling ashamed of my laziness. It’s been a busy summer in many ways and we have done some pretty cool things. Just not the three things I wanted most. I’ve no one to blame but myself, of course.

Perhaps I need to give myself a break. It seems to be in my nature to focus on my mistakes. Like the time I few weeks ago with the three little dogs on our front lawn. Do you remember? I wasn’t sure if I should let you greet them or not. I hesitated too long and you took matters into your own hands, leaping and barking at the small creatures. It wasn’t your fault the dogs’ owner made a hasty retreat after tossing you a terrified glance. It’s never your fault. However, beating myself up about my dog training sins doesn’t help either. I love how quickly you always bounce back, as if the incident never happened.

I still have a lot to learn from you.

Like how you never let your fears stop you from doing what you want. I will never forget the time you jumped off the dock into the river at the dog park. Did you forget you don’t like to swim? I’ll never understand what inspired you to do that. It was so thrilling! Unfortunately, I don’t think it was as exciting for you and the fright you gave yourself that day seems to have made you more wary of open water than ever. We’ll work on this, though. I promise. You’re still young and I know you can do it.

We’ve been asked to participate in a dog training demo during the Rescue Dog Show next weekend. Don’t tell him I told you, but your male human doesn’t think you are ready. He doesn’t think you could handle an audience of that size. He thinks you’ll flip out and go on a manic zoom around the exhibition hall. Maybe he’s right but I would like to give you a chance. I know you have it in you to be a super-star.

Whether I have it in me is another story.

While I may have disappointed myself in not reaching my summer goals, I can’t say we have achieved nothing. Most of the difficulties we have with each other revolve around a lack of understanding. You do you best to communicate with me and I do my best to communicate with you, yet we still don’t always connect. Our relationship is not an easy one as a result. This summer I think I have learned how to make things simpler for you. I have realized that the disconnect happens when I don’t make my signals absolutely clear. In that area I think I have made some great gains. You may not be performing hand-stands but I do think we have grown just a bit closer in the last couple months. That’s no small thing.

Thanks for all of your patience, Sheevs. I know I have been a slow learner. I promise to learn from your example and to try to be more patient with you. You are an awesome dog but there is only so much you can do on your own. It’s time for the human to step it up.

Much love,

The crazy woman at the other end of the leash

21 thoughts on “A Letter Long Overdue

  1. Now go back over your past summer’s blog posts and see all the great things that happened–Shiva following you back to the campsite from the bathroom, two agility fun runs, a doggie dance competition, a relaxed, drunken master walk. You might have to rewrite your letter. 🙂


  2. So agree with Pamela. You and Shiva HAVE both done a lot of great things this summer.
    I can understand the guilt thing a bit. About a year ago, I was feeling guilty because I felt I hadn’t taken Daisy down the training road as far as I thought she probably could go. I saw all that Deb was doing with her fearful dogs and thought perhaps I was being a bit lazy with Daisy.
    Guess what? I don’t anymore. Daisy has made such amazing progress in the 4 years I have had her that adding more training commands and/or tricks would be more for me, not her. She is happy where she is at, and I am happy that she is happy. So she won’t ever know “stay” – it scares her when I move away but try to get her to stay where she is, but she never leaves my side for long anyways and always comes when called. And, I am okay with that.
    I think you and Shiva have connected way more than you think. Go watch your videos again. She adores you and wants to please you. A lot of people never get that type of connection with their dogs.


  3. Good God–you have achieved so much! Sometimes even an excellent dog trainer needs to just relax and enjoy a little! I think its all about the relationship you’ve developed and nurtured over all the time you are spending together. Keep it up and don’t fret 🙂


  4. I agree with everyone else… you’ve accomplished so much this summer! I wish that Shiva could write a letter back to you – I bet she’d say, “You’re awesome… don’t be so hard on youself!” 🙂


  5. Well, I was going to send some encouragement your way but it looks like several already beat me to it. You’ve accomplished a lot this summer – don’t focus on what you DIDN’T do – focus on what you DID do and be proud!


  6. Too many times we focus on what we haven’t accomplished opposed to what we have. Sometimes I look at Delilah and think, OMG will she ever get it? Then I go back to that first day she came to our house and realize just how far she has come!

    Things don’t always happen in the time and manner in which we expect them too, but you must celebrate your successes. As the others before me have pointed out, you have many accomplishments under your belt. Your dog has gone much farther than some dogs EVER go.

    Stop beating yourself up for what you haven’t accomplished and celebrate the victories and successes you have!

    BTW, your letter made me cry.


  7. We were going to get Our Best Friend to stop barking at the door, stop barking in the car, we were going to visit our former foster dogs who live an hour away, we were going to hike more, take more day trips, blah blah blah. And that’s twice your guilt– didn’t do the human-mom things OR the doggie-mom things.

    I felt pretty awful about it all, until I described the summer to my niece. I told her my kids spent the summer staying up ’til 2:00 a.m. and getting up after noon. She said, “Sounds like my ideal summer when I was a kid– do whatever you feel like doing!” So I felt less terrible.

    And we’ll always have the first car trip with Our Best Friend to remember the summer by. And, G-d willing, there’s always next summer. Shoot, there’s still tomorrow.


  8. at the risk of offending you or other readers: you are a total ass-kicker. you are my hero in so many ways. the moment i’m really waiting for is when shiva becomes a big doggie celebrity and you get to look back on all the videos and posts you did when she was learning, marvel at how far you’ve both come, and how quickly you both learned.


  9. It’s a lovely letter, but I agree with everyone else – I think you rocked this summer 🙂 We always think that we should have done more and you should definitely give yourself a break – I’m certain that Shiva is happy with everything exactly as it is 😉

    Summer is not over, is it? It just started in Oregon!!!


  10. There’s always time. It’s all just one long learning experience for both dog and human. Learning how to effectively communicate and teach your dog is a huge one. You’d be surprised how many never get there. If you can do that…the rest will follow.


  11. I stopped checking off training tasks on my 3 month training calendar for Hurley 2 months ago. Not that we haven’t been working on many behaviors but the act of writing out and setting goals got me started. High Five and Wave weren’t on the list and he’s perfecting those. Come is nowhere close to where it needs to be (Must Work on That, Stat!). The point is, sometimes setting goals gets you moving, even if the end result is a slightly different set of accomplishments than what you originally set out to do. It doesn’t mean that you failed to accomplish anything; just means that life happened and you went down a slightly different path. From my vantage, it seems like you and Shiva had a great summer, made progress in a lot of areas and vanquished some fears (or at least swallowed them long enough to participate in agility fun runs). I say High Five to that!


  12. I think you are being a little too hard on yourself. We all set goals – and sometines we meet them – sometimes we don’t . If Shiva was human we would all say – she walks to the beat of her own drum – so – give yourself a break – and know you have a companion that does her best to please you, and if she does not conform to the standards set by supposed experts – consider that they may be wrong and Shiva is just as she should be.


  13. I am sure Shiva would respond plain and simple with:

    You and me have tried our best at all we have done. We have had so much fun and our bond has grown. We will do more and have more fun. Don’t look back, just keep looking forward and smile:)


  14. Sniff! Great letter. I know what you mean about the guilt. T&P LOVE agility …. way more than I do, I think. And both of them could be a lot better than they are (they both suck at weaves and neither of them like the teeter much), but I just don’t have the time to devote to helping them get better, or time to devote to my own handling skills, or lack thereof. I haven’t even taken them to a Saturday practice session in months, let alone class. It makes me feel guilty, because just the other day we were driving by there and Tucker was with me in the car and started going ballistic … he thought we were going to class. I felt SO bad! But I do what I can do, and I try to remind myself that they have pretty good lives overall, especially for two dogs that once faced very uncertain futures. We do what we can, but I can’t ever stop thinking or feeling that I should be doing more/better. Now why isn’t it the people whose dogs are tied to trees or stuck in a yard 24/7 who are obsessing over this?


  15. Just like sometimes the things we think we want in life aren’t always the best for us and we have to learn to see what is, sometimes the goals we set have to take a detour before we can get to where we want to be. I think you and Shiva are doing great! You did manage to finally enter that agility trial and that was no small thing. It wasn’t even on your list of things you wanted to accomplish, but it might be even better than some of the things on your list!


  16. My KPA instructor, during our first workshop, asked us to give feedback (all positive) for all of the group’s members during their show-and-tell exercises. At the end, she asked us if it felt weird to only focus on the positive and then how it felt to be told by the other members only the things you did right/well. I gotta say, it felt awesome. And I couldn’t help but feel amazing about Elli and about myself afterwards, in spite of the fact that I didn’t complete my training with Cleo and was so worried about Elli in a fairly high-distraction environment.

    Like everyone above me, shift your focus to what you did right because to have such a happy-go-lucky dog like Shiva who simply loves to work with you, you should know you’re doing something right!

    From me, you get a Click/Treat for a great summer!


  17. Very sweet letter. But like everyone else has mentioned you are not giving yourself any credit. I know what it is like to try to push too hard, too fast. I have run into many walls that way. Take it easy on yourself. You have all of Shiva’s life together to do everything that matters.

    Here is something my husband tells me all the time, when I am in dog mom failure mode, all the dogs are OK, just because you love them. They are safe, fed, and sheltered in a loving home and just happy to be with you.

    Hard to take in, but so much the truth.

    Smile, because Shiva has you! 🙂 And that’s the best place to be.


  18. Ditto what everyone else has said. You and Shiva have come so far together. There’s nothing wrong with sitting back and enjoying each other. Heck, I know if Frankie belonged to a good trainer he could excel at many things. But he doesn’t and I don’t think he minds that he’s not going to reach anything like his full potential. And I’m sure Shiva is happy to just be Shiva and be with you. Anything else is a bonus. She does adore you!


  19. It’s easy to let your one “failure” to overshadow all the good stuff that you have accomplished. That’s my problem. I’ll stew over one little setback and knock it so out of proportion that I forget all the other good stuff that I did. Life is a journey so keep on truckin’. you might not get there when you want, but you WILL get there.


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