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In the first dog training class I took with Finn, he shined. Whenever the trainer demonstrated a cue with my big ol’ simple silly boy, he rocked every exercise. But when she handed the leash back to me and I tried to replicate the request, she’d borderline yell, “You’re doing it wrong.”

I remember thinking, “Duh, I’m doing it wrong. That’s why I’m here, to learn from you.” I’d speak up now, but, at the time, I just felt inadequate every time Finn and I went to class.

Mabel’s settled in beautifully on so many levels, but we’ve had a little reoccurrence of paw-licking and Croco-Mabel moments (where she throttles herself at me, teeth-first during play). The former is partially due to allergies, and I’m working with my veterinarian to tweak her pollen protocols, but we’ve had some changes.

I had to alter Mabel’s walking location because we had another incident at the park. A man screamed at me when I asked him to leash his dog (the dog was leashed; it was dragging, so I couldn’t see it). Then, despite my pleas to give us space, the guy came straight at us, yelling expletives while I frantically maneuvered Mabel away as far as I could.

I’d been thinking about making our Sunday morning park our everyday walking location for some time. Timing our walks was becoming increasingly more work. No matter what I did, we were seeing more dogs. Our meant-to-be-sniffari walk was becoming too often over the threshold for my sweet but easily overstimulated girl. 

Our newish walk path is perfect; it’s quiet and a bike trail, so we’re less likely to see off-leash dogs. Mabel bounces while she walks and offers voluntary eye contact and loose leash behavior as we stroll. I’m relaxed because my girl seems so darn happy and carefree. But it’s a change.

And we’re told to be consistent. Weather changes, unexpected traffic, holidays and weekends drawing crowds in otherwise quiet areas, veterinary appointments, our Rally class trainer getting sick and canceling class, then no class again because other students (not us or our hooligans) are competing in trials, then our dogs are stuck with us on a day they’d usually be with their fantastic pet sitter/trainer who went out of town to visit family—this is standard life stuff. And I’ve spent too much time and energy feeling guilty for changes I can’t control. 

Thankfully, I have Sasha (said trainer extraordinaire), who works to build Mabel’s confidence and keep me from over-pivoting when something difficult arises for my sweet girl. And Mary Kate, after I spent an hour in Rally class getting everything wrong—too dull, too repetitive, too tricky—let Mabel vent some frustration at my human inadequacies. 

I have to trust that my interaction with Mabel is dependable. Our house rules stay the same, even if she forgets (that’s what I tell myself when I ask Mabel to take her food-stuffed toy to her place rather than the bed). And I proactively try to give Mabel what (I think) she needs mentally, physically, and emotionally.  

So, today, I offer us all this: We’re doing it right. We’re trying. Our intentions are love-filled. We make time to give our dogs the enrichment, exercise, fun, training, and downtime they need. We’re doing our best. And let’s all acknowledge that. We deserve it.

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