Kuma (formerly “Kiera”, adopted in December 2009)
All this little dog knew was that she had made it this far on her own (~15 months old when we met last winter) and while she had clearly considered the usefulness of people-kind, she wasn’t completely convinced that bonding with one was necessary, or even prudent. We had a tug of wills to be sure; I wanted this wild dog to conform to my peaceful, quiet, and Zen home and she wanted to continue in the manner to which she had become accustomed, apparently having graduated from the “Anything Goes Dog Academy”. That, coupled with the fact that my previous dog children were “sight” dogs, it was really hard for me to get used to her sniffing her way through the world. Once in a new environment, her butt was up, her nose was down, and it took months for her to look me in the eyes!
After a few months of this tug of wills, I decided to make a concerted effort to listen to her and really see if I could get inside her head. If it was her nose that was leading her, then I would work with that. Everything I wanted her to do became an opportunity for her to earn a treat, and she completely responded to that. Smell it, eat it…check. “Now what do you want me to do next?” Her appreciation for my verbal praise came much later but it did come. Part of the treat training was to have her look me in the eyes. That really helped us connect more. Then, one day (at ~5 months), all the treats, the love, the words (and more words), the correction, the praise, the exasperation, all came together in a few watershed weeks, where sweet Kuma “got” everything. Walk, down, sit, turn-around, wait, stay, come, her name (!), food, drink, easy, crate, slow, potty…you could just see all the wheels turning and spinning and coming alive for her. She couldn’t wait to understand the next thing I said. For a few months, she stayed on that plateau but then I recommitted and took us back into concerted training again. As a result, she has really cemented even more commands and great behaviors.
We are just entering our 8th month together, and it has really been just in the last month that we have deeply bonded. We are both strong willed and warrior-like (with heart) but our pack order is firmly established. She understands that I am the pack leader and will care for her completely and ensure that all her needs are met. She knows this and trusts that this is a constant. She knows that I accept her as she is and appreciate all her wonderful traits: fairness, humor, loyalty, protectiveness, playfulness, and athleticism. She knows that I set limits too but not in a mean-spirited or unfair way. For example, her hip dysplasia dictates that her play is not too rough or too long, so we work to ensure that she gets plenty of exercise while honoring her physical limitations. On our walks, there is the “let’s get going and get some exercise” phase and also the “take your time and sniff to your heart’s content” phase.
While she does not need treats each time to execute commands/behaviors, she gets them enough to still be an incentive. She is capable of understanding very complex commands but we still work on some of those basic “Call of the Wild” type issues, like going berserk when she sees a turtle, a cat, or deer. The most important thing is that we have worked hard and molded our relationship into a successful partnership by honoring and celebrating our differences, and out of that grew trust, respect, and a lot of love. It took a lot longer with her than with a dog that I got from the pound years ago, who just folded in right away. But it was worth the effort. Kuma is a great dog, a fantastic companion, a wonderful being, and a cherished part of my family.