Thursday, 30 August 2012

How saying goodbye to a friend changed me

My best friend Woody passed away on August 18th.  Woody was the inspiration for this blog.  Well, he was the inspiration behind just about everything I did, professionally and personally.  Above is a wonderful video tribute put together by a close friend.  I watch it every day, and letting go of this lovely spirit of a dog becomes a bit easier each time, as I am reminded of how much fun he created during his short lifetime.

So now it's down to just Chili in our house.  Chili, the Dog of Many Issues that we adopted from the shelter a little over a year ago.  Chili, who has stolen our hearts, and who these days is constantly showered with love and attention.

Although still very recent, Woody's passing has already changed a lot about how I feel about training.  For starters, I have greatly reduced the number of behaviours I used to think were important to train, condition, modify, address, worry about, be embarrassed about, focus-an-awful-lot-of-time-and-energy-on.

I've written here in the past about the work I've done with Chili to reduce her stress during walks in the neighbourhood.  How we've worked diligently at reducing her reactivity during car rides.  How I've religiously toiled at reducing her barking as a result of sound reactivity.  Pulling on leash; freaking out at the sight of another dog; thunder phobia; etc. etc.

Poor Chili.  She's always in school!  Imagine that?  Sure, I make training as fun as possible for her, but it's still.... training.

As of this week, I've changed my approach entirely.  I'm focusing more on management.  Residential streets are not Chili's cup of tea, so from now on, walks are for exploring the nearest forest or field (I have that luxury around here).  When I do walk her in the neighbourhood, I do so after 10:30pm, when the chances of encountering another dog are very, very slim.  When we return home, she's that "good" kind of tired. 

Riding in the car no longer involves constant counter-conditioning exercises.  This week, riding in the car meant a stuffed Kong in the back seat.  Chili lies down and gets right to work without bothering to look outside.  She's calm, I'm calm, we arrive at our destination and her pupils are not as big as saucers, and she's not excessively panting or shedding.

I'm no longer obsessed with controlling her barking, either.  Chili barks.  That's her thing.  She's a barky dog.  The neighbours three houses down recently adopted a very, very barky little dog.  (He sets Chili off all the time.)  The neighbours two houses down have two very young children who scream at the top of their lungs while playing outside.  I mean scream, as in horror-movie screaming.  My other neighbour on the other side has a son who blares bad music from his car every other day.  It makes my walls vibrate.  So why on earth would I worry about curbing Chili's barking so that I don't disturb the neighbours?? 

Nah... From now on, I'm all about ensuring Chili has the time of her life, every single day.  A dog's life is just so, so short.  Whatever we decide to teach them, we'd better be very certain that it's entirely in their best interest, and that it will without a doubt improve their lives.  As long as more training does not equal more restraints, then I'm all for it.  But I honestly think that for a dog like Chili, more freedom is exactly the way to go.

If I can help Chili become half as happy as Woody was, then she will be a very happy dog indeed.

So long, Woody.  Sir Bibbles Von Bibbly-Boo.  Snuggle-Pony.  Wiggly-Pup.  There will never be another one like you.  You taught me well, and I miss you so much it hurts.  Until we meet again....


  1. I know this post is over a year old, but I came across your blog via another article I was reading. Just wanted to say this really resonated and thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your comment. The post is actually only a few months old; Woody passed away in Aug 2012. My relationship with Chili has already taken on a new, more relaxed dynamic, and she has flourished. :o)