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Positive reinforcement won't work for your dog (if...)

Life with a dog who has unknown and/or undiagnosed pain can be tricky. Really, really fucking tricky. 

It can feel like NOTHING works for your dog. 

Nothing engages them. Nothing can interrupt their “naughty” behaviours. Nothing works like it’s supposed to, or like it does for everyone else’s dog. 

It can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. Because there are days where things really DO seem to be working. But then it stops working the next day, and the only variable you can find is yourself. And so you must be the problem. 

When we are trudging through the mud of our own situations, barely able to find a foothold or a next step, it can be hard to see the whole picture. It can be hard to see any possibilities besides,

  • “Clearly I am garbage and have no idea what I am doing.” 

  • “I am unfit to be this dog’s guardian. They need someone better, and with more knowledge.” 

  • Or, “The training method is the problem, and positive reinforcement doesn’t work.”

How do I know this? 

I lived it. 

I cannot count the hours that I spent beating myself up. Worrying that I actually had no idea what I was doing. Or worse, worrying about and questioning whether everything I believe in was false.

I believe that all beings can learn without the use of force, fear and punishment.

I believe that all dogs are individuals, and while they may have different needs when it comes to learning, none of the methods we use need to include harming our dogs or making them fearful of us.

I believe our dogs have a right to feel safe with us, yes, even if they are making mistakes or being “naughty”. 

Penelope made me question all of this. 

I spoke with friends who are trainers as well, and I was thrilled when they offered different perspectives and ideas. I tried everything that was suggested to me. None of that worked either. I was out of ideas.

I thought maybe I was wrong. Maybe she did need “a heavier hand”. Maybe I was “spoiling” her, or giving too much… Maybe I did need to look at other methods of training. There were times that I seriously considered it, and the wrestling that was happening in my head was exhausting.

But I couldn’t let go of those beliefs.

Every single time I had these thoughts, something inside of me just said “no”. My heart would ache, and my stomach would sink. There had to be something I was missing. Something that I wasn’t thinking of. 

As I began my journey learning about pain and behaviour, things slowly started to shift into place. 

It was like we had had all the pieces to Penny’s puzzle, but there were no edges and no colours or shapes that could possibly fit together. But then as I learned, I was able to see more details on those pieces. I could suddenly see how the pieces were meant to fit together just as they were. 

Then after years of pushing for answers at the vet and being dismissed I suddenly had the tools and knowledge to advocate effectively. I was able to go from, “I know something is wrong”, to “I know something is wrong and this is what we’re going to do about it.” 

We found our rehab vet, who referred us to a neurologist. Penelope’s neurology report reads, “...we feel that Penelope's main problem is in her spinal cord in the neck.” 

Can you imagine if I had decided to use a method that would have caused her pain… in her neck?

I think it may have broken me. 

As I said. Life with a dog who has unknown and/or undiagnosed pain can be really, really fucking tricky. 

It can leave us frustrated, anxious, stressed out, and full of self doubt. 

But I need you to trust yourself and trust your dog. I know that if something feels off, something is off and I can help you fight for some answers.

Check out our Big Feelings Club for support.

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