Blog post by Charissa Beaubien KPA-CTP CPDT-KA
Hi baby shark parents (a.k.a. puppies),
This week I have a story to tell you about the dog who doesn’t chase bunnies.
Many of you have seen pictures of my dog Dylon or maybe you’ve met him. He is a 70-pound mutt. He has been with me for 8 years and is likely about 11 years old. Throughout the years my sweet dog has enjoyed many homes including some with other dogs. We have lived in a vehicle together, apartments, and houses. My years with him have taught me more than any book or degree has.
He has always been my sixth sense. When I was unsure about a person I would look at his reaction to them for guidance. When a noise would spook me in the woods I would peer in his direction to assure me. If I was unsure about a new place his nose would guide me to danger. And his sight would point me in the direction we needed to go. We have enjoyed adventure after adventure together and he is truly, what my grandma would call, a Mountain Dog finding his joy amongst the trees and streams.
As a young dog Dylon would bounce after deer, clear birds from our yard, and ferociously hunt rodents. I never cared that he chased other animals, I guess because the smile that he had on his face was one of those big pitty grins, which was different then his anxiety worry pitty grin, trust me there’s a difference, running and frolicking was the only time that happy full smile would brighten his dark face. He was daring as he crisscrossed the Colorado peaks or pranced across the Ohio plains. I wish my videos showed just the joy that would well up inside him as he darted and howled after animals.
As our journey has grown and we no longer live in the Rockies, I began to teach him to ‘ask’ to chase after the squirrels. For more science on that check out this episode of Drinking From the Toilet. So within the last few years Dylon will check in with me for the ‘ok’ to chase after animals.
Recently our walks and hikes have become shorter. My boy is getting older and his body cannot handle the romping he used to live for. I have seen his legs lose muscle, his eyes squint more, I have heard his groans as he stretches each morning. He no longer hears my truck turn the corner to our neighborhood or my door slam, he isn’t waiting at the window for me or at the door to greet me, instead he sleeps soundly unaware to the sounds that used to excite him. My heart and eyes swell when I think about all this. My gut churns as I know I will one day not have my sixth sense to count on. I feel guilty as I know one day another small bark will fill my ears, and a floppy land shark will wreak havoc on my home. I have put this day off because Dylon wasn’t ready. He had more to teach me.
Today a new lesson, on our walk my sweet old man romps ahead of me on his harness and long line (we were in a natural area in town and leash laws were present) I watch him frolic and sniff the ground. He could go miles without picking his nose off the dirt. I watch as his nose brings him almost face to face with a fluffy gray bunny. He looks up at the bunny (leash loose) and looks at me (a trained behavior, more on this here) I release him to chase the bunny immediately. He looks back at the bunny who starts to hazardously take a step away; Dylon moves closer. I can see him weigh this moment in his mind. He takes another step and the bunny darts to safety. My young boy would have given chase, that pitty smile overcoming his face. Today, Dylon watched the bunny scamper away. His body loosened and he turned back to me as if to say “Ya know Mom, today my body needs sniffing not chasing.” And then he placed his nose to the ground and continued forward.
All this in about 2 seconds. My body also loosened and I began to cry. We sniffed and walked our loop around the natural area my body convulsing with tears. My boy is getting old and I need to accept that new things can give him joy even if I still want him to chase the bunnies. For all my puppy parents, I give you this. Smile when your puppies chase the bunny, feel the grin come across your face as your puppy perks at every new noise around them. Chuckle when they are at the end of their leashes exploring the world. Your puppy finds joy and excitement in all of these things at this stage in their life and nurturing this excitement only makes your bond stronger. Sooner than you think a time will come that different things will excite them and as parents we must adapt and nurture these new behaviors. In the end I want to strive to be more like the dogs I work and live with, finding joy in the small things!