I have touched on the story of Bundy my blue heeler x kelpie occasionally online but lately I have been sharing the story with people on the phone, given the response it has gotten it’s motivated me to share it here with you guys.
It’s a hard truth I hold close to me, it’s not something I am proud of it’s full of mistakes, heartache, shitty choices but it’s also full of lessons and successes and if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have the career I do. It was a tough journey but one I am so grateful for.
Bundy hasn’t been the easiest dog to own, I’ve had him since he was an incredibly timid 12 week old puppy, it took two weeks just to be able to have a snuggle with him. He was so disconnected and distrusting of people, by 8 months he would blow up, barking and growling looking quite serious in his intentions, at anyone that turned up at our house, it would take a while for him to settle down quicker if he recognised them.
Having people over was uncomfortable and mostly unenjoyable, they felt wary of him and I was always worried that one wrong move or decision made by them would undo any progress I had previously made with him when it came to strangers. I felt like I had little control which would cause me to feel anxious and on edge, I would also feel guilty for the fact both my guest and my dog felt uncomfortable and I couldn’t fix it.
On top of that he was reactive out on walks to EVERYTHING. I would come home with my hands blistered and sore, beating myself up on yet another failed walk and going through all the things I probably did wrong and why it was my fault he was like this and that I couldn’t fix it.
I got him at the time the purely positive movement had boomed and right before Cesar Millan had become well known.
So for the first 12 months it was nothing but treats and praise, in hope that, that would help build trust and connection.
When he was stressed he couldn’t eat, if he managed to eat it didn’t register it as a reward he was more just trying to get me out of his face.
When it came to the walking, I tried EVERY piece of walking equipment, surely if we just find the right thing he will realise he can’t, shouldn’t, doesn’t need to pull and carry on.
The head halti was the worst he still pulled as hard as he could on it and end up cutting his nose on it.
When I say no one piece of training equipment will solve your issues, I mean it, I know it, I freaking lived it.
After a year I started realising that from avoiding telling him no, I wasn’t setting boundaries, decent consistency. It felt like we only had half the conversation going and his anxiety increased he had nothing to really anchor himself to, he had the freedom to make so many choices, and he always chose poorly because I didn’t know how to guide him from the bad ones.
Cesar Millan became big, I opened up to a more balanced approach and I signed up to undergo 12 months of study for dog training.
Surely having boundaries was the answer I was missing.
I just had to learn more.
Not only did I want to fix the problems I faced with Bundy, I wanted to make sure I could help other people through what I was going through.
I finished my certificate, I underwent more study, hands on experience, I reached out far and wide, to trainers locally, trainers in the us and the uk.
I didn’t stop learning, absorbing trying, failing and trying again.
By 2 and a half Bundy and I were both miserable.
I dreaded the thought of taking him out of the house, the sheer thought of it made my heart begin to race.
but that wasn’t the worst part, it was seeing him so unsettled in his own skin, at home he was constantly moving, pacing doing circle work, inside he would rarely fall into a deep sleep every movement every noise had him almost leap out of his skin. In the car he would slam into the windows barking at the people walking past frightening the hell out of them, or at the motorbikes.
Whenever we were stressed he would pace ten fold. I was finding myself constantly trying to hide and deny how I felt in order to protect him and not affect him.
Some days I wouldn’t want to go home and face the mess that no matter what I did I couldn’t fix.
I had failed him and failed as an owner.
I wasn’t enough, I was never going to be enough.
He was miserable in his own skin, the moments where he was happy, where he would let go and just be a dog and have fun, were rare moments that no matter what I tried could never recreate consistently.
I gave up and told Shane that I wanted to put him to sleep, that it wasn’t fair to keep him alive when all he ever really felt was anxious, living in his own private hell was how I saw it.
Shane refused, I didn’t have it in me to fight about it and I walked off I couldn’t even properly make the decision to kill my own dog, why was this so hard?
I kept pushing through, doing what everyone told me to do, work on his obedience, control his behaviours through that and desensitize him to the things that trigger him.
Trainers would take him off my hands and he would behave better for them, follow what they said without protest without pushing and testing the boundaries.
They would hand him back and say he is fine. It’s all you.
Again, reinforcing how badly I was failing him.
4 years in I started asking questions like when can I stop practising obedience, when can I stop telling him what to do all the time, when can I just enjoy him for him and just hang out without it having to be work, without it having to be so much effort.
I would get the same thing back no matter who I asked, you signed up for this, this is what it takes to own a dog, keep doing obedience keep exposing him it will all just come together. You just need to keep practising, get good at it and keep going.
Mind you I wasn’t slacking off, we were training daily up to 2 hours a day, I was walking him an hour plus a day, I was investing hours each day into him.
It was exhausting, and I stopped having a life outside of him.
I’ll give him and I this his obedience was AMAZING.
But the problem was this, when he was left to make decisions on his own, he would never make good choices, his anxiety was still there, just more controlled, pushed down so he could do the work he was told to do, but it wasn’t going anywhere I could see it.
He wasn’t like the dogs I had growing up, and after 4 years of hard work, we weren’t anymore connected then 2 weeks after he came home.
It was like I was there and he loved me the only way he knew how but I wasn’t a part of his decisions every day for him was a fight for survival it was him against the world and no one else was there to help with the fight.
This may be humanizing him a bit but it’s the only way I can describe it. He was carrying this huge weight around with him and he wouldn’t open up enough to share and shift that weight, he just buried it.
I lost my motivation and love for working with dogs, I dreaded it, I didn’t believe in the work I was sharing with others, yep I could now take my dog out in public and not come home with my hands blistered and sore and yeah I could have him meet new people and not fear for their safety and I could drive around with him not slamming up against the windows, but only because I controlled his every move, had to organise his environment just so, so that the anxiety wouldn’t bubble up too far and take over.
But it had been 4 years HOURS of work that I didn’t even enjoy and I don’t think he entirely did either, to be so far away from what I wanted from a dog, I just wanted to be able to enjoy a cuddle, have him tag along with me wherever I went, to not feel stressed or worried about what could or might happen and for him to be relaxed and happy to just be out of the house, to be spending time with me, him and I against the world.
How many more years was it going to take to get there? Would I ever reach that goal??
I quit dog training.
I felt like a failure and a fraud.
I stopped helping people.
I stopped over working my dog.
I just stopped.
I let go of everything that I was taught, screw obedience I never liked it all that much to begin with, I went back to trick training my first real love for dog training when I was 11, I stopped trying to get things perfect, to get things right, I let go of control and started looking for ways I could encourage Bundy to find himself, to want to move and be silly to goof off and just let go.
I started finding this within myself as well.
I started experimenting and looking for the things that lit him up inside, and me too, the things with both enjoyed I found were the things I was more motivated to work on.
In this time I had my first son and if you have kids you know the first 12 months especially time takes a whole different meaning, it exists but doesn’t it’s slow but it’s fast.
I had to pick my times well, “training” became an in the moment thing, we worked out words that were clear for the dogs on what they meant and I could use frequently in our daily interactions like making sure they would settle around my son, not knock him over, understand how to be gentle and learn how to move their bodies around us easier.
Things with Bundy started to shift.
6 years it took for it to start to click.
What I had been missing, for 6 years it stared me right in the face and I didn’t even see it.
What I needed to work on was better communication, to pay attention to his needs which lead us to better connection, he became more considerate more aware of what I was asking from him, I could see he was doing things because he wanted to, I was using words less, and able to just be present with him and we finally just “got” each other.
Things aren’t perfect, they never will be, but I wasn’t looking for perfect. I was searching for a friendship like no other I have been able to find on this earth.
There is just something so powerful, so different when you are really connected with a dog then with a human, not better but just so different.
It’s a love and loyalty, I don’t think I could live without and it’s a love and loyalty all those years that I was searching for, training for.
Right now as I type this he is heavily asleep, he spends most of his days snoozing in my office, he is cuddly, and so goofy, he knows how to make me laugh and I can see he enjoys it when I do, which took years to get out of him.
He plays like he didn’t before, it took years to really get him into toys now he picks them up and wags his tail, in his eyes you can see the question he is asking, clear as anything.
Recently I took him along to a retreat we hosted in Phillip Island,
something I would not have imagined EVER doing,
going away on a trip with Bundy HA!
And now because of him, because Shane didn’t let me give up, because he believed in me, I get to watch clients do things in 8 weeks that took me 6 years to even find let alone achieve.
I get to watch my clients achieve things they never believed possible.
I’ve had people mention that they almost believe their dog came into their life for a reason.
With Bundy I have no doubt he had a purpose and I am so grateful every dam day we made it through and now we get to pass that on to others.
Dogs are an absolute blessing I have no doubt about that.