When you’re daydreaming about picking up your first puppy, somehow you don’t tend to think about the prospect of clearing up diarrhea at 3 AM or trying to negotiate with your newly–teenage pup to go in their crate for almost half an hour. However, bringing home my border collie puppy Fenwick soon gave me a healthy dose of reality that shattered my idyllic fantasies.
Now that she’s over 18 months old and I’m a seasoned veteran in all things Fenwick, I can confidently say that there are four aspects of being a dog owner that I’m less than thrilled about.
1. Health issues
When I brought Fenwick home, I made sure that she had the best pet insurance possible. I was terrified that I would get caught out with a massive bill and be left with a difficult decision to make. I can’t express how relieved I am that I did this, as Fenwick was very ill as a puppy and the insurance saved me from having to pay over $1,000 in vet bills. Getting a diagnosis took months of intermittent stomach issues (hence the aforementioned 3 AM bouts of diarrhea) and developing behavioral problems. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that Fenwick had a severe chicken allergy.
I asked Lara Sorisi, an APDT-certified dog trainer, what kind of impact an allergy can have on a dog. She said, “Allergies can really impact a dog’s behavior – and a lot more dogs have food allergies than people realize. Just like us humans, it can really impact their day-to-day lives. Common symptoms include itchy skin, an upset stomach, and having a painful tummy ache. Just because one dog can tolerate a particular food or diet, it doesn’t mean that another can. It’s really important as a dog owner to explore and find your dog the best nutritional diet suited to them.”
Fenwick’s allergy is now being managed appropriately with some of the best dog food for allergies, but I do worry about her experiencing flare-ups in the future if she’s accidentally given the wrong type of treat. I also worry that she’ll develop further allergies, as she’s already had a similar reaction to some pure venison treats that we tried her with.
Lara Sorisi is a science-based and force-free dog trainer that has been training dogs for six years. She is accredited by the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), which is one of the most rigorous dog training qualifications available. Lara holds a bronze-level qualification with UK Sniffer Dogs, which means that she is an accredited UK Sniffer Dogs instructor. She’s also formally competed in gundog trials for three years.
2. Behavioral issues
Unfortunately, Fenwick’s chicken allergy seemed to have a significant impact on both her physical and mental development. Not only did she go months without having the proper nutrition for her, but her intermittent bouts of sickness meant that I was unable to socialize her properly. Then, even when she was being socialized, I suspect that she felt so dreadful that it wasn’t likely to be doing much good.
This meant that Fenwick developed reactive tendencies towards cars and dogs. Tapping into her keen border collie instincts, she can become incredibly fixated and clearly wants to herd them. Now that she’s over a year and a half old, I can semi-confidently say that we’ve almost cracked cars – in fact, she’s even starting to be able to walk on narrow sidewalks next to busy roads, which is something that would have been unthinkable just six months ago. However, her nervousness around strange dogs is still a work in progress, which very conveniently brings me to my next point…
3. Other dog owners
I should probably preface this by saying that there is a multitude of fantastic dog owners out there who are respectful and responsible with their own pups. However, there is also a growing minority that seem to have abandoned all common sense when they brought home their dog. No, I don’t want your over-socialized “friendly” dog harassing my nervous border collie. No, I don’t want to have to shout multiple times at you until you casually amble over to half-heartedly retrieve your dog. And no, I don’t care if you think that I’m overreacting.
Whenever Fenwick is accosted by another dog, I’m never angry at the dog. My frustration and ire are always directed at the owner who hasn't taught their dog a proper recall or kept it on a leash. I’ve had a long and difficult journey trying to teach Fenwick that she doesn’t have to be nervous around other dogs, but other dog owners not having proper control of their dogs have become the bane of my existence and keep setting her training back.
4. Training isn’t a linear process
I could probably be accurately described as having a Type A personality. I love having a plan and I love seeing results even more. However, the problem with having a living, breathing being with a mind of its own is that the training process isn’t necessarily linear. We could have had three weeks of amazing successes, then in the fourth week Fenwick could react to something that she hasn’t had an issue with in months.
This is something that I’ve really struggled with, as these setbacks always make me spiral and think that I’ve done something terribly wrong and that all my effort with Fenwick’s training has been for nothing. However, the truth is that there are plenty of potential causes – perhaps she was overtired, or she was stressed about something else that had just happened, or she’s about to come into season. In fact, perhaps she was simply just having a bad day. Trying to figure out what caused the reaction can help, but I’ve also learned that it’s important to look at the bigger picture, rather than zeroing in on one particular bad day.
Why it’s all worth it anyway
I think it’s fair to say that Fenwick and I have had a rough start to our time together. However, I can honestly say that I’ve learned so much more about dog training, behavior, and nutrition than I would have otherwise done. I also think that Fenwick and I have built an incredibly strong bond due to all the work and training we’ve done together.
I’ve always believed that the more you put into your dog, the more you’ll get out of them – and Fenwick has solidified this belief for me. I’ve recently started agility training with her, and it’s been an absolute game changer for us. Her focus and desire to work for me have massively improved and I feel more confident in my training as well.
I asked Lara why I’d seen such an improvement in Fenwick’s general behavior after starting agility training. She said, “Each dog breed was designed to do a specific job – even companion breeds were bred for keeping their owners company! However, any breed that has a working background is on another level entirely. I joke with clients that most working dogs nowadays are unemployed, so finding them mentally stimulating and enriching tasks will give them a better quality of life. Plus, it will also hopefully deter them from developing any behavioral issues as well.”
As challenging as owning Fenwick has been so far, I do genuinely believe that it’s been all the more rewarding for it. While I do desperately wish that she could walk past another dog without trying to herd it, I know that the training we’ll do to get her to that point will make our bond even stronger.
For more like this, have a read of Louise's piece on 'five of the most useful things I've learned as the owner of a reactive dog'.
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Louise Carey is a freelance writer and the Editor of sister website Top Ten Reviews. She has been working in publishing for seven years, contributing to publications including The Independent, TechRadar, Digital Camera World and more. As the proud pet parent of a reactive border collie with a food allergy, it’s been necessary for Louise to explore a variety of fun and exciting ways to enrich an energetic dog that can’t always go on walks. She’s passionate about sharing the information she’s learned to help other pet owners as well.