Life has turning points. These are key events, or milestones, in your life that change you forever. Dogs also have turning points. The question is always whether they will turn out for the good or bad…
I experienced a number of turning points in my life. As, or after, each incident, I knew something had changed in me forever. I remember choosing good versus evil when I was just 5 years old. It changed me, and also bothered me for nearly 30 years. I wanted to catch a Monarch butterfly in the alley behind our house. Try as I might, I couldn’t catch it. I wanted it with everything I had, but I couldn’t capture it. I then prayed to the Devil that I could have it. I knew it was wrong to do, but I did it anyways. After the prayer, the butterfly flew away. That afternoon, I was in our front yard, and I saw a moth fluttering around the grass. If I couldn’t have that butterfly, I’d have that moth. I snatched it with my hand, yet when I opened my fingers, it was mashed and dead. I burst out crying. I had gotten what I deserved, and what I got was something I hated, and I knew I had done evil. I then prayed for forgiveness. Yet, for the next 30 years, I tried to understand what had happened. I had eaten the apple, I felt shame, and was driven from the innocence of my childhood Garden of Eden.
Other tough turning points included failed relationships, financial hardships, health issues, and such. But, not every turning point was so troubling, most have been good… The first time I kissed a girl. The first time I shot a gun. The day I got my driver’s license. I also have had many turning points with my dogs, and with the dogs I have trained over the years. The dog related turning points were milestones I crossed including working with other dog trainers, meeting special dogs and people along the way, study experiences from books, and years of animal rescue work. Each of these changed me, and I knew it when I had experienced critical moment of truth.
Dogs also experience turning points. Most dog trainers are aware of critical periods. Those are turning points, where a first experience at a critical time in early development makes a significant impact on how the dog turns out as an adult. There are opportunities to develop a puppy along the way, such as their first meeting with their new family, their first potty at home, first night home, first greetings of strangers and strange dogs, and so forth. I know of more than one dog that was significantly changed after it had been in a dog fight, been attacked by a human, had to survive on the streets, or had bitten a person to defend the home or family. Many aren’t the same after such an event. It is our job to manage and safeguard the turning points our dogs experience. I spend time teaching proper handling, socialization, and training to my students to maximize the potential of their dogs. I also am frequently hired to deal with turning points which have changed well adjusted dogs into something else. I have spent years studying the negative impacts on dogs of the wrong kind of turning points, and learning or developing ways to work with them. You have to wade through a lot of gruesome stories and studies to do this kind of work.
We don’t live in an ideal world. Good things happen. Bad things happen. The best trainer and owner can’t control everything in the real world. You do the best you can. Part of this is dealing with your own negative turning points, and maximizing the positive ones. Becoming a better person makes you better with your dogs. The other part is working with understanding and patience with every dog you encounter, to try and make sure they had a good day today. With time, and God’s grace, you should try to make the best of even the worst circumstances. Dog ownership is real life. It is about your life and your dog’s life, together. Do good, and overcome the evil in your life and in your dog’s life. Make that new dog in your home have new, good turning points, and you will be on your way.