Posted by Katie Gambone
This is Misha, my 2.5 year old Rottweiler. She has a curly tail that flexes like an arm, dog buns that shake when she runs and soulful eyes. She is smart, silly and loyal. At her core, she is a fierce protector.
About a year and a half ago, Misha began to transition from a silly puppy that loved everyone to an overprotective guard dog. The personality shift was surprising because we had socialized her with dogs and people from the moment we brought her home and hired a trainer to teach her appropriate social skills. Looking back on what went wrong, it was probably a million little things that added up during a critical time (I got pregnant, Misha developed urinary tract infections, we missed opportunities to correct bad behaviors when they started and so on.) To say we were concerned is an understatement. My husband, Carlo, and I love dogs and we want Misha to have a happy life. The good news is we are now on a much healthier path and navigating our way through this challenging phase. I hope the life lessons I have learned through this experience help you, whether you have a pet exhibiting behavior issues, or are just tackling a personal or professional problem:
Before You Blame Someone Else, Take A Look in The Mirror
When things with Misha were getting out of control Carlo and I became obsessed (OBSESSED!) with Cesar Millan, “the dog whisperer”. (I highly recommend attending one of his live events because he is very funny and entertaining). Cesar Millan’s mantra is “The problem is not with your dog. The problem is with you.” Misha was becoming overprotective because she was anxious, fearful and didn’t have the proper direction. Acknowledging that I was a part of the problem was key to moving past it. I had to take a hard look at my own anxieties, understand the triggers, and learn to relax.
Ask For Help
I have a hard time asking for help. It took me a few months, but I eventually waved bye-bye to my ego and reached out to The Philly Pack. They are equal parts counselors, friends and trainers. We would not be where we are today without them. Like Cesar Millan, they believe that helping dogs overcome behavior issues requires rehabilitation of both the owner and the dog. Through this experience, I no longer feel ashamed to ask for help, even if I think I know how to do something. It never hurts to ask.
Exercise, Both Mental and Physical, Can Help You Control Anxiety
Misha is a working dog breed and she really needs to work. At a minimum, we spend an hour a day playing and, perhaps more importantly, practicing mental activities. When Misha is working, her mind is calmer and she is more capable of handling stressful situations. The same is true for me. If I spend too much time lounging in front of the TV, my mind wanders, my anxieties creep in and I can’t sleep. I am as much a working breed as my dog.
Learn from the Bad Days and Move On To Tomorrow
On our journey rehabilitating Misha and ourselves, we’ve had plenty of setbacks, especially in the beginning. The Philly Pack’s best advice to us was to not obsess, but reflect on what we could do differently the next time and move on. Holding onto bad situations only held all of us back. I now follow this mantra in all aspects of my life and focus on living in the present.
Carry Lots of Cheese
Misha loves cheese. We always have some nearby in new situations that we know will be stressful for her so that we can reward good behavior. I use a similar tactic in my own life. When I want to tackle a situation that makes me nervous, I promise myself a reward. Having something to look forward to makes it possible to get through almost anything!
You are Not Alone
When things were at their worst, Carlo and I (and Misha) felt isolated. As part of our training we started “pack walks” on Sundays, and connected with a whole community of pet parents and dogs on our same journey living right here in Philadelphia. Talking with other owners made us realize that we really could improve our relationship with Misha and help her become a happier, healthier dog. Today it feels good to be able to talk with others about our journey.
Never Give Up
There were plenty of bad days that I thought I’d had enough. Luckily, Carlo and I never felt that way on the same day. Misha, though challenging, has been a wonderful gift to us and I am so proud of her and how far we all have come together. We still have a ways to go, but we will never stop working to help her, and us, become the best version of ourselves we can be.