A Facebook memory came up for me this week of my first Border Collie Finn. We lost him 8 years ago so some of you won’t have met him and I wanted to share our story. I wanted to get a Collie with big dreams of doing agility and having a dog with a brilliant brain to help me on my learning journey. I was 26 and had started on my own dog training journey by then. Finn (was called Misty) was handed in to the dog warden as his original owner had died and the family didn’t want to keep him. He was 18 months old and very fat! Honestly, I have never seen a collie so round, but he was so handsome – my heart said yes! It took us around 6 months to get his excess weight off and during that time his true personality started to show. From a very cool, calm, and sociable dog, he started to develop aggression towards other dogs and people. He would guard high value food items and struggled being brushed and groomed. My ‘chocolate box’ collie dream dog was turning into a nightmare.
We started to keep away from situations, only doing quiet walks, retreating from social events and had to be careful with people coming into our house. I was not experienced enough to work through these issues alone, so sought help from more experienced trainers. I am so grateful for these people, but I had to accept Finn wasn’t ever going to be the dog I had dreamed of.
Agility wasn’t going to happen as I wouldn’t trust him in that environment, and we would always have to be careful around unknown people. Once he knew you, you were in the club and he was wonderful, however, no matter how careful we were, some people he just didn’t warm to. Same with dogs; careful introductions most were fine, but the free roaming incoming out of control dogs that we met on walks were a definite no. The embarrassment of walking a dog like this that 'reacts', the looks from other dog owners, some of you will understand. I was a dog trainer - surely my dog shouldn't behave like that! The frustration of putting in so much work to then have it ruined by an out-of-control dog; my heart still sinks when I see it happening today.
You are probably now thinking this is a sad story, well it’s not. Finn taught me so much more than I could have ever had hoped for. Showing me that having a ‘challenging’ dog means loving them whilst also some days not liking them is ok. He showed me that my expectations needed to be adjusted to give him the life he needed and deserved. When working with clients that have dogs with similar behavioural issues, I can honestly tell them I have been where they are and understand the emotional roller-coaster ride it is having a dog like that. He was a very loving dog, we had a wonderful journey together and he was the dog I needed to make me the person I am today. He was my teacher, and I will forever be grateful for him. Unfortunately, he was only with us for 8 ½ years. At 10 years he had a brain tumour; he had several aggressive incidents directed towards me, uncontrolled attacks that were not predictable and therefore we made the very hard decision to put him to sleep. He was Jon’s first dog (my husband) having never grown up with pets – what an introduction to the world of dogs!
I wrote this to say thank you to Finn. My special heart dog. I also wanted to share him with you all, so you know a little more about my journey of becoming a behaviourist – he was a huge part of my learning journey.