Training vs. Beauty

By now you may have heard about the $1M dog. If I remember correctly, it was a dog that won a championship at a major show. I want to say it was a Chow. And I think it was purchased by someone in China. I should get off my duff and look up the exact details, but it isn’t really the point I want to make. I remember the first thing I thought when the story first hit the news and my non-dog fanatic friends exclaimed, “WOW! Did you hear that?” My response was, “It still needs to be trained. Without that, it’s worth about $1.” At least to me.

And what do I mean by trained? First and foremost, I want a temperamentally sound animal. That is, I want one that has been nicely socialized…even if I were in the market for a ‘protection dog.’ Especially if I were in the market for a protection dog. Having a dog that is ‘in their right mind’ is what I would want…more on that in an upcoming article that I am working on that I think a lot of you will be excited to read. I have a surprise guest interview I’ve been working on for a couple of months. Can’t wait to finish this!

Beyond this, it is truly amazing how much cache a dog can have with training. You can have a beauty of a dog who is so untrained as to be a nuisance (or one that is temperamentally very unsound) next to one with a whamo of a hairdo and no impressive pedigree. I’ll take the latter and turn it into the dog that everybody wants in pretty short order. Having grooming skills just allows me to top off the good manners and tricks, etc. with some pizazz. Truly amazing.

Were I simply to groom a dog into a very lovely coiffed showpiece, I AM likely to to get it adopted more quickly than being a matted mess, however, without the training, I am also likely to see the dog returned. Not good. Not good at all.

Here’s a real life example:

I inherited a sweet, fat, untrained Chi/Min Pin mix from my elderly father (the dog was a gift -another blog post for another day). He had no idea how to raise a puppy. She became, as my mother put it, the Helen Keller of dogs. She would run amok, scream at my father until he fed her from his plate. She defecated and urinated all over the 4-level house and furniture, had horrid separation anxiety, and would methodically chew up pieces of the furniture. Dad kept her on a tan harness and a purple leash and took her to the dog park a couple of times a day.

Meanwhile, my brother (also my father’s neighbor at the time) purchased a very expensive pet store Yorkie (yes, the dreaded pet store, sick variety). They paid an ungodly amount for her, spent gobs in grooming so that she would look just so (I lived in another state at the time) and gave her lots of bling, expensive carrying totes, fancy treats, dog condo…the works. She was a fashion item and substitute baby for his wife. (Don’t worry, they don’t know I have a blog. Yet. ha!)

The dog had never been socialized with outside people or dogs other than mine. She was never house trained (and at 10 years old, she still isn’t). She bit people she didn’t know and has recently started biting and drawing blood even from them. We live too far apart for me to work with her personally.

I trained the ‘boring’ tan dog (who they wouldn’t allow in their house due to “allergies”) to do all sorts of things and her status went through the roof. Decided to bling my new dog up a little as a reward for weight loss and doing a million good manners and cool tricks (to include pooping into a bag when I would open it and earning her CGC. Nice trick!) This dog was also exceptional with people and especially with children–a true behavioral find.

I splurged on a pink, italian leather with Swarovsky crystals harness and leash set, pink leather running shoes, and a set of Doggles glasses for the frying pan hot Palm Springs daytime streets. People literally stopped to take photos and video the day I bought her stuff (~$200+ worth).

Next thing you know, I got her involved with therapy dog and service dog work. This dog had adoption offers. You name it. The name Chi Chi became “Can she come over to visit? I love her!” Even my brother and wife forgot about their boycott of this dog and their allergies and would use full animation to exclaim, “Of course Chi Chi can come in!” (I was also became entrusted to care for their Yorkie. Later, I became the convenient daycare provider so they wouldn’t come home to a soiled home while running errands. Uh huh, you know how it goes.)

Unfortunately, Chi Chi is gone now, but I have had many moments filled with sobs after sweet encounters with people who were enchanted by a dog who would give them the attention that society often does not.

One encounter was especially memorable. We were riding the bus (she as my service dog for seizures). A mentally and physically disabled man was riding in his group. He had a crooked smile and shakiness to his body. He very politely leaned forward and asked, “May I pet your dog?” I was more than happy to say, “I think she would really like that. Please do.” He acted as though the Queen of England had invited him to lunch.

He stretched one single, shaky finger toward her. In response, she moved her head toward his hand and let her ears go very wide with gentleness and her big doe eyes. I have never seen someone take so much care in petting. As he pet, his mouth grew into the most incredibly wide smile. I could tell that her response to him made him feel important and loved. I tried not to let anyone see, but tears were squeezing out the sides of my eyes. Only after we de-boarded the bus at our stop did I allow myself to openly cry. I put myself in his position. His day is likely filled with routine. Society may or may not really “see” him (or want to) because of his disabilities, his abnormal appearance and physical limitations. This dog went far out of her way to see and accept him. How would you feel? I know it would make my day, at least! It would be an almost spiritual experience.

So, yes, after years of grooming, I am able to style a dog to make it stand out and get noticed. But, I am more proud of the knowledge, motivation, and ability to create a dog that is safe, fun, and makes others feel good. I am proud that people want the mixed breed that does amazing things. Sure, his coat looks great because he’s cute without my hand in it. The only question I am asked is “Where did you find such a smart dog?” The Humane Society. He was an accidental litter mix of anybody’s guess.

Sure he’s smart. They all are. I went far, far out of my way to teach him as many good social skills as possible. He’s more behaviorally challenged than Chi Chi, but he has home offers. He makes people laugh. He has short hair, so bathing is about the only thing I can do to maintain his pretty looks. But, yes, that training pushes an average dogs’ status far beyond what looks alone can do.

There are a lot of pretty dogs of every single breed sitting (or dying) in shelters. That’s what is wonderful about training–it is a controllable element. Beauty is a gift that is, to some degree, out of our hands.

Training truly levels the playing field.

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