“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours,” wrote Richard Bach. If you wish, you can also argue for your dog’s limitations.
“He’s just dumb.”
“She’ll never calm down.”
“Blind dogs are slow and helpless.”
“Deaf dogs can’t be trained.”
What if you approached your never/always/can’t dog with curiosity: “Who are you and what can you do?”
I had a blind foster dog for four years and was with her through the heart-wrenchingly painful process of bilateral glaucoma, loss of one eye, and loss of sight in the remaining eye. Rosa was in a limiting box at first. She was anxious, wouldn’t leave her bed, and had so much to learn. The box was temporary, but I wouldn’t let her leave it. “Baby girl,” I said, “you’re going to get hurt in the big, bad world unless I hover over your every movement and tell you exactly what to do and how to do it.” Oy, the worry. We were both limited.
As it slowly dawned on me that she was perfectly capable of learning how to navigate the dark world on her own with a little guidance, a TTouch instructor strongly suggested that I give the poor dog some space already. The dog in my head was fragile. The actual dog in front of me was a tough little rascal who could play scent games through obstacles all day long and outsmart me when it came to keeping her monkey self behind gates. That’s Rosa at the top right of the photo, racing toward the sound of a landing ball. After Benny picked up the ball, she would chase him around the yard, hard on his tail, and then bark at him until he gave it up to her. She liked to hunt small animals, too. Fragile as a warrior, that Rosa.
Now every time I feel that gut-clenching worry over a dog, I know I’m heading in the wrong direction. I take a good look at the actual dog in front of me and ask, “Okay, who are you and what can you do?” When I hear a dog’s person drop him in a box of limitations and seal it shut, that’s our cue to open up our expectations and give him space to show us who he is and what he can do. Don’t tell anyone, but it makes me ecstatic to have a deaf dog train ME, the clever scamps.
It’s tragic that so many dogs are put in boxes and then put on the kill table or ostracized outside because we declare their limitations based on a label. Blind, deaf, and blind-deaf dogs especially are assumed to be unadoptable, untrainable, unwanted — unworthy of space. What if we dropped our expectations and tested our assumptions first?
Give dogs space to discover their capabilities. They can learn and grow when we don’t decide their limitations for them.