Monday, November 23, 2009

Putting on the Big Girl Pants

Cala, taken November 22, 2009

This summer I lost my heart dog. My once-in-a-lifetime dog. The dog who took me places I never thought I'd get to go. Viva was not young, but with a lot of relatives who lived to 14 and a dam who made it to 16, I was looking for more time. Hemangiosarcoma had a different idea, and she went from healthy to her last day in a span of two weeks.

Viva was an overwhelming presence in not just my life, but in our household, on the training field and at shows. She effortlessly and calmly dominated every room she entered. She was solid in her convictions and she was never wrong. Really. I'm not kidding. Not only was she always right, she was quite willing to tell you she was right, why you were wrong, and that you better straighten up, dammit. But she was also totally devoted to me. I never had a moment's doubt that Viva would lay her life down for me any time. Fortunately she was never called to do so, and instead I had to help her leave with grace and dignity. She even told me, in her blunt and uncompromising way, when it was time; not by asking but by demanding I let her go.

Then there was Cala, Viva's daughter. How, I often wondered, could this dog have come from Viva? Not only did Cala have no impulse control at all, she really didn't seem to care much about me, and nothing at all about anything I wanted. She never worked to please me, always herself. If doing something she wanted to do happened to coincide with what I wanted that was great, but if not, well so much for my wishes. From the moment of her birth it seems, Cala and I have done nothing but butt heads. I've often said that Cala is the dog whose primary role is to make me humble as a trainer and to teach me how to deal with tough dogs.

When Viva fell sick, I worried a lot about what would happen to Cala. Though sometimes it seemed that Cala and I were always at cross purposes, Cala really depended on her mother. She leaned on her, literally and figuratively. She often slept on top of a (grumbling and complaining but resigned) Viva. Viva was Cala's anchor. I knew Zipper would be okay; he would miss her but not in the same way. Cala I worried about quite a bit.
Cala and Zipper piled onto poor Viva, 2006

After Viva's death we all kind of reeled as a household. Cala was very subdued the first couple of months. We all grieved; I know I am still grieving. But then a very interesting thing happened. At age seven, Cala grew up and put on her big-girl pants. It was as if no longer having a mother meant she couldn't be the puppy any more. Without Viva to lean on, she had to stand her own four feet and learn to deal with life herself. She has stayed more subdued, but has added focus and maturity and a new willingness to work with me.

I've changed too. It was always hard to look beyond Viva, my perfect dog (not that she was perfect of course, but she was perfect for me). Without Viva to show her up so unfavorably, I've become much more patient with Cala, and more willing to work with her on her own terms, though they are different terms than Viva's. It seems maybe I've put on a pair of big girl pants too.

As a result, Cala and I have made huge progress. She's less hectic and more willing to listen. She's much calmer and easier to deal with around the house. I'm having a lot more fun with her too. I've started showing her a bit in agility again and though we haven't Qd and she's still her screaming self on the course, she's really trying to listen. In APDT Rally this past weekend she cleaned up, earning her Level 1 title with a 205, 209, 210 and then her first to L2 legs with two 210s and two first places. Here's a video of her second Level 2 run.

I will always mourn Viva. But I am also enjoying my new relationship with Cala. It seems it's never too late for old dogs (and old trainers) to learn something new.

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