Baxter (Sometimes we Need a Little Shelter)
I do not know why but today I am compelled to write about a dog who made a particular impact on my life. Baxter wasn’t my dog. He arrived the first day of class and immediately said, “Don’t worry, I’m just a very shy German Shepherd.” Understood. And so I guided him to the hiding spot I provided for all shy dogs, a blue card table in the corner of the training room. Bob and Stephanie, his loving and very capable family, accompanied Baxter with open minds and realistic expectations. And as I tell all the folks in my classes, “You are the ones here to learn”, just in case people think it is only about the dog. The plan was to encourage Baxter to remain in his comfort zone (i.e. under the table) for however long it took, to participate when he was ready, and for his family to absorb the training exercises and tidbits of information on canine behavior. For the most part my career has been shaped as much by the dogs themselves, they taught me not to rush, to be patient – and for this the primary credit goes to my Westie family – nothing will teach you patience in training more than a terrier! Or a hound…credit to my Greyhound, Brighton, too!
The whole class knew the little blue table in the corner was Baxter’s spot, and for a few weeks Baxter would slink into the training room, go straight up under the table, and observe. When it came time to do the exercises he would come out, do it, and retreat to his safe spot. This was a beautiful working arrangement for Baxter because it was pressure free – I never engaged with him I just left him alone, he performed the skills for his folks without fail, and we moved on with life. Then one evening I went around the room doing a simple exercise for success, offered the dogs a treat, turned to resume the lesson and was struck by an initial feeling of doom. There Bob and Stephanie stood with a look of utter shock on their faces. What had I done??? When I asked what was wrong they joyfully exclaimed, “Jane, Baxter came out for you to give him the treat!” It hadn’t even dawned on me! To this day that moment still brings tears to my eyes – and it remains one of the most important moments in my training history. It may not mean much to some, but for the four of us it was a turning point. From that day on Baxter remained out, participated with the class, went on to achieve his Canine Good Citizen, we played tracking games, pet therapy practice, anything and everything I could offer to keep him involved, and to no one’s surprise, Baxter blossomed. He has been gone a while now but he will always have a place in my heart, a big ol’ German Shepherd sized place in my heart. Until I moved my business location that little blue table remained as a refuge for all shy dogs, and I made sure everyone understood the importance of Baxter’s Table. Today must have been special to Baxter for a reason, and so I say, “Thank you sweet boy, you are never forgotten!”