Sunday, July 22, 2012

Can't is a four-letter word

This post is for the
<"eighth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival">
The topic is:
Marching To Your Own drum.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference."
-- Robert Frost
Throughout my entire life, one of the words I've heard most often is "can't." Mostly it's strangers who say the word, but sadly, at other times it's family, friends, coworkers, trainers, or others with whom I have consistent interaction. When someone tells me that I "can't do" this or that, I'm more than likely to see it as a challenge, and not as the warning or the limitation the person has intended it to be. This also holds true for the word "shouldn't" or similar words. I don't want to be told what to do! Even if someone says "can't" and I try and fail, and they are proven right, at least I had the satisfaction of trying and knowing for myself(the hard way) that I really can't do something. And besides, if I'd listened to all of the can't's and shouldn't's I'd never be where I am today.

I am a Deafblind dog trainer with balance problems. My dogs are owner trained, gotten from an animal shelter or rescue, raw fed, minimally vaccinated, and clicker trained. I have been accused by some, of just "needing to be different." But as strange as it may seem, I'm not really like that at all.

Sometimes, life forces us to be different, to take a chance, to try something unheard of because it is the only thing left to try. This is how I came to clicker training. After my in-home hearing/fetchNcarry® dog, Mill'E-Max was attacked by three dogs in under a year, clicker training was the only thing that helped us make any progress. People said that it wouldn't work, they made fun of my use of treats, and said that it would lead to a dog who's only interest was her belly. Thankfully, they were wrong. Clicker training was such a wonderful discovery that I use it with all of my dogs. It works for us, and so I'll keep doing it.

Sometimes, the lesser-known path is chosen because it is the thing that literally makes the difference between illness and health. My now-retired guide Bristol was very ill in her younger days. She was plagued with chronic ear and skin infections, stomach and bowel problems, and inability to maintain a healthy weight. I switched to a natural-rearing approach-- including a raw diet in hopes of prolonging her life and in the hope that it would be able to let her continue working for me. I did it back in the day when most everyone was still feeding feed-grade kibble. I got many questions, and a lot of dyer warnings from people who were just sure that either my dog would be dead from salmonella within the week, or from people who declared that my dog's work would suffer and she would become a scrounger because she was being fed "people food." Yet again, they were wrong. Bristol started eating a grain free raw diet and within a month, she was a different dog entirely. Twelve years, and thousands of pounds of raw meaty bones later, Bristol is 14.5 years young and still waits eagerly for her allotment of animal parts every morning. Even when she leaves us for the great dog-park which lies beyond, I will still feed this way. I will do it because it works for my dogs!

If I had listened to the "can't's" and the "shouldn't's" nothing would have changed. I would not now, be enjoying the rewards which come with taking chances. The assistance dog community can, at times, be a very harsh and judgmental place. If you are different-- if you take a different road-- you are probably going to get your fair share of unpleasantness over it. You will get more questions and sideways looks than if you had gone to a program, gotten a lab, come home, used approved methods, and fed approved food. For me, what is more important than anything is the success and happiness of the team-- my dog, and me! Sometimes this happiness lies in doing what works for most people. At other times, however, much can be gain by taking the chance and doing things a different way.


  1. Wonderful read! Good job bypassing all the nay-sayers and doing what works for you. Thanks for sharing.

  2. BS"D

    Thank you for sharing! I've just started to learn about clicker training because I think it would be a good tool for my guide dog and I.


  3. That was a really great post. I won't feed a raw diet, but that is because i'm a germaphobe! But at least you would know exactly what your dog was getting.

    Take care, Torie and Ushi.