I made mistake after mistake with my first dog, Chilli. I was a junior in college, and our family dog had recently passed away, so I thought it was a good time to get a dog of my own. I searched Petfinder and found someone who was just giving away a 5-month-old Boston Terrier/Jack Russell Terrier mix. Apparently, the kids had gotten tired of her, so she lived in her kennel almost 24/7.
I immediately fell in love with Chilli. She was brindle with white on her chest, and for a period of time her ears were stuck inside out. She came with worms and fleas and didn’t know how to play with toys. She eventually came out of her shell and turned out to be really good with people and other dogs.
Even though it didn’t work (at all), we used a choke collar on her. We didn’t know what else to do. We didn’t take her to formal training classes because she listened “well enough.” Or so I thought.
One night, I let Chilli off her leash to run around on the beach. She got scared by something and ran up to the road where there was a group of people. She was confused and disoriented, and she ran onto the busy road. She got hit by a car that didn’t stop. The car behind that one did, and the driver told us where the closest vet was. We got her to the vet within 10 minutes, but it was too late.
And just like that, my Chilli was gone. I was devastated.
I blamed myself for what happened to Chilli for YEARS. How could we have saved her from one bad situation only to let this happen? If I would have trained her, this wouldn’t have happened. If I hadn’t chased her, she wouldn’t have kept running …
It took me a couple years to get over the actual accident, and I still have lingering effects (I get extreme anxiety if I see any dog near a road), but I have realized that the only thing I can do now is to never let that happen again to one of my dogs. I needed to learn from my mistakes so that Chilli’s death wasn’t in vain.
I also have realized how much we pet owners take our dogs for granted. We assume the dog listens well enough or that something bad will never happen to them, but it can happen. I see people walking down the street with their dog off-leash all the time, not thinking about what might happen if the dog sees a squirrel across the street.
Because of what happened to Chilli, I wanted to make sure this would never happen to us again. So when we got Daisy, a Boston Terrier-mix puppy, I took her to training classes and learned everything I could about the right way to raise a well-trained dog. I learned about using a harness or a Gentle Leader and how much more effective either was than a choke collar. I learned about the power of positive reinforcement. Daisy happened to be very food motivated (and 10 years later still is), making training her a breeze. We got really lucky with her.
After learning about dog training and seeing how effective it could be, not just for gaining a well-trained companion but also for creating a deep bond between human and dog, I decided to look into becoming a trainer myself. Not only did I want to prevent another disaster from happening in my family, but I wanted to help other families, too. So I started reading everything I could (I highly recommend Nicole Wilde’s books), and I got an internship with a local trainer. I have since moved from basic training to working with dogs with anxiety, but that’s another story.
If I learned one thing from the night that Chilli got hit by a car, it is that really loving your dog means training your dog. It means not just enjoying the easy parts about having a dog but putting in the work for the long-term benefit, too. And you will make mistakes along the way, but you can’t move on until you forgive yourself and work toward doing better the next time.
Read more on training:
- How Training My Smart Dog Makes Me Feel Dumb
- How to Use Food to Motivate Your Dog During Training
- Tips for Teaching Your Dog to Greet Other Pets Politely
About the author: Abbie Mood lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues, food culture, and the human experience through her writing. You can find out more about her at abbiemood.com or her blog, lifediscoveryproject.com. Follow Abbie on Twitter @abbiemood or Instagram @abbiemood.