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Learn From My Mistakes

We lost our beloved Sammy on June 8th. It was sudden. He was only 10 years old.

He taught me more than any course, conference, research paper, or mentor ever has about dog behavior. I also learned a lot about myself, including my limitations. His passing has left a hole in our hearts but at the same time, he made our hearts so full. He presented us with an abundance of challenges and joy. Sammy had many significant behavioral concerns and was able to overcome most of them.

I know that you will understand the loss we are feeling, but we also wanted to share some things that we learned that may help you with your canine companions.

Dogs (and cats) are masters at hiding their pain and discomfort. At 10 years old, Sammy had always been my hiking and running buddy. In the spring, he had started slowing down. I thought it was his age. I thought to myself "He is 10 years old now, of course, his energy level was showing in his age." However, his illness was likely the cause of his slight lack of energy. He still wanted to hike and run but he was just a bit slower. Seek medical attention anytime there is a change in behavior or any change at all. Any changes in eating, energy level, or activity can be a medical issue. Just like with humans, prevention and early detection can lead to better outcomes. If your dog is uncomfortable with medical exams, use Happy Handling to change that.

If you have a dog with significant behavioral concerns, don’t wait to get an evaluation for behavior medications. Not all dogs need this additional support and do fine with targeted behavior modification. Sammy benefited from behavior medication and I waited too long to add medications to Sammy’s treatment. I thought because I was a behavior consultant I could help him without them. Of course, I did help him, but we did get to a place where we had trouble moving forward, likely due to genetic factors and poor environmental factors from early on that predisposed him to not being resilient. I often wonder, if he had started on medications earlier, would his journey have been easier? Many of us don’t want to give our dogs behavior medications, but for some reason don’t hesitate to give our dogs medications for physical issues. Unfortunately, behavior has a stigma attached to it. Don’t let that be a barrier to needed treatment.

Seek the emotional support you need. One of the reasons I started the Support Group for Pet Parents with Special Needs Pets is because of Sammy. Take time for yourself so you can continue to be a caregiver for your pets. Surround yourself with others who can be a support to you when you need it. I don’t think I did this enough and sometimes isolated myself.

Surround yourself with a team of professionals that communicate well. It is important that the components of your team are all on the same page. The team can include a pet sitter, dog walker, veterinarian, and a behavioral professional. I do think I did this well but I think it is so very important. This is one of the reasons we document Behavior Consultation Reports for you, to share with various professionals.

Another lesson I am still learning is that I can’t fix everything. Sometimes you just have to accept things as they are and that no matter what you do every situation can not be solved no matter how hard you try. I still find myself thinking, "What if I did x or y?"

I do know in my heart that if Sammy did not have experienced pet parents in his life he would have been euthanized at an early age. I sincerely hope that some of these lessons help you in your life and on your journey with your canine companion.

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