The Dune Chronicles: A little background….

When the time came for me to select my first new puppy in many years I proceeded slowly and carefully and put a lot of thought into it. Choosing a new dog to be your companion is a big decision, and as someone who works with animal shelters and their resident animals I have seen so many pairings gone awry. I know it is important to really think about lifestyle and expectations before getting a dog; and then there is lots of research to do to find the dog the will be the best match. It took me two years to find the right match for my expectations (health and athletic ability for example), my family, and my lifestyle. I called my new pup Dune.

I wanted a dog that was large in size, physically well put together, energetic enough to hike daily and participate in some dog sports recreationally (such as agility), yet calm enough to settle down on his bed and relax while I work at my computer or read in the evenings. I wanted a dog that had a solid, confident, temperament that would be friendly and secure enough to happily meet all kinds of situations everything from children in a park, to farm animals, to the regular- yet startling- noises of an urban environment. I travel a lot and plan to have a horse someday and I wanted a dog that would be comfortable with both of these lifestyle arrangements.

As a long-time dog trainer and behavior problem counselor I also know that breed characteristics (type) and personality are only half of the picture. Socialization (early life experiences) and training compile the other half of what makes a dog who he or she is as an individual.

Knowing that genetics is only half of the battle, once I selected a pup I made sure to introduce my little guy in a positive way to everyone and everything I could think of in order to socialize the heck out of him. First impressions are very important and developmentally there is nothing better that introducing a pup to novel situations and people before they are 13 weeks of age.

For instance, as I mentioned I knew I wanted to have a horse someday, so I drove miles out of my way whenever I could to make sure my pup was comfortable around horses. I did the same with infants, children of all ages, contractors with noisy trucks and scary contraptions. Actually I may have overdone it with the contractors and trucks, to this day if Dune sees a construction zone he eagerly leans towards it hoping I will let him go say hello to all of the friendly, big, men with gloves and hats on. I am sure he thinks of them as his “public”.

During Dune’s first few weeks with me we went to new places and experienced something new virtually every day. I wanted to capitalize on those first few weeks while his mind was still super open and soaking up new information like a sponge.

I am happy to report three-plus years later that my hard work has paid off. Dune is a wonderful, social, confident, well-mannered dog. (Not to mention incredibly handsome!) He meets all of my canine companion needs perfectly. I am totally in love and couldn’t be more pleased.

I still don’t have a horse, but we do meet them while hiking in the hills, which we do about 4 days a week. We also hike through fields of cattle on occasion and he has never bothered them once, even when we’ve turned around a bend in the trail and unexpectedly come face to face with an entire herd! Dune is trained to automatically sit when we come upon an animal on the trail, whether it is a horse, cow, or dog, because I think it is impolite and dangerous for him to just run up to everyone we see, even if it is just to say hello. When my 5-year old nephew and 7-year old niece visited with my sister last summer Dune accompanied us on the Steam Train ride at Tilden Park and he was the perfect gentleman. The kids really got a kick out of that!

We also meet lots of joggers and cyclists up on the trails in the hills and I am teaching Dune to stay on one side in order to stay out of the way and for safety. He has never chased or barked at anyone up there, or anywhere else for that matter. We see lots and lots of dogs on the trail. Some are friendly and some are not. Dune has been “jumped” by not-so-friendly dogs on more than one occasion, it happens at least once a week really, and it even happens when he is still in his requisite “sit” before greeting. He stays sitting and ignores the onslaught! Good boy! I so dearly wanted him to be dog savvy and confident that I spent hours and hours classically conditioning him to really enjoy the presence of other dogs and to be comfortable around them (regardless of their behavior) that he has never been in a fight- at all. I heavily reward him for all of his dog encounters and interactions and I never take them for granted.

Now don’t get me wrong, Dune is not perfect. No living breathing creature is. He can be over-exuberant, he is big, and is still working on self-control when very happy and exited. We still have many an “air-kiss” greeting when guests arrive and some impulse control issues, but he is getting there. We are a work in progress, but overall he is a model canine citizen and we do get complements on his wonderful behavior and temperament on a regular basis.

It is important to me for Dune to be a well-mannered dog for many reasons. I want to have pleasant walks without embarrassment or confrontation. I also believe it is the polite way to have a dog in an urban environment where we are in constant contact with people who may not be comfortable around dogs. I also think it is important for all dogs to be on their best behavior in a society where anti-dog laws and breed specific legislation are a large looming specter over the dog-loving community. Every dog is a doggy ambassador to the public and I want my dog to be an exemplary one, so far so good.

While overall I am thrilled with my “new pup”, there is also a dark side to our life together. I didn’t expect it, though in retrospect maybe I should have… In the coming weeks I will share some tidbits of my life with Dune, it has been an interesting ride so far.