What is the Perfect Dog?


I sometimes take Madigan, my 9 year old border collie, to classes with me.  The last time I did this she jumped on all the people, barked at me when I wasn't paying her attention, and refused to hold a stay once I took my eyes off her.  Mind you, I'm teaching this class.  This is the dog who represents me and my skills in training.  I was humiliated and wanted to hand her to the nearest stranger and say, "Is this your dog?  I don't know where she came from!"

My students were very supportive, and tried to provide me with excuses and justification.  "Maybe she's not used to being here?"  No, she had been there many times.  "Too much excitement?"  She'd been in much more crowded and far more exciting circumstances before and behaved admirably.  But I did like the way my students didn't jump right to blaming the dog for being disobedient on purpose or see it as some kind of a power struggle between Madigan and me.  Apparently I did something right in my teaching!

The fact is, dogs are living, thinking, feeling creatures with wills of their own.  They are not little robots that we program to perform flawlessly 100% of the time.  They have their moods, they have their quirks, and they have their off-nights.  For some reason, that night the dog I normally use to demonstrate how a close and trusting relationship built on mutual respect results in willing and eager obedience decided to act like a little brat who never had a lick of training in her life. 

Most of the time when I take Madigan to classes with me, or out to other public places, she draws attention from onlookers in a completely different way.  People comment on how sweet and friendly she is as she approaches them, sits nicely, and smiles widely in greeting.   If I make the most miniscule of movements, her attention locks on me, waiting for me to take the lead and provide her with guidance:  Oh, yay, what are we doing now, Mom?  She responds to quiet cues said one time (and/or subtle hand signals).  Most of the time my Madigan delights me and makes me proud when we're out and about.

Will she ever act like a brat-faced snot-nose again and embarrass me in public?  Oh, most definitely.  I don't know when, I don't know why, but this complex and emotional creature will never perform like a machine, and I don't want her to.  I love her for her personality and her mind, not just her obedience.  Is she perfect?  Well, it depends on what your idea of "perfection" may be.  She will never behave perfectly, but yes - she is my perfect dog.

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