My dog Journey, who is now 2.5 years old, came home with me three months after my dog Gerber had passed away. Looking back, I realize I was not mentally ready for Journey because of the deep sadness and pain I was feeling from Gerber’s passing.
When I decided to search for a puppy, it was because many of my friends and family saw how sad, heartbroken and empty I was without Gerber. (Gerber’s story will be for another time). One of my friends and mentors, Viviane, suggested that I should “just look at dogs to get your mind distracted.” So, after a lot of hesitation, I took her advice.
I knew I wanted things to be different. I wanted a social and friendly dog. A dog I didn’t have to worry would harm someone. A dog that fit into my lifestyle and a dog I could bring around my family and friends. I also wanted a dog that I could do dog sports with. I wasn’t totally sure what dog sports I wanted to get involved in, but I wanted to get involved in something that I would enjoy with my future dog.
As I started searching for “dog breeds good in dog sports” I came across the usual’s: Border Collies, Aussies, Jack Russell Terriers etc. Then I came across a breed I had heard of, but never met before, the Australian Kelpie. As Journey’s breeder put it, “think of the Kelpie like a herding dog mixed with a terrier.”
I had no idea what the breeder meant until I experienced Journey! Energetic, always busy, playful, a bit overstimulated at times, tenacious in their own way, when their head is “in the game” they are ready and working. Probably the trait that was the most surprising to me was the fact that Journey I needed to allow Journey to “think things were his idea” rather than making him or asking him to do things.
After reading up on the Australian Kelpie and watching some videos, I became more intrigued. I had also remembered a well-respected dog behavior professional in the UK, Chirag Patel, had a Kelpie of his own that he would use as a demo dog in many of his training videos. I then started asking trainers and dog breeding groups on social media about the Kelpie, what their good and bad traits were and who the breeders were that I should contact. The more I learned about the Kelpie, the more I realized this was the breed.
The moment I picked up Journey from the breeder
While on my search, a colleague of mine gave me the name of a trainer who was on the World Agility Team in Canada to speak with. I didn’t know that while speaking with her and asking her questions, she had a litter of Kelpie pups that she had recently bred. After chatting with this nice lady for a while and asking a lot of questions she said to me “I have a male kelpie pup that isn’t spoken for.” I was surprised. After seeing a few pictures of the pup, I decided to sit on the idea for a couple days. The deciding factor ended up being that one morning I woke up, and the first thing that was on my mind was this big eared, cute kelpie pup instead of the sad thoughts of Gerber. Two weeks later, my father and I drove to the Niagara Falls region in Canada to pick up Journey.
The Meaning of Journey’s Name
I will admit I do not recall all the details of how I thought of the name, Journey. I knew I wanted to name my new dog in honor of Gerber. But, Gerber is an odd name, and aside from baby food and a type of flower, I didn’t really have much to work with in naming this puppy in honor of him.
From what I do recall, and based on some notes in a notebook of mine, I was at a Sue Sternberg Seminar about two weeks before picking Journey up. I had just decided I was going to take him. Sue was discussing how many shelters place dogs into homes that have no business being in homes due to the severity of their behavior issues. As she was discussing this, evaluating dog temperaments and the journey these behaviorally challenged dogs bring their families on, the name Journey came to me. I wrote it down in my notebook. The note said:
“Journey- Owning a dog is a journey. Owning Gerber was a journey. One of love, happiness, laughter, fun and learning. It was a journey. And now may my new dog bring me on a new journey and another learning experience. Owning a dog is a journey and each dog brings you on a new journey.” (These were the notes/thoughts running through my head as I was trying to determine if this was the name of my new puppy.)
The name Journey really seemed to fit as Gerber took me on a journey. He played a major role in me specializing in working with dogs with aggression and behavior issues. He taught me what it was like to live with, own and deeply love a dog with serious behavior issues. Along with the deep love, joy and happiness Gerber brought to my life, there came a lot of stress, limitations and worries for his safety, as well as the safety of others.
My dog Gerber
The Journey Begins
The first night I spent with Journey was in the car (while my father slept like a baby in this brand-new dog friendly hotel we got for the night) because Journey was like a terrier with no off switch. We ended up spending the night in the car because he wouldn’t settle, he wouldn’t shut up, and I didn’t want to wake all the guests in the hotel. It was a disaster. I remember being so use to having to worry about Gerber being a serious resource guarder, that when I gave Journey a bone, in the corner of my eye I saw he started getting stiff and concerned as I approached him. I was so concerned that I had just drove eight hours to get myself another dog who resource guards.
When we arrived home I was NOT mentally prepared for Journey. Sure, I was excited I just got a new puppy, but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be on me to have to adjust to him. I didn’t realize I would compare Journey to all the things I loved about Gerber. This made the relationship between me and Journey very difficult for quite some time. I knew as a professional that you can’t compare your your current dog to your last dog; I tell clients this all the damn time! But, in my own mind with my own dog it was very challenging.
I Hated My Dog
Hate is a strong word, but it was what I felt. I know it sounds terrible to hear a person, especially a dog trainer say that he hated his dog, but it was true. Although I was happy that I had gotten Journey, I wasn’t enjoying him the way I had hoped I would. Gerber was constantly on my mind and as a result I put a lot of pressure on myself and on Journey. It was the pressure that really made our relationship rocky and caused training to be a real challenge.
We didn’t initially connect well and he didn’t enjoy training no matter how hard I tried. The more I tried, the more pressure I put on him and the more he hated training.
If I handed him a dog treat, he would turn away as if food was this scary and aversive thing. I bought endless amounts of treats and would even make treats for him; but nothing worked. I won’t lie, there were a couple of times where I considered sending Journey back to the breeder because I found him to be more of a headache. He didn’t seem to bring the joy in my life I wanted out of a puppy and I didn’t feel I was bringing him joy. It was to the point where I stopped training him and had no interest in training him. Finally, when nothing I was doing was working I decided I was going to try and search for an agility trainer to help Journey and I learn agility together. I was counting on this to help us connect and build a relationship together before I officially made my decision to send him back to the breeder.
Agility & Beyond!
I found this awesome agility trainer, who has now become a good friend of mine, Stefanie Rainer, who helped me learn and teach Journey an agility foundation skills. As soon as we started, I realized Journey was in his element. He was doing things as if he knew what it was. As soon as Stefanie put the tunnel out, he ran right through it as if he had done it a hundred times before. Stefanie said to me “holy cow, I have never seen a puppy take to the tunnel so quickly before.”
Our first agility session with Stefanie was amazing. It was the first time I felt Journey and I were working together as a team and more importantly, enjoying each other’s company. We continued going to agility which truly helped the both of us build a bond and a relationship. It was the only training that Journey and I did for a little over six months. We literally didn’t train unless we were practicing agility. Since he enjoyed agility so much, I found the best thing I could do for him was to let him enjoy his time with me. I figured if I could continue building a bond and relationship with him through agility, then the rest would follow at some point with his basic skills. My goal was simple: take all the pressure off of him, don’t worry about basic skills, just build a relationship with him through the things he enjoyed which was agility and off-leash hiking in the woods. And that is what I did.
About six months later we accidentally stumbled upon sheep herding. I asked Paul, now my friend and herding instructor if we could see what Journey was like with his sheep. He said sure and put Journey in with the sheep. Paul worked him around a little. At first Journey was a little unsure and was not that confident, but once he started moving his feet, the sheep started to move and he started to get into the groove of things. Paul said “yup, your dog is keen and ready to learn to work if you are.”
One month later, I drove back to Paul’s place to take sheep herding lessons. It was great. As much as I enjoyed agility, watching Journey work the sheep was such a beautiful thing to see. I still get this excited feeling inside when I watch him. There is something to be said when you can allow a dog to do the work he was bred to do.
Interestingly, sheep herding brought our relationship as a team to a WHOLE new level. Journey became much more connected to me, much more responsive and started to really enjoy training in many other aspects of our life. I am convinced that sheep herding helped with Journey’s comfort level in taking treats from my hand. We don’t use food rewards in herding, but our relationship and bond grew so much stronger as a result that I believe he started becoming more comfortable and trusting of me where he was able to take food from my hand! A few months after we started sheep herding, I decided to try some basic training skills with him with and without food and for the most part, he was engaged!
Journey at one of our beginner sheep herding lessons
You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need!
One thing I have learned through my work with my clients is that each dog takes you on a journey of some kind. For those in the dog training industry, this is especially true because our dogs are not just our pets, they are our learning tools, our teachers and experiments in many ways.
Just like my last dog Gerber, I never thought Journey would be the challenge he became and still is, but I am so grateful for all he has taught me and the journey he continues to bring me on! One thing I have learned as a dog trainer and behavior professional is that you don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need. Journey is so true of this statement. He has taught me so much. The way I look at things in dog training and behavior has changed a lot because of him. Journey has taken me to a whole new level as a professional and has opened doors to a whole new world that I was not involved with before. And the crazy thing is that the journey has only begun!
Photo’s of the Journey!
Our first herding trial together where we earned 1st place, high in trial and earned two titles- July 2021