We’re 22 months into our SAR journey, Helo and I. It feels like a lifetime. We’re getting scuffed and dented, the shiny-newness wearing off, hidden under the disappointments and the constant fight for growth. It’s a steep, steep learning curve. And it should be, because lives depend on it.
And how’s this for fun. There’s still no guarantee we’ll get it done as a team. Even if we successfully clear the certification hurdle, on which we have stumped our toes and stumbled a few times now. I never thought I would want to quit this, but days like today require an actual verbalized promise to my teammates that I’m not going anywhere.
All the other stuff comes so easily to me: the medical, the navigation, the survival skills, working with agencies at scenes.
But training a dog? Oy. Turning a pet dog into a working dog? Ohmygooodgolly.
Training a working dog like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle.
If you’re doing it from scratch, i.e. a handpicked puppy, a 10-week old blank slate, it’s hard enough. But the edge pieces are kind of all set out for you, placed in their own pile. You can see and arrange the limits for the dog from the beginning. “No, we’re not going to spend our free time chasing rabbits. We chase people now.”
However, taking a pet dog, a 2-year-old running buddy who thinks chasing squirrels is awesome and who was heavily obedience trained (largely by coercion) into a free-thinking, good-decision making working dog. Well, that’s been hard.
Really hard. And a constant boot to the face of the ego. Oh, you thought you had it? Well, aren’t you cute.
Add to it my tendency to push to perfection, to win every fight, every ball, and to then mull over, dwell on, and worry about every little misstep, let alone the big problems we still need to fix, and well, that’s just a hot hot mess.
Our thousand piece puzzle is one of the crazy-ass black-and-white photos of a steam engine. And I damn well know I haven’t even found the edge pieces yet. We’re starting from the dead center.
It’s hard to explain to those who do not do THIS what THIS entails. How do you describe the heartbreak of a dog so tired and frustrated, he just can’t bark when it’s time? How can you get someone to understand the very parts of your personality that make you competent and successful, that have served you fairly well for most of your adult life, are now the parts that stand in your way, that make you question him too much, that make you get in your own way?
He can’t tell me what it will take to make it all clear for him. He has the edge pieces, probably, tucked up in his furry little head.
So I’m going to have to walk behind him, the leash off and draped over my shoulders as he pushes forward. I’m going to have to figure out how to shut my mouth, or mumble the Jesus Prayer, so much that my desires for perfection, for the flawless dog, the easy search, the simple solution, the thing that makes me successful and looking good, disappears from his view.
Hopefully, in time, (how much longer I shudder to think) the edge pieces will reveal themselves.