Human Training

Final Ginger 4x5

by Rainee Denham

An important member of my family will be twelve years old in a few months. I first saw her as a twelve-week-old, thirteen-pound baby. She had wavy brown hair, and big amber eyes. When I saw her, I felt only love. Her name is Ginger. She is my dog.

Ginger is my third Portuguese Water Dog-an AKC dog in the ‘working’ class, known for their intelligence, loyalty, and athleticism. I’ve lived with this breed for the last 25 years. First there was Mack, then Buddy and now, Ginger. They were all different. Mack was the perfect one. Buddy, the cynic. And Ginger, she’s the wild one.

Ginger was a high spirited, ‘let’s party’ girl who had an unbridled enthusiasm for life, fun, and food. It was like living with a half-starved Tasmanian Devil 24-7 in your home. She slowly settled down, but still was pretty much the boss of things until she was six years old and I wanted her to visit my Mom’s nursing home with me because my Mom adored having her around. And I wanted her to be happy. First stop, training.

I did not need to train Mack, he really was perfect. And there were some training programs I tried with Buddy, but sadly these were punitive, and I believe regretfully, did a lot of damage to him. I did not want my dear sweet Ginger to go through that.

When I found healthy, positive dog training, I found that with rewards for good behavior you can train your dog to like doing the right thing and love working with you too. This did not have anything to do with being Alpha over her, or any of the BS spun by the Dog Whisperer. When you choose positive reinforcement training, you build a bond, and a deeper relationship with your dog based on trust.

I discovered that Ginger is a body language expert, what I say to her is always secondary to what I do with my body.  She reads me, and fast, so you’ve got to put in the time to get up to her level of sensitivity.

Dogs even feel your energy through the leash

In the process of working with her, and adding activities, like Agility Training and Swimming, we are a true team. The trainers I worked with call it “dog training” but it’s truly “human training.”  

Once Ginger and I became certified, I brought her into my Mom’s nursing home, and she spread a lot of love not just to my Mom, but all the residents. Ginger didn’t care if people were in a wheelchair, how old they were, or shaky their hands were. She only loved them.

And she was comforting me in that nursing home the day my Mom passed away with us at her side.

Ginger has outlived all my other dogs. She has retinal stenosis, arthritis, and hip dysplasia. She takes over 8 supplements a day, including weekly estrogen, and I give her bi-weekly injections for her joints. She still has the wild child in her though, and no one can believe she’s a senior dog.

What we have experienced together and navigated through the last twelve years are some of the hardest, happiest, and most emotional experiences I’ve been through. We have a bond, a deep abiding love.

Since I work at home, I’m very often with her day and night. As each day unfolds I also feel a type of anxiety as my mind spins to a world without her. When I leave her at the groomers for those two hours every month, my home feels empty and devoid of warmth. And as each day unfolds I also feel a type of anxiety as my mind spins to a world with her. I want to acknowledge her while she’s still chasing balls, getting up on the couch, and begging for back rubs.

She taught me what unconditional love is. And I’m sharing this message because I want to be the person she thinks I am.

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