This is a special holiday series for anyone who has ever sighed and said, “What do I do with this dog?” We want you to know that, whoever you are, wherever you are, you are not alone. Shoot, most trainers and dog behavior nerds end up in the field after finding themselves sharing their home with a dog whose behavior was way more than they’d bargained for.
In this five-part series, each of the five DOL directors will tell the stories of our naughty beasts, from chaos to today, in the hopes of not just sharing wisdom, but some courage, humor, and solidarity as well. Samson kicked off the series, followed by Sedona, Rufus, and Suki. For our final post, we’d like you to meet the smallest dog on the naughty list, a tiny purebred Papillon named Heidi…
Heidi took on the somewhat heroic task of filling shoes meant for a big dog with her tiny, micro dog sized paws. Not only did she accomplish that feat, she ended up doing quite a bit more and creating memories and a place in her mom’s heart much larger than her small size. DOL director Annie, a life-long dog lover who titled a therapy dog at the age of 10, is known to have a thing for fluffy creatures with a naughty streak. Shelter dogs on the smaller or fluffier end of the spectrum who’ve needed Annie’s help probably owe a bit of their thanks to Heidi…
I have always been obsessed with dogs, but had grown up and played with large dogs. I remember wanting a Leonberger when I was younger or something of similar size… then I met my future husband who was and is a little dog person. We decided it was time to get our first dog and I knew a small dog would be easiest for him, but also nice because we would be doing a lot of moving with college and future plans. I did a lot of research because I didn’t want a “little dog” and yet somehow I kept coming back to the smart, athletic frou-frou dog called a Papillon (butterfly in French, I mean really could it be more girly). So after research, recommendations and a three hour interview we were finally on our way home with our first dog Heidi, who we named after Heidi Klum.
I picked her because she hopped right into my lap and it was literally love at first sight. And then we got home. Our sweet dog’s whole world was turned upside down and she didn’t deal well with the change. We got out of the car and she freaked, ran
underneath and pancaked. This was the same dog that had hopped into my lap and into our car to begin with! A ton of treats later we made it into the house, but it became very obvious that we had an extremely shy dog.
Over the next couple of weeks, she bonded with me but was indifferent to Brandon and did not like my mother. She bit her within the first week and resource guarded everything from my mom (in the course of Heidi’s life she never resource guarded from any other human). My mom’s feelings were hurt and I knew she thought we were in over our heads, but I was madly in love with Heidi even though she had challenges. When strangers would come over, Heidi would totally shut down and freeze and whale eye or hide under beds or in her crate for hours. She was not a fear biter but the amount of stress that she had while around strangers was overwhelming for her.
We did learn that there were two ways to Heidi’s heart: food and a high squeaky happy voice. Basically if you were a girly girl you were golden with Heidi, and if you were a man you’d better be free with the food. My dad bonded with Heidi over “patience training” which consisted of him watching TV with Heidi on his lap and feeding her a cracker every time he ate one. I really have no idea what kind of training this was, but Heidi loved my dad so it worked. She also bonded with many dogs over the course of her life and looking back, I wish I had found another outgoing dog to bring home because I think this would have made a huge difference.
While in Boston I decided it was time to get some help because I really wanted Heidi to not be so stressed every time a stranger was around her. I did a lot of research and found an amazing positive training group, but of course nothing is close in Boston! Once a week for a long time we took a 40 min train ride to our class, but by the end of it Heidi was doing down/sit stays in new places and allowing some strangers to approach her without totally shutting down. When we moved back to Lincoln, we found an amazing training club and a great group of people, and later good friends, who were very supportive of Heidi and I. We started with obedience and were eventually talked into agility…this was huge for Heidi.
Heidi really found her personality in agility and I never saw her as happy as when she was running an agility course. Soon we were at the club 3-4 nights a week and she was making friends with both people and other dogs. I loved watching her bond with the regulars at the club and she was greeting many of them with happy barks and bounces. I truly believe agility helped her build her confidence to the point that she was able to pass the CGC (Canine Good Citizen), which included walking through a crowd of strangers. I remember crying with so much pride when she accomplished this!
The biggest thing Heidi taught me was how to deal with my frustrations. She would take a leap forward and then she would take 5 steps backwards, but there was steady improvement. Also I want to say Heidi was an amazing dog when it was just Brandon and I, or people she knew. She loved to hike and was almost as happy on the trail as in agility class. She was incredibly smart a
nd over the years learned a large number of tricks and was able to problem solve when it came to food. I remember one agility class where she ran by a forgotten treat and did a nice “leave it,” but later when it was our turn again she ran straight from the release across the course to the treat. Whoever said a dog only remembers for 30 seconds is so wrong.
We miss Heidi a lot and I would never have traded my time with her for an easier dog. I don’t think I would be so involved with dogs and rescue if it wasn’t for her.
Most importantly, she opened up my husband’s eyes to the love that a dog can bring into a home and for that I will always be grateful.
The funny thing about this series is that most of us have dogs at home right now who’d fit the stereotypical definition of naughty perfectly, but those textbook naughty dogs didn’t make the list. It’s interesting to think about why. What made these dogs that we chose to write about challenging? Was it just their behavior? Or was it us, too? These dogs came into our lives when we didn’t know how to help them. These are the dogs who served as our teachers, and who continue to serve as our inspiration.
It also wasn’t intentional that every single dog featured is a completely different breed mix. Throw in those other naughty dogs at home and you’d mix it up even more. It’s perfect that Heidi is the final post in the series because her lesson to us is that problem behaviors can come in any shape and size.
Our goal in writing these stories was to share a little holiday hope with those of you out there dealing with your own naughty list dogs. If we could make a Christmas wish, it would be that you too find the path that leads you and your dog to a place of mutual understanding and love that works for both of you. It’s possible. And these dogs are absolutely worth the journey.