Once I gave up on Toby and decided I needed a border collie, we started fostering for border collie rescue so I could get some experience with the breed and find the right dog. Our first foster was Laila, a very sweet 8 month old tri girl. She was so sweet and so smart, a very easy introduction to the breed. It wasn't a love connection for me, but I loved working with her and Toby and Maxie seemed totally fine with her. Laila was all set to move up to Michigan and start her new life when Toby attacked her.
It happened seemingly out of nowhere. Toby was running in the yard with a toy, Laila came towards him parallel. He dropped the toy and latched onto her head. And shook her. And would not let go. This is another memory that is etched in my mind. I can't say how long it was before my mom and I managed to detach him, but it seemed like forever. Never, ever, ever, in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that would have happened. From my perspective, Toby had never shown any signs of aggression. Certainly the attack was without warning. No growling, snarling, nothing? Laila, ultimately, was fine. I think we can owe that to the fact that Toby is a golden retriever, probably not a lot of jaw strength there.
After this incident, a few things happened. The good thing that happened was that both my mom and I realized that we needed to learn a lot more about dog behavior. The bad thing was that Toby started reacting very strongly to the sight of any and all border collies. The resentment I started feeling towards Toby was awful. I don't think it is a stretch to say that I hated him. He had been around so many dogs without issue, so many foster dogs passed through our home, so why her? And now, all border collies. This one dog stood in the way of what I wanted for so many years.
These feelings, luckily, did not stop me from learning everything I could about stress, fear, and aggression in dogs. I attribute most of my education and Toby's training to a few different sources: Control Unleashed, Click to Calm by Emma Parsons, Protocol for Relaxation by Karen Overall, and Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas. Ultimately, it was my mom who worked with him the most, as at this point we had both decided that I really shouldn't be doing anything with Toby because he essentially could not function without her. Which was fine with me, of course, since I was not very fond of him.
In the time that we've had him, Toby has attacked two different dogs in the same manner, with Laila being the first. The last one was nearly 7 years ago now. My mother and I both have gotten good at telling where his threshold is and how to manage his stress level. We also began to realize just how stressed out Toby was all the time, and I mean ALL the time. We have learned to read more subtle signs of stress and potential reactivity/aggression. Toby, in turn, has gained a much higher threshold for stress and has learned more obvious and appropriate body language for interacting with other dogs.
Panic came into my life about a year after all of this began. For the first few months I had him, I was living exclusively with my father. Panic and Toby never saw one another. The first time we attempted to introduce them, Toby began reacting before he even saw Panic--the thinking being that he had smelled Panic on me and recognized the scent from afar. I was discouraged, but I knew it had to work out. Panic was my dog, and nothing was going to get in the way of that. It took us about six months (and a lot of work) to integrate them into the same household. Today, they certainly coexist peacefully. Definitely best case scenario.
I thought I'd be able to wrap this up in two parts, but there will have to be one more.
But I can't say that post-Maxie life has been all bad, particularly in regards to Toby. If it hasn't been clear on my blog over the years, Toby is not a huge part of my life, and I know that I've never really written much about that. There's a twofold reason for that, it is both highly embarrassing and very painful to recall. But I do feel like I'm ready to write about it, and that I need to write about it. Toby is a big factor in where I am today and I don't want to forget why that happened.
Toby came to us at around 11 months from a cock fighting farm in southern Kentucky. We don't know much about that. We know he was in a pin with several other dogs, mostly large shepherds. He is and always has been my mom's dog. I don't know if imprinting is a real actual thing in dogs, but I do know that my mom was the one who picked up him from the shelter and brought him home, and from that moment on he has been her dog through and through. When we got him, I wanted desperately to show in agility with him. After all, I couldn't do it with Maxie because I was told AKC was the only venue that offered it. I tried, and tried, and tried. His stress levels were always so high that I could never get him to do much with me outside of the back yard. As a 12 year old with very limited dog training experience, I didn't understand anything about stress and fear in dogs. My instructors just told me he was "unmotivated". I tried to "motivate" him. They told me that my mom should hide whenever I did agility with him because he would just want to run to her. Nothing worked. I had to drag him out of the car to get him to come to agility class. One day in particular is etched into my memory. I was dragging Toby out of the car and he was desperately clawing to get back in, and in the process gouged huge claw marks into my leg. I was bleeding everywhere.
Oh my gosh, I would cry. Once I discovered agility with Maxie a few years before, there was literally nothing else in the world I enjoyed more. I couldn't understand why other people had dogs that would actually do things with them but I couldn't get Toby to work with me. I cried. I got angry. Eventually I gave up and decided Toby should just be a dog. I started working only with Maxie , although I still didn't realize that USDAA existed. I decided most of all that I needed a border collie.
Cliffhanger! pt. 2 will come soon.
In any case, summer break is here. I used to absolutely love summer but over the years I've started enjoying it less and less. Last summer was probably the worst, although I can attribute a lot of that to my summer-long mysterious illness. The biggest thing is that I like to be busy all day every day. I'm not good at relaxing. There are probably a lot of factors that contribute to my summertime blues, even thought there are even more reasons to enjoy the summer.
I am recognizing the fact that remaining mentally happy and healthy takes active and continued work on my part. I'm not sure how common this is, and I suppose it doesn't really matter, but it's just something I need to be conscious of all the time. And it is something that is easy to forget. I have to remember that filling all my days with as much stuff as possible is not exactly a solution anyway. It's a good life, I don't want to waste it feeling bad.
Practical Agility Skills
More grey every day.
Back to school tomorrow until the beginning of May. Hoping to have a relatively uneventful rest of the semester leading into an exciting summer.