95% of the time I am content with the fact that my rescue dogs came to me with a background that shapes who they are today. In fact, it is something that I appreciate. What others call "baggage", I consider that dog's individual life experience. Some of it is undesirable, but some of it is good. In Tessa's case, I will always appreciate her resilience. Having to survive on her own and rely on herself gave her the opportunity to develop a strength I have never witnessed in another dog, and I admire and appreciate it very deeply. Of course, it's a double edged sword. I also have to accept that she will probably never be a social butterfly with people and that there might be small spaces that she will struggle with entering throughout her life.
There are times when I find myself saying "if only" about my rescue dogs. If only Maddie had been encouraged to play as a puppy. If only Dean hadn't been flown in the cargo hold of a plane when he was only 6 weeks old. If only Tessa had not known the man, or men, who did whatever they did to destroy her trust in anyone who happens to be male . . . These thoughts come and go on an infrequent, but fairly regular, basis.
It does not bother me to have these thoughts. I think it is pretty natural when one did not have the opportunity to raise a dog the way he or she would have done it. Thinking these kinds of thoughts is all well and good. Generally speaking, however, dwelling on "if only" is useless. Yes, there might be quirks and challenges that might not be there had the dog been raised differently. But, when it comes down to it, the dog's background is what it is and all we really can do is move forward and change what we can change and accept and manage what we cannot.
As Tessa and I are starting to make progress with her Rally FrEe/Freestyle training, I have allowed myself some time to consider one little "if only". Especially in light of the coming puppy, who brings with him all kinds of hopes and new possibilities. I am very excited about the chance to start training very young and to be able to dive right in without having to un-do things in the way I had to with Maddie, Dean, and Tessa.
While I watch some of these lightbulbs going off in Tessa's head, it occurs to me that she could have been incredibly amazing in a very short amount of time had she had the opportunity to have been raised and trained well from the start. It seems a shame that she had to invest so much of her young life into making the shift from survival mode to a happy companion and performance partner mindset. In a perfect world, she could have spent that time learning tricks and behaviors and her focus could have been on a performance foundation and not so much on things like "I don't have to be afraid of your hand when it moves".
It is easy to look at the point where she is in her training and realize that this could all be happening a lot faster if there had not been significant challenges to overcome.
I have to stop and make myself remember a few things.
First, Tessa is who she is because she went through what she went through and survived it. Had I known her and it had been in my power to spare her the bad experiences that she had in her early life, I most certainly would have. But things being what they actually are, she inspires me every day with her strength and resilience. Watching her find it within herself to love and trust and literally revel in the safety and security of her new life is a daily gift to me. And it is more of a treasure than any title or performance achievement.
She is Tessa, in part, because she experienced loss and loneliness and fear out in the world on her own and she did survive and she is healing and moving beyond it. And, really, I wouldn't change anything about who she is.
Also, Tessa still has the potential - the most potential of any dog I have ever worked with - to reach any and every performance goal that I could reasonably have. She isn't ruined. She isn't broken. I have never known such a willing partner. Maybe I need to have some patience. Maybe I work a little harder as a trainer. Maybe I need to put more time and effort into her training. But there really isn't anything that she can't do just because of her background.
It is time to forget "if only". It is time to remember how much I appreciate this girl and move forward, together with her, to enjoy every second of our training and performance journey together.
Really - she's perfect. I would do well not to forget it.