I wasn’t good with dogs. I grew up with them and had them professionally trained, but they didn’t mind me much as an annoying 10-year-old and the only long-term dog we had in the house bit anyone it could every time she got into the trash can – which was a lot. My strategy as a child when I came home to my dog rummaging through the trash was to just walk past it – staying as far away as possible.
But I saw a story one time in Sports Illustrated about Michael Vick’s dogs and their rescue homes. The dogs looked tough, but they were posed in cute ways and seemed like the perfect dogs. For some reason, that story made me want to be a part of the pit bull story.
Some time after that, my wife and I met Tiki. A year-old reverse brindle pit bull with a quirky, independent personality.
Many of you who used to go on my free public pack walks probably met her. She looked normal enough. She never bit anyone. She didn’t show any aggression. She looked calm and well-behaved. Sometimes she would even help me rehabilitate dogs at appointments.
On top of that, it wasn’t long until she started biting everyone. At first just little nips that left no mark. That didn’t last long. She began to accelerate and even drew blood on my brother.
The culmination of these moments led to a huge decision point. Do the smart thing and return the dog to the foster home where she did fine with the 10 other dogs she lived with (I don’t remember the actual number, but it was a lot). Or do the not smart thing and get good enough to handle this dog.
We were young and affording top of the line training wasn’t a real option for us. So much so we thought we were breaking the bank when we paid $500 for an appointment with the Ohio State veterinary behaviorist (which gave us no help except ineffective Prozac and tranquilizers).
I spent the next years of my life first watching the Dog Whisperer, then reading books from all the greats in the dog industry, then to going to seminars on dog aggression, and continuing my education any way I could until I became good enough to give this dog a pretty good life.
My experience taking a chance on a “bad” dog changed my life forever. People often say that you don’t get the dog that you want, but you get the dog that you need.
And that’s true. I think God put Tiki in my path to teach me how to be a man. To take accountability when others wouldn’t. To be brave even when times are hard. To push through when most would give up.
In that regard, I like to think that God also gave Tiki the human that she needed.
Because of her, I’ve been able to help thousands of dogs across from many different states. I’ve been able to help owners through this blog and videos – sharing the information that I’ve picked up along the way from total novice to Certified Dog Trainer.
Tiki came into my life when my wife and I were just kids. On Monday morning, she spent her final moments with me, my expecting wife, and our three kids all lying on the floor with her at the end. Her dysplasia and arthritis had always hindered her, but it quickly accelerated into her being unable to move, eat, or go to the restroom.
I’ve always said that the last lesson dogs teach us humans is how to say goodbye. It’s a lesson that always comes too soon and never really gets easier to learn.
Hopefully, there will be a day when the family and I can run with Tiki again. Until then, I can only be grateful that I found her so that she could help raise me into the man I am today.