When I first adopted SP six years and ten months ago, it was in September. In fact, it was September 11th. I’ll never forget it. He was a 7.7 pound, football-sized ball of confidence, and I loved him from the get-go (obviously). He was at the Lincoln Rhode Island Animal Shelter and he was five weeks old.
This is how I got him.
OK, every dog trainer has a start. Mine was conventional(?) I started working at a big box store when I was twenty. I remember seeing a sign by the punch clock when I was already working there that said “Dog Trainers Wanted” with a few other details. I distinctly remember thinking, “I would NEVER do that.” Too much pressure. You’re responsible not only for everyone’s safety (human and canine), but also for sales, promoting, customer service, money management… and not to mention, DOG TRAINING.
I was all set.
Spark's story truly starts here...
I’ll never forget my first Puppy class. I was shaking so bad I had to hide my hands. We got through it in rapid fire with a phenomenal turnover rate. Six out of seven went on to Intermediate, and that same crew enrolled in Advanced. I didn’t tell them until graduation that they were my first class ever. They were – and are – extremely special to me. That was eight years ago.
In that class was the most amazing dog. She influenced my entire training career and totally rocked my world... I’m not even kidding. Her name was beautiful Bailey and she was a pit bull/boxer cross. (She was also blessed with the most wonderful family ever and I could write a whole other article about that.) From the moment I met her FAMILY, nevermind the dog – they were buying a Bully Breed magazine and I was cashing them out at the register – I fell in love with the dog. They were the first Puppy class I ever sold, and more than any other, they together defined my training career. I wonder if they even know how much they meant to me.
Previous to becoming a professional dog trainer, I didn’t have any pre-existing opinions about “pit bulls.” There were just like any other dog, albeit an extremely beautiful variety. (Who could deny that?) I wasn’t intimidated. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t a fan. I wasn’t anything. Bailey changed all that and after her, I wanted my own.
Enter Spark Plug.
So I went to pick him up.
He SCREAMED in the crate the whole way home.
I also didn’t tell my sweetheart I was getting a puppy. What do they say? Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission?
I took just about every class you can take with a puppy. (Yes, dog trainers take classes.) He excelled at every single thing that he did. He was enthusiastic… and so was I.
Spark is everything I ever wanted in a dog. He is vastly intelligent, independent, funny, and has eyes that can bore into your soul (and have been extremely effective in getting me to shut the lap top, get off the couch, and remember the value of play). My mom calls him “more than dog” for good reason. He is so much smarter than me.
If I'm on the computer in the office, and he's sleeping on the couch on the other side of the house, and I start to get frustrated - I won't even be moving or saying anything or huffing & puffing - he'll come in and put his head under my hand to get it off of the laptop while making this adorable rrarrrarrrrrrrarrrrr sound. He'll be so adorable and so funny that inevitably I laugh and he won't leave me alone until I'm not frustrated anymore. Then I continue working and he goes back to his thrown and lays down. Amazing.
Spark also has a long & extensive training career; not only as a pupil, but as an assistant. He can be depended on in any situation – and any former client would attest to this. He has helped in the rehabilitation of countless dogs with his ability to make good decisions. He can be trusted off leash in basically any situation and, although he’s a “pit bull,” not to engage an aggressor in a fight. (This comes from his being a balanced dog, genetically & psychologically.) Spark has been bit once or twice in his life. (Okay, twice, and the events are very explicitly documented in my mind). One was by a foster dog (Tug Boat) when Spark was six months old and I knew a lot less than I know now, and one was by a friend’s Australian shepherd, who gave him a nice little “drive-by.” (We’d been excusing the targeting behavior for too long.) Spark would rather walk away than engage. I feel the same way. When people say our dogs are mirrors of ourselves… there’s truth to that, I think.
We’ve had umpteen foster dogs, and adopted more than five. (I honestly think SP would rather be an Only Dog. He can’t be bothered.) However, despite his own misgivings, he’s helped those dogs become the dogs they were meant to be… he helped bring them to balance. He’ll always have that legacy.
Spark will be turning seven in August. I am desperately trying to convince myself that he isn’t “middle-aged” (contrary to popular belief and countless brands of dog food). I repeatedly state that I will have to be scraped off the ground when he goes.