Raising Bruno from the age of seven weeks had a ton of positive benefits for my lifestyle and training goals. I loved that I had a fresh absorbent sponge that was ready, willing and eager to learn and to please. Any unwanted behaviors, bad habits or environmental issues that could potentially be acquired, would be the fault of nobody but myself.
The negative aspects of bringing home a very young puppy were that Bruno had an abundant amount of energy and operated in two modes – holy terror and sleeping angel. He mellowed slightly as each week and month passed but I thanked the heavens above on a daily basis that someone was clever enough to invent the portable Vari-Kennel and that I was smart enough to own one.
The awkward defiant teenager stage began for Bruno between the age of five and six months. Bruno was now a tad awkward, a bit gangly looking, uncoordinated at times, and had some huge ass ears that were disproportionate to the rest of his body. No longer cute, cuddly, and adorable as adolescence approached and new challenges began.
As Bruno matured, gained confidence and became more independent, he began to push boundaries and test my consistency and patience. At home, he was an energetic, sweet, sensitive, expressive and a needy guy. During training sessions, Bruno became focused, driven, extremely stubborn and had a high tolerance for pain.
A stubborn German shepherd (Bruno) versus a stubborn human (me) equals a test of will and mental stamina. On more than a few occasions, I found myself exasperated and on the verge of either throwing up my hands in frustration or strangling my black and red bundle of joy.
We went through phases where we did things over and over and over, again and again over periods of weeks or months. Now mind you, Bruno was not stupid. He understood everything that was being asked of him and he was more than capable of complying with all requests and tasks. The problem was if he did not feel like doing something, he thought he was not going to do it. He had days when he did not feel like sitting, coming, outing, tracking, etc. For a sports dog, this flippant attitude of maybe I will, maybe I won’t doesn’t cut it on trial day.
This fun-filled period of time is what I refer to as Bruno’s teenage years and it ran approximately from about six months to two years of age. As it turned out, the longer and harder he fought me the greater the satisfaction was when everything came together and fell into place. We went through long spells of inconsistency and mayhem until one day he would decide to give in and do it my way, on my terms. Something in that hard head of his “clicked” and things would come together. Instead of one step forward two steps back, we were beginning to take three or four steps forward with one step back. I wasn’t winning every battle but I was winning the war. I was elated, I was victorious, I was Alpha!
But, I was not delusional. Every day was a new day. New days brought new training opportunities both good and bad. If you have a sport or a working dog, your training never ends. There is always something to work on and improve.
The secret to keeping my sanity and surviving Bruno’s teenage years was this: A lot of patience, being consistent (no matter how tired or worn down I was), follow through, knowing when to end a training session, and never losing sight of realistic goals and expectations for both of us.
Through all of this Bruno earned my respect. He had a mind of his own and he was tough in drive. At home, he was sensitive, happy go lucky, and raised voices upset him. During training, he could care less how much I ranted, yelled, and hollered at him. He would take corrections and tolerate pain out of sheer defiance and stubbornness. It almost drove me crazy but I also secretly loved how tough and strong-willed he was.
The endless hours we spent together strengthened our bond and silently put us in sync with each other. We learned each other’s body language, mood swings, quirks and wants. A simple look or gesture could signal to the other what was about to come next.
This unspoken communication just evolves. You cannot plan for it, you cannot pay for it, it just happens. It was something that I recognized and did not take for granted. This bond would continue to grow and strengthen as Bruno and I journeyed through life’s highs and lows.
*Originally posted April 20, 2010*