Do you believe in fate? That everything happens for a reason, at the right time, in the right place? Exactly as it’s meant to be?
I don’t. As a general rule of thumb. I look for open doors and possibilities, and in almost every way, Journey was a perfect combination of meant to be, and diving into a decision.
Today Journey turns one year old. He has, for his entire life, seemed both much more mature than his age, and also an eternal puppy. He is somehow a perfect angel, and devilishly naughty in ways that are endearing, rather than hair-pullingly annoying. And I couldn’t imagine my life, our life, without him in it.
I made this “little” video tribute for his birthday. It is as much for me as anyone else, so that I can look back on an incredible 10 months with my puppy. I’ve more or less summed it up in text below, if you’re more in the mood to read, than watch.
Once Upon a Time...
I had been looking for puppies for a while. I had contacted breeders, made inquiries, talked about litters, looked at lines and pedigrees, and finally came to the decision that I was going to get a sheltie. I listed all the reasons that a sheltie was the right choice and set about finding possible litters. I was ready for my sheltie.
I was working at a highschool in the north east of England at the time, scrolling through Facebook before class started… and there was a litter announcement. Salsa had five puppies.
One male was available.
From Salsa, a dog I loved so much about, bred by Svetlana, whose judgement I trusted… a male. Exactly as I wanted.
When they were about two weeks old (younger than this picture) I had picked my favourite. Something about his squiggly stripe and already emerging naughty spots on his snout just captured my heart. But it wasn’t up to me. The other owners had first pick, so I had to sit back and wait, telling myself it didn’t matter, they were all good puppies, that I didn’t really even know him, that it would all work out as it was supposed to.
And it did. He was going to by my puppy. Journey. Flyland N’Joy the Journey.
I worried for a long time about getting a puppy. It had been Loki and I for years now. Just the two of us on a grand adventure across Europe. Just the two of us in a small van. Just him, a lone dog, who wasn’t overly keen toward puppies. Just Loki, a dog who I love so fiercely it hurts. How could I possibly make room for a puppy? How could a puppy possibly fit in this little bubble of love I had created? I was terrified that no dog could ever “live up” to Loki, and would always come second in our dynamic.
A friend of mine picked him up from Latvia and drove him to Poland, where I would pick him up, before we would head into Croatia for a month or so to get his rabies vaccines and wait the appropriate amount of time before returning to the UK.
I am planning a full blog post on travelling with dogs, but it was one of the most fun ways to raise a puppy that I could think of. For the first couple of weeks we hired an AirBnB 30 minutes from Zagreb so that we would have a base and Journey and Loki could get comfortable with one another. He was absolutely the most perfect puppy – I would have 500 puppies if they were like Journey. He didn’t chew on things, he toilet trained quickly, he slept in the bed under the covers from his 2nd night with me. We explored forests, main roads, shopping centres, Zagreb city, and visited friends. Later we were on the road, playing by lakes at sunset, watching the waves of the sea, going hiking with Journey in his little backpack to protect his joints. I have such incredibly fond memories of that time as we all found a new family dynamic.
And so, one of my priorities with Journey, was to allow him to be himself. Yes, there were priorities, things I knew I wanted him to learn, behaviours, skills that would help him live a fulfilling life. Recalls, for example, are not-negotiable. Being able to go anywhere without fear, or with the capacity to conquer worry, is important. Being comfortable around all kinds of people and dogs, is necessary.
I wanted him to enjoy working and learning, to find me valuable, but to be independent enough that me leaving for a little while wouldn’t destroy him.
And beyond that, I wanted him to be himself. I tried to be moderate in my approach to his upbringing, never swinging too far toward self control or motivation, or to being too sociable or anti-social, not fostering any strange obsessions, but allowing him to express what he found valuable and fun (let me summarise that: carrying toys on walks and losing them, playing “leafy battle”, playing with ropes especially in bed, tugging on sleeves). And I tried as well, to learn him, to value his opinions. If he didn’t like eating food on a walk, that was no trouble. I would find another way to reward a recall. If he didn’t want to cuddle or have pats, he didn’t have to (how often do we go to our pets and pat/cuddle them whether they asked for it or not? How often do we check for their consent?).
Allowing Journey his own journey
The two dogs who came before Journey grew up in the shadow of my first dog, who had been the most jolly, happy, funny guy I’ve ever known. He had been my shadow. He had gone through the end of highschool with me, through two university degrees, through moving house something like 9 times in 7 years, and he had introduced me to agility. So both Loki and Lumen (my Aussie shepherd who lives in Australia with my ex) had pretty big shoes to fill, and really high expectations to meet.
Lumen had never loved agility, and had some strange issues. Loki, therefore, was trained to LOVE agility to the point of manic obsession, and was in many other ways a pretty subdued and easy going guy. Both of those dogs had been shaped by the dogs who came before them – and I guess this is the way it always is, if we are smart and we learn from our mistakes.
I write this all as things to think about with your current dog, or your future puppy.
How clearly do you see your dog? How much do you respect and celebrate them as the unique individuals they are? Because at the end of the day, the better we know them, the stronger our relationship can be.
All Grown Up
We’ve travelled again since that first voyage, and Journey continues to take everything in his stride. And now, he is one. A grown up dog. And while I don’t think words can ever do true justice to a personality, I’m going to try.
Journey is a unicorn. A creature so mythical that it can’t be real. I’ve always said that about him, and I maintain that it’s true. He adores everyone. Anyone who smiles at him is immediately considered one of his best friends, and he welcomes you into his inner circle in an explosion of happiness and squeaky whimpers of joy. Every dog is also his best friend, and I have to manage him constantly to make sure he doesn’t say hello to all of them (including the ones who have no interest in rambunctious puppies).
He is a keen but thoughtful learner and worker, and as soon as he understands the behaviour, there’s no stopping him. On our walks, he carries leaves, and bounces joyfully, as if he just can’t contain his excitement over such a treasure. He have many leaf games that we play. At nights, he stares at me for long, long minutes, unblinking, often with a ridiculous string toy hanging from his mouth. I believe he does this partly because I usually give in to his mind control and play with him, but also because he likes to make people laugh.
He is incredibly sensitive to my emotions, and was training himself to be my Emotional Support Dog before I even had the idea. Sensing me on the edge of not coping with frustration or emotions or decisions to be made, he would often stand up on his back legs, front paws against me, as if to ask, hey buddy, you ok? Do you need a minute? From the moment I met him, all my fears of not having enough space in my heart melted away at the sight of his sweet, spotty face. From the moment I met him, he was exactly the dog I needed. He is absolutely more than I had hoped or dreamed for, and I am so grateful he’s here, exactly as he is.