Sarah believes in having a vision while training the dog in front of you, one day at time.
Eat, train and play with Etsu and Me.
The Story Behind Etsu + Me
A common question that comes up whenever we meet new people is, “Is Etsu your first dog?”
I wish she was. But the truth is, she’s my fourth. I loved all my other dogs: my yellow lab while growing up and two huskies later on. After thinking about it though, I didn’t really understand what loving my dog means until Etsu.
When I first got Etsu, she was already 8 months old. I had already been waiting for at least a year and a half on several breeders’ lists. Prior to getting on the list, I did my research for at least six months before reaching out. This was at least two years of mentally preparing myself for a dog. Four years before that was when I first started getting intrigued by Shibas. Two years before that, I went through the heartbreak of having to give up my two huskies. This is where the shame comes in.
The Cone of Shame
Everything happened all at once. My dad having to be hospitalized, my mom and I not having the greatest relationship, recovering from a toxic relationship with a significant other that I shared a home with, me having to move back into my parents to get financial help but at the same time, provide emotional support...It was a mess.
I had my two huskies when I lived with my ex. They were decently trained at home, but not trained enough to go through all the life changes my family and I were going through. So when I moved back in with my parents who were not huge dog lovers, I ended up having to give them up.
The shame still haunts me to this day at times. I struggle to talk about it, fearing judgment or criticism from others. So many ‘should have’ or ‘could have’ moments. But I truthfully didn’t understand the ‘why’ of training. Which resulted in training them only for the moment or my present lifestyle.
My Old Perception of Dog Training
I trained to make my life just good enough to be comfortable, but not to bring out the absolute best in them for all life stages. It wasn’t intentional, I just didn’t know better.
I trained my dogs so they could be ‘happy’ and ‘off leash’ without realizing the possible consequences later on down the road from not having a calm mental state. I trained them with obedience, but not as much relationship. I trained them as athletes, running them 2-4 miles because I believed that’s what they needed but never taught them how to have an off switch before exercise. Overall, I trained my dogs to fit my lifestyle, instead of changing my lifestyle to bring out the best in them. So when my lifestyle changed, none of us were in the place to bring order back from chaos. It became difficult for my family.
Last but not least, I trained them with the perspective of ‘only training dogs.’ I was afraid of having to speak up to others, advocate for my dogs, and say no. But the reality was, I should have spoken up and created boundaries with people, even if it was family.
All of these things created the ripple effect that resulted in having to give them up.
What I Learned About Dog Training
I realized after that what my dogs needed was for me to train them so that when I went through life changes, they would be able to handle it -- and so would I. My dogs needed their training to be proofed, instead of only being trained partially in limited scenarios. They needed real socialization, remaining calm or indifferent regardless of the noises, environment, or even when I’m not present. They needed me to step up, speak up, and stand my ground. They needed their needs to be prioritized, as opposed to what I perceived to be their happiness.
I regretted that I didn’t have the courage to take ownership of these things back then. So when I started to do my research on Shibas, I knew that most of the ‘dog training work’ was really my own internal work. I knew I wanted to focus on our relationship, and make sure I can keep her for her lifetime. I wanted to not only do better, but I wanted to be better.
I wanted all my future dogs to thrive under any circumstances that might come our way.
Why I Decided To Shop From A Reputable Breeder
My previous dogs were adopted so my two options were to take them to a shelter or give them to a friend. I chose the latter, but that still wasn’t much comfort. The experience I had made me want to get my next dog from a reputable breeder. This way I knew that although I never want to part with any of my future dogs again, I could at least rely on someone to care for them if I had to.
Relationship Building with Etsu
Although my relationship with Etsu only started when she was already 8months old, I definitely feel like I’ve been closer to her than any of my other dogs. I believe the change in mindset and already having a clearer understanding of the ‘why’ behind the training contributed to this. I’ve also become more determined than ever to make sure the well being of my dog comes first, even above anyone’s comfort level including mine, my friends, and family.
The structure, the training, boundaries (even for myself), are all part of me showing her my affection. It’s not always easy, because boundaries can mean creating space between the two of us so she can develop confidence. And my perspective, left unchecked, can quickly gravitate towards ‘she’s my dog, so I want her to be here to cuddle with me.’ But I believe what’s helped her trust me more is putting her needs above my own desires.
I’ve heard someone say that socialization is the idea that you expose your dog to anything and everything that you might come in contact with through your life; teaching them to be calm in those scenarios. If you plan on having kids or can foresee yourself around family members that do have kids, socialize them around kids. If you plan on visiting a city, the country, or any other type of environment, socialize them to all the things in it so they can co-exist with them without stress. This has become one of my primary focuses with Etsu. After having two huskies who did great at home but weren’t sure how to handle certain types of stimulation, I knew that I wanted her to feel safe and confident regardless of what we’re around. Taking these steps and training engagement with her everywhere, in small steps, has become such a game changer for our relationship. In turn, this has also reduced my own stress levels because I can trust her in what she’s capable of. The more I trust her, the more I enjoy her, and the more I’m encouraged to keep going with our training, one day at a time.
As dog owners, we may feel discouraged from time to time especially when we don’t see our progress. But here’s what I’ve learned to keep in mind.
• Why do we train every day? -- For us, it’s to prepare ourselves to be able to handle all all kinds of situations we may run into in the future. So we can be confident that we have the foundation to maintain a stable relationship if we run into rocky ground.
Our dogs see every day as a new beginning. May we, as humans, learn from the beauty of their perspective.Read more on Sarah's blog Etsu and Me