Learning to Love Wally

Wally has been an education. To say we were sold on his looks would be an understatement. Yes, he’s a beauty, but oh, is he lacking in brain capacity! “Never buy the packaging” is what I tell those who ask me about our beautiful black-and-white cocker spaniel. Do we love him? Without a doubt. Would I trade him in or give him up? Never!

Admittedly, this was not always the case. Wally’s failure to socialize with other dogs along with his general fear of people caused us great concern. He barked incessantly, obeyed on a random basis at best, and was unable to control himself in the house.

We must have been inadequate trainers, we deduced, and felt we were letting Wally down. So we sought professional advice. Our vet put him through a battery of tests in order to ascertain if there might be a physical problem or chemical imbalance. Thankfully, Wally passed all the tests with flying colors.

Next, we found a trainer. After our inaugural meeting, she went away convinced that Wally was smart and therefore trainable, and that she could definitely fix him up. Flash forward to the second half of our second session, and the trainer’s tune began to change. Wally definitely didn’t fi re on all cylinders. By the third meeting, she advised us that with persistence, the walking and noise issues might eventually abate, and that Wally’s toileting problem, might remedy itself as he aged. Well, we had already figured these things out for ourselves. I guess we were comforted by having it confirmed (at great expense, of course).

We followed all the trainer’s instructions and suggestions, and life with Wally continued. As you might imagine, though, he became a major focus for our household. At least one of us, whether it was my husband, daughter or myself, experienced some daily fiasco with Wally. Peeing on the carpet, chewing toss cushions, snapping at somebody’s fingers and lunging at other dogs on a walk were routine events.

We were also faced with issues regarding Wally’s interactions with our other cocker spaniel, Huey. In general, Huey accepted him from the start, but there were days when I wondered about our decision to not only bring Wally home, but to keep him. I’ve seen Huey leave a room when Wally walked in. I’ve watched Wally steal Huey’s favorite toys right out from under his paws. Huey doesn’t fight with Wally; he ignores him and sometimes simply retreats into himself for a while. I felt badly about this initially, but things have since worked out reasonably well between the two dogs.

And how is Wally doing now, at the age of two-and-a-half? Has he miraculously changed, become that perfect, obedient, well-behaved animal that every dog owner wishes for? Well, no…but he’s better. Some of the training aids have helped and the toileting issues are somewhat improved, although Wally continues to be fearful and nervous: not so much of people anymore, but of dogs, particularly big ones.

What has really changed is my attitude – my family’s collective attitude, actually. It finally set in about six months ago. Wally is what he will always be – a little disconnected, not the sharpest pup in the kennel, simply not like the other dogs we have owned. His troubles might continue to resolve themselves to some degree, but they’ll never disappear.

When I accepted Wally’s limitations, everything improved. I had spent too much time and energy attempting to fit him into a pre-determined mold. For example, he should be able to let us know when he had to relieve himself outside. He should be sociable with other dogs. He should obey and listen. He should be like Huey, not only beautiful, but perfect and brilliant, too. Well, these things were never going to happen, so I decided to embrace Wally, warts and all.

When I did that, I relaxed and stopped getting angry and frustrated. Wally taught me to let go. What I can’t fix, I can’t fix – so now I just don’t worry about it. I love Wally for all he is. What he isn’t simply doesn’t count.

All our dogs have had different personalities and I’ve loved them for that. I fought Wally’s for two years simply because he didn’t fit my idea of how a dog should be. Now that I’ve accepted him, and am able to work with his foibles, I have come to love him as much as our other animal companions.

Tolerance, patience, acceptance…they’re all critical attributes when it comes to knowing and working with people. They’re pretty important traits for dealing with a Wally kind of dog, too!

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