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— May 14, 2013 —

A good trainer is always learning.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Every dog in your life will teach you something. Gunnar taught me about accepting a dog for who he is.

There was no Tail last Tuesday. We posted that we had gotten bad news about our little guy Gunnar. He had been dealing with chronic hepatitis and we thought we might only have a couple of weeks with him. Amy and I decided to spend as much time with him as we could and make sure he had the best few days possible. We took the morning off from working and took Gunnar on a long walk to the park.

A couple of weeks ended up being only a couple of hours. Gunnar had a great morning then came home and crashed. His liver failed completely and we had to take that last painful drive to the vet’s office.

Gunnar came into our lives in May 2002. He was a tiny puppy, fat (which we very quickly found out was worms) and feisty. He was delivered by a couple of Chicago cops who had confiscated him from a squatter in a project building. Gunnar got his name because the officer put him on the floor. When I bent down to pet him, the officer turned sideways. When I looked up, his holstered sidearm was right in my face. Gunnar was named Gunnar and that was that.

We raised Gunnar to be obedient and social. We also wanted him to get along well with other dogs. As I was getting into protection dog training and working dogs, I had high hopes that Gunnar would be an impressive demo dog for that program. That was never to be, as Gunnar didn’t possess the necessary temperament for that kind of work.

What he did possess was a sassy, witty personality. There is no other way to describe him but cute. He knew how to get our attention and he knew how to get his way. He was often coy and would pretend to ignore us, but couldn’t keep his tail from thumping on the couch when we talked to him or about him. He liked having the sides of his muzzle scratched. If we stopped, he would wipe his eyes to ask for more. He was a show-off, happily displaying his repertoire of tricks for anyone who might offer a treat.

Gunnar was also life changing. We got many touching comments from friends after his passing, but one saying that he had actually altered the course of someone’s life is particularly touching to me. He was a special boy and lots of dogs (and people) are better off today because of him.

As much as we loved having the little guy, he started showing some…we’ll call them minor issues in getting along with other dogs. Basically, if a dog got in his face, even puppies, Gunnar would put a smackdown on them. He was definitely NOT the social dog we had hoped to raise. We obviously never encouraged fighting. It was simply something that his genetics had put there. Since we were already attached, we never even considered giving him up. We just found ways to keep him out of trouble. We simple had to accept the fact that our puppy was growing into a highly dog-selective dog. We could introduce him to some dogs, but it took weeks to get him to accept them.

With his obedience training, Gunnar was quite responsive and was a very good show-off when it came to his little routine. Also, he loved to lay on his table in the lobby at Bark Avenue. He would climb up there and stay pretty much as long as I wanted him to. After meeting with a client, he would jump down and return to his post behind my desk. I could heel him all over the lobby, even around dogs. He would ignore them all together and stay exactly where he was supposed to. He would pay no mind to other dogs, so long as I kept the dogs at a respectable distance. In a way, you could say that we had an arrangement. I would give him a place to be where other dogs wouldn’t bother him and he agreed to stay there as long as I needed him to.

It all boiled down to accepting Gunnar for who he was. I know there are people with much more serious issues, and they may not be able to do the things we did with Gunnar, but before you give up on your dog, please do give a great deal of thought to whether you can make adjustments to accommodate their needs. We got so much out of having Gunnie that we adjusted our goals in order to accept his limitations.