The thing with being in your 20s is that you expect to be healthy — until suddenly you’re not. Maybe that applies to all ages, but the difference is that most of the millennials I know don’t plan for health-related contingencies, especially when it comes to our pets.
I was no exception. A work injury put me flat on my back for a few weeks, and the recovery process lasted over a year. I had nerve damage in my legs and couldn’t lift anything more than 10 pounds without pain. Walking was painful. Sitting was painful. Lying down was painful. As uncomfortable as I was, it was worse for my dog.
She was used to long hikes and frequent play sessions. At 2 years old and 85 pounds, she had just passed out of rambunctious puppyhood and into a calm(ish) adult. She did not understand what was going on, but what she did understand was that “fun mom” had just turned into “boring, grouchy, helpless mom.”
I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t taken obedience training seriously. I plopped her fluffy butt into obedience school just days after getting her as a puppy, and after she graduated from puppy school, we did some upper-level obedience and agility classes. At the time, I just wanted to keep her stimulated and socialized. I had no idea that I would come to depend on her training for my own safety and support.
Now, not only did I actually need her to heel on command every time she went outside, as even a slight tug on the leash was excruciating, but I was very clumsy. A playful bump could knock me over. I needed my dog to be on her best behavior at all times.
Her obedience training helped me get through my injury in two distinct ways:
- I needed her to do exactly as I said, when I said it, for my safety
- Thanks to her training, she was actually able to help me with daily tasks
Since my dog already knew her basic commands, teaching her to assist me was relatively easy. She was happy to stand there while I used her to help me get to my feet, and thanks to her size, she was able to help me walk around the house and climb stairs by staying in heel position. I never quite managed to teach her how to make me coffee or to bring me both shoes — she always stopped at one — but she literally provided me with a shoulder to lean on when I needed it most.
Training is also mentally stimulating for dogs. If I had not had a bag of obedience tricks to draw on, I think there is a very real chance that she would have grown destructive or very bored, even with the dog walker I hired to walk her a few times a week. Instead, she was patient, calm and a huge emotional support.
It could very easily have been the opposite. A poorly trained, high-energy 85-pound dog would have been disastrous for my health and recovery. I honestly don’t know what I would have done. This experience also got me thinking about the future. I had no idea what was in store for us, but I knew now that my dog had the skills she needed to adapt.
Take it from me. Teaching your dog basic obedience is the best thing you can do, not just for your relationship with your dog, but to protect your dog against unforeseen circumstances like an injury, a new baby, an aged relative moving into your home or an unexpected move across the country. Who knows — your dog may even help you get through it.