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Some days, I don’t like my dog, and that’s my superpower!

Having a dog isn’t always the picture-perfect scene we imagine—strolling through the countryside with your dog running off-leash, bouncing through the grass as the sun beats down. That idyllic vision isn’t the reality for many people, and it certainly hasn’t been mine since Faith arrived in my life.

For those who don't know, Faith is my two-year-old Border Collie. I also have a ten-year-old Border Collie, Hope, who is pretty much the perfect dog. I decided to bring Faith into my life as Hope was getting older, and in all honesty, I needed something to keep me from feeling completely lost when Hope is no longer around. Hope is my world, so I made the leap and brought Faith into our lives.

As a small puppy, Faith was great. Apart from the standard sleep deprivation that puppies bring, everything went smoothly. Hope took to her much better than I had anticipated, but this smooth sailing wasn’t to last. As Faith got older, she became extra demanding, struggled to settle, started to chase cars, bite feet, and react to anything that moved or made a noise. She was friendly with people but would go in all guns blazing and could get over excited and nippy. Despite all my efforts and applying all my knowledge, it just wasn’t clicking. It was frustrating, I was left in tears on several occasions, and I felt like a complete failure!

Since Faith was roughly four months old, I was concerned with how she moved but hoped I was just being paranoid. Unfortunately, as time went on, it became clear that there was a problem. She was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia at eight months old. It was heartbreaking, but it made a lot of things make sense. I started her on pain medication, and we began hydrotherapy and physiotherapy. The road was still rocky, with good days and bad days, but I was able to understand her better.

Faith underwent a total hip replacement in February 2023. She was doing well until she suffered a femur fracture ten days post-op. I had to rush her back to Northumberland for emergency surgery to repair the fracture. That was an incredibly difficult time for both Faith and me. Living on my own, I had to tackle her rehab by myself and she was now suffering from a luxating patella on top everything else. I had to take a month off work, which is not ideal when you are self-employed! Thankfully, my family, friends, and clients rallied around to help, and I am forever grateful for their support.

Unfortunately, due to her only being allowed limited on lead exercise since she was diagnosed, she had reduced socialisation opportunities. Anyone who knows Border Collies also is aware that they can struggle in social situations. After her surgery we plodded through her rehab, and her mobility gradually improved.

Due to her being on a lead and heavily managed she struggled with frustration this took a toll on her behaviour. I walked her at quiet times in quiet locations, but incidents still happened. She would get overstimulated and pull on the lead, and if someone allowed their dog to run over, she would lunge, almost pulling my arm out of its socket at times! Having previously suffered serious back pain, this was far from ideal. Some days, walking her was a chore—it wasn’t pleasurable or my previous stress relieving safe space it once was. I was always hyper-alert and aware of our surroundings.

All of this takes a toll on anyone. I was tired, in pain, frustrated, and highly stressed. I was disappointed that my dream of bringing a new dog into my life was nothing like I had envisioned. I felt like a failure for not having another ‘perfect’ dog. After all, I’m a dog trainer and behaviourist, and now I own a dog who can be reactive. Did I love Faith? Of course. But were there days when I thought I had made a mistake and that my life would be better without her? Oh yes!

I want to share my secret because I work with owners who have ‘difficult’ dogs every day. It is HARD! I want owners to know they are not alone. Not only do I have an idea of what they are going through, but I’ve personally been there with my own dog. This is not a failure—this is my superpower!

I can help not only their dogs but also them. As behaviourists, we can focus so much on the dog, on reducing their stress, understanding their emotions, and treating them with compassion. We can forget about the other end of the lead. We must remember that the owners need compassion too! Owners often feel immense guilt when their dog has behavioural problems. They feel like they have let their dog down or caused the problem. I am there to support, guide, and help them understand that their feelings and emotions are just as important as their dog's. That their dog’s behavioural problem may have nothing to do with anything they did, but that it was always going to rear its ugly head. I can help lift that weight off their shoulders and help them move forward with reduced guilt.

Over the past few months, I have become even more aware that our emotions and actions have a massive impact on our dogs. I’ve kept Faith safe, and we’ve undertaken training, and things have been going well. When we have a setback, I put my dog trainer brain on, evaluate her pain levels, and use strategies to reduce her stress and help her cope. Now that she’s in a better place, I’ve been learning to take the leap and put her in more challenging situations. I’m always careful to manage situations, but I’m allowing her more freedom and reminding myself to take a breath rather than micromanage her. This isn’t easy! I spend my professional life coaching and cheerleading others, but that doesn’t always translate to myself.

Things are getting better with Faith. She’s becoming more mobile, and we can explore more. My stress levels have reduced, and we are both recovering from the traumatic experiences we went through. I am in a better mindset to help not only her but also myself. This doesn’t mean we don’t have bad days—of course, we do, and that’s natural. Dealing with an active, intelligent dog who is suffering from pain and restrictions will always throw a spanner in the works from time to time. Since Faith’s right leg is still compromised and her left hind hip is still affected by hip dysplasia, I have to be aware that her behaviour may decline again, but I feel I am now able to deal with that situation if/when it comes our way.

I’m learning to embrace the challenges and use them to grow stronger, both as a dog owner and as a professional. This journey with Faith has taught me the importance of patience, resilience, and compassion—for my dog and myself. This experience has put me in the learner’s position, something I feel is invaluable to me helping others. And that, is why I believe those days where I didn’t like my dog, is my true superpower!


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