When she came into my life she had broken spirit, more than any dog I’ve met before. And I’ve met many.
There was no way she’d speak to you with her eyes, for months No way she’d make a connection.
All dog trainers know how to solve this, by playing with the dog. Sunna wouldn’t be tricked that way. She loves to play and she has uncommon agility and intellect, both when playing and working. She’ even demand games from time to time, but she wouldn’t be tricked to connect. She’d choose when she’d be ready.
She wasn’t going to open her heart to anyone ever again! She had been abandoned by her owners five times and she wouldn’t have any more of that.
In order to preserve her dignity, her inner life, emotions and feelings, she kept her thoughts to herself.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was privileged to have met this dog. To have someone like her integrated into my pack, was a gift from Life. All serious dog trainers have had this experience, when a special dog comes by.
From day one I was intent that she would never have to move owner again, and that she would get her time to heal.
Being a dog whisperer is not common. In fact I don’t like to label myself that way. I’m not into labels, I’m into dogs. But I know something about them, and I can feel them. If it’s an aquired skill or a genetic gift, I don’t know and neither do I care. What I do know is that I follow my heart and I use it. Like a gifted writer writes, I train dogs.
She loves flowers. When other dogs sniff tracks in nature, she sniffs the flowers. She loves to hunt flies and if she could she’d jump into the sky to catch the birds. Someone in her past taught her to chase flashlight beams and it’s very hard to get her to change her mind about that. Somewhere in her past she had been taught that if she wouldn’t guard her bowl someone would eat everything before she’d get anything and she wouldn’t have any of it. These are among many small things which makes her stand out.
Sunna is a hard head. She makes up her mind and changes it slowly, like most German Shepherds. She could become the perfect guard dog. If she is intent upon protection, nothing will get past her. When she learnt SAR basics a few weeks back, she figured out the game faster than any I’ve seen. In fact she has acute intellect when it comes to learning skills.
She has superior intellet, strong willed attitude and yet her soul is gentle like her father’s. She knows what she wants and she makes clear boundaries. She isn’t anybody’s pal. But she won’t hurt you, it isn’t in her. Unless you give her reason to, or if she would be trained to, then you’d better make friends quickly.
Like all dogs she’s a quick judge of character. For the first few weeks in the pack she wouldn’t greet friends. When a friend came to visit, she’d take a look and then pretend to nap somewhere close to me. Next time that the same friend would visit she’d venture to nap close to the friend. She only greeted friends who had visited before. When she had been with me for six months this changed. An old friend of mine dropped by who hadn’t met Sunna before. Sunna took immediate liking and greeted in a friendly way, and it was a mutual friendship, formed in a moment. It showed me that her healing had come a long way.
When her father came into my life he had moved owners six times. He was two years old at the time and has never shown any serious symptoms of a broken spirit. But he had taught me one thing: A German Shepherd has sensitive spirit and a gentle soul. Moving owners is a heart breaking affair for them and a heart break takes time to heal.
From the first day I decided to do nothing about her attitudes, if I could avoid it. She would receive love, more love, understanding, firm but wide boundaries and mostly: Lots of time for healing.
It was an interesting time for the next six months. She quickly had skirmishes within the pack. First she tried to take on Káta. No Sheffer dog has ever been able to tackle Káta successfully and Sunna could hardly walk for three days afterwards.
Next she tried Salka and they had to make truce. Still today they have skirmishes for their places within the pack. She has never fought her father and probably never will. Neither has it ever occurred to her to tackle her sister, Birta. Birta is allowed to eat from her bowl and Káta can even steal from her.
It took at least four months before making solid eye contact. Of course, as any dog does, she checks your eyes out. Dogs monitor the people around them, checks out what their eyes are saying and try to read bodylanguage. All dogs do this, but she wouldn’t allow you to read her mind or linger with eye contact. Dogs who are self assured and live in a balanced home have no fear with eye contact. They even challenge it, which is their method to find the right place in the pecking order.
Months passed and she began reading my eyes and allow me to read hers. A few weeks before that she had relaxed regarding her daytime napping place. She would never allow herself to be more than two meters distance from me. If I went to fetch coffee from the kitchen she’d follow. If I went out of bed to relief myself, she’d follow. If I sat down at my desk I had to be careful when moving the chair or placing my feet, as her favorite place was beneath my desk and got easily in the way.
Slowly she moved her napping place onto the living room couch. From time to time she’d nap with Salka – of all dogs – who she isn’t even at peace with. At the time of this writing she is resting on a couch with Salka, as if they were close friends. Sometimes I can even fetch coffee and she only looks up to see what I’m doing.
But at night, in bed, there is no way that she’ll give in. There is simply no way in hell that she’s going to sleep anywhere else. No way baby!
Oh, yes, I have taught her that my bed is off limits at night. She knows that. But she also knows that I will sleep and when I’m asleep I cannot send her out of bed. Her waiting record for jumping back in again is perhaps two minutes.
But I know something else, and slowly it’s coming to reality. As every month goes by, her spirit heals, her confidence grows and she’ll trust again. And I see the symptoms, week by week, on miniscule bases: Like two nights ago, just before I fell to sleep, she left the bed to sleep on the floor. It was her decision and it happens more frequently.
She is healing and she shows it. The bottom line in all of this, is that all dogs are the same and yet quite different. Just like us humans. We take time to heal a broken heart. We take time to trust again and we need security to mend hurt souls.
It would have been very easy to teach Chelsea Sunna how to behave, where to sleep or how to interact with others. Like with all things, the easy things don’t challenge anyone. She has already learnt half the daily skills my other dogs know and use. Half of what she has learnt she learned from the others in the pack. But no matter how many skills I’d have taught her, or how many corrections I would have implemented; She would still have needed her time to heal her wounds.
Anyone who adopts a dog with a broken spirit would benefit from the attitudes presented here. The skills you can teach in a weekend. The Soul takes months to heal and is infinitely more rewarding. When I converse with Sunna using the silent eye contact of dogs, it is filled with something undescribable, and quite rewarding.
A person doesn’t have to be a human to make you feel privileged.