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Grief and Regret

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One of my online students lost her dog to cancer.  Her lovely dog was four years of age.

A vet check showed that she was fine; a young and healthy dog!

But she was not fine.  Not because the vet was incompetent, but because we can’t know everything; modern medicine is simply not that good.  The nature of life when working with a non-verbal creature is that we often have to guess about the animal’s internal state by their behavior. But that only works if we’re willing to listen – even if we don’t truly understand the underlying reason.

This dog?  Not much interest in tug.  Not much interest in food.  Not much interest in play. Not much interest in work.  Frustrating.

Over time, this lack of enthusiasm took a toll. What does one do when the dog doesn’t seem to share the interests of the humans?   The owner is stressed  – nothing seems to work.  The instructors are stressed – trying to help but the results seem inconsistent and slow to come by.

And that is when people start to make bad decisions.

“She knows this!” “She needs to know that she doesn’t have a choice.” “She did it yesterday; are you going to let her work only when she feels like it?”  “The vet said she was fine.” “Only feed her when you train; she’ll work when she gets hungry enough.” “Crate her when she doesn’t want to work.” “Make her do it!”  “She’s blowing you off.”

While my student grieves, I’m glad that she is only grieving the loss of her bel0ved pet, and not regretting her own behavior.





About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

18 responses »

  1. How sad but true. Over the years, I have lost a few dogs to various cancers. Now when I have weird symptoms, but no obvious problem, I automatically suspect some form of cancer. But I have lost human and pet friends the same way,,,,Cancer is not always easy to diagnose until too late 🙂

  2. Meant to be a 😦 face

  3. Alla Podkopaeva

    Thank you Denise. ❤

  4. Thank you Denise. Porsche touched the lives of many. I am glad that I can say I do not regret anything I did with her. That would be an impossible burden…

  5. margie laughlin

    Life is going to end, either by accident or illness. We don’t really control this. Listen, and accept, I think the last part is most important. My dog was in Rally just for fun, but he started offering so many behaviors, both in class & at home, that we all got a little frustrated.Then I decided that he was just getting too wound up when it wasn’t really that important, so we backed off, train less intensely, and enjoy each other much more. Trust your instincts.

  6. Lucy Rasmussen

    This is sad. I can identify to some degree because I have a lovely (and loving) doggie that simply did not like training and/or competition. My regret is that maybe (likely) I didn’t know enough to make him more enthusiastic about activities and did not understand the “work is play” concept until late in the game. However I believe that my insistence about forcing a round peg into a square hole ultimately affected our long-term relationships and his attitude towards me. I don’t think, now, that dogs have the cognitive space to do pay-back or pig-headed behavior. There is always a reason and not feeling up-to-snuff is certainly in that mix. I think overall they want to please you and it is our failing when we fail to receive that message and act on it appropriately. Maybe this post is like a “true confession” but I truly understand your message, Denise. Having a pup in our lives is bound to introduce an element of regret at some point.

  7. Sometimes you have to accept that your passion is not your dog’s calling. I am so glad I learned to accept that with a past dog. Although we had nice scores in obedience, that was not Night’s calling, even though that was/is my passion. A fellow obedience club member introduced us to agility, and although not the fastest, that her her calling and joy. Sometimes a dog’s calling is “just” companionship. I have since also learned to accept my dog for himself/herself and appreciate him/her for that. Cancer, disease and death happens despite us and our best efforts at care. I still miss my buddies that have passed over my 45+ years of dog ownership. Nature is cruel to take them so soon. I feel fortunate to have had such good teachers in the form of my dogs.

  8. 7 years ago I was showing my BC in open for her CDX. Attitude went down, there was intermittent diarrhea and the vet said “too many treats”. 2 weeks after her last time in the ring she was put down for inoperable intestinal cancer. I still miss her very much but have nothing to regret as to how I handled her “disobedience”. I can only wonder at her love and dedication as she worked with me in those last months.

  9. Judy Hodgkins

    So very sad for this student. We all second guess our actions.

    Sent from my iPad


  10. I love what Chris said- I had my heart set on doing agility with my dog…. but it wasn’t her cup of tea. Because I had such a fabulous instructor, she suggested we try something else- nose work or Barn Hunts. Bess found her passion and now we both have fun. She’s had ‘off’ days and I’ve learned that that’s ok. It happens. I’m so glad your client hasn’t any regrets about her own behaviour. It’s hard enough to lose a beloved companion without having regrets & guilt to compound the pain. I am so sorry for her loss.

  11. Michelle Carey

    This is an awful feeling.
    The guilt is overpowering.
    If i had one wish it would be to be Dr Do-Little..
    But we have to accept we can only do what we understand.

  12. Susan Greenholt

    This is so sadly true. I had a dog diagnosed at 2 with lymphoma. She was a phenomenal dog. She competed in agility until she was 8 years old & finished her ADCH. She was a gentle therapy dog for children & a loving, kind, affectionate dog with my entire family. Ika gave everything she had every day of her life, despite the pain & sickness she experienced throughout her periods of treatment. When she was in remission, she had good long ones, she threw herself into living the good life. Being in tune with her emotionally was so critical to knowing when she was not quite right & needed the vet. Only as her handler & partner, could I sense that. Others could not know that because they didn’t have that connection. She was so brave & so strong & in so many ways my hero. She taught me so much about living & hope. This post has reminded me of those lessons.

    Now I have a round peg that I tried to fit into a square hole. We have moved to the right place now, I believe. She is still a challenge because work is not high on her priority list but she does need the mental stimulation. Your reminder of Ika’s lessons is very timely indeed.

    Thank you!

  13. Denise, thanks for writing such an intelligent and heartfelt post. Definitely gives us pause for thought.

  14. Amen!!
    Well said.

  15. Thanks. Many of us have been through something similar, learning the hard way. Others will be fortunate enough to have read this before they’re faced with it.

  16. Your second to last paragraph touched a chord with me. My 6 month old border collie puppy was a bit lethargic, a bit reluctant to interact and to play, and didn’t have much energy. I was worried about him – I have had a lot of dogs, but never a puppy as unmotivated as this one. In a training session, I was told that I wasn’t working hard enough to motivate him, and told to RUN! MAKE him play, put your enthusiasm into it, give him a pop on the lead, push him around, MAKE him run after you. I said that I felt he was tired, and went and sat the session out, despite derision from the trainer. A month later he was diagnosed with Addisons disease that had obviously been grumbling on for months, and finally came to a head with an addisonian crisis. He wasn’t lethargic and unmotivated, and I was not a bad trainer. He was ILL. Once stable on medication he was a different dog and went on to have a fantastic agility career. He’s 9 now and his career ended after a spinal injury, but I am so glad that I resisted that trainer’s advice, and believed in my dog.

  17. I will never forget the senior water test my Newfoundland performed with me. Every exercise was beautiful if a little slowly methodical- except for the retrieve off the boat. He just couldn’t do it. I have a photo of the way he was looking at me during that test. I found out just a bit after the test that he had lymphoma. I am so happy to know that I appreciated every thing he gave me that day- even though we didn’t quite qualify. I miss that boy to this day. He was a beautiful soul.


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