Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard. Liz Fosslien
When I started this Instagram account almost 5 years ago I was in a place of desperation. Kane’s behavioral issues had recently emerged; he got in his first fight at the dog park and he snapped at a human for the first time, all within a few weeks. I was lost; I adopted a social and happy-go-lucky dog, the only type of dog I thought existed, and in the blink of an eye, I had a reactive and possibly aggressive dog. I didn’t know anyone else with a problem dog. My friends and family all had social dogs. While they supported me and consoled me, they didn’t understand it. It is something that you cannot comprehend until you have lived it.
On Monday, I posted about the draining and frustrating journey of owning a dog like Kane and the criticism that comes along with it. The love, support, and understanding I received in a caption where I said, some days I want to give up on this dog was overwhelming. Many of the comments brought me to tears. Thinking about how many people are going through something similar was devastating. But thinking about how many people truly understand my exhaustion was a feeling I cannot even describe. The closest word I can use is inclusion and this sparked my thoughts for the prompt set out by Sock Thief Shop. As the caption quickly became too long for Instagram, I turned it into a blog post.
I don’t remember how it happened but I came across a few dog Instagram accounts/hashtags and started reading about other people who had dogs with behavioral issues. I learned what the term reactive meant. I learned that dogs can have a variety of behavioral issues. I read caption after caption trying to feel like I wasn’t alone with this dog that I was terrified to leave the apartment with. I decided to make a dog Instagram account and right then, I earned myself a seat at the table in the diverse world of dog social media. People from all over the world, with so many different breeds of dogs, with so many different stories, with so many different behavioral issues. A massive world where, at some point, everyone had felt alone.
My Instagram started as just cute pictures of Kane. I continued to read other people’s captions about their dogs with behavioral problems. I started to reach out to other accounts and ask more questions about their dog’s issues and ask for advice. We had worked with a trainer but her methods weren’t proving to be successful for us, I was frankly terrified of how much worse it was going to get. Slowly, very slowly I started to feel included in this world of having a reactive dog and I shared details about Kane’s issues, inclusion.
Eventually, we found a trainer with different training methods that helped us significantly. The training sessions were helpful but the doors that were opened to me through the experience of working with a balanced trainer were the most important. I discovered that I was far from alone. There were podcasts, books, YouTube videos and so much information out there. I immersed myself in this world, I was listening to multiple podcasts per day taking in a vast amount of dog training and behavior knowledge that is out there. It became a passion and a hobby. This nerve-racking life I had been living with this dog didn’t have to continue. I started meeting up with people from Instagram to train together and work on dog and human neutrality. This snowballed into forming an organized dog training group with some friends, who I met through Instagram. I finally felt like I belonged, I wasn’t on this journey alone. I was surrounded by people who truly understood what I was going through because they had experienced similar things and were also on a path to finding a better life with their dog. For the first time on this journey, people not only heard what I said, they understood.
Once I felt this sense of belonging I found it dramatically easier to share our entire journey, the highs and the lows. The more I shared, even when I shared the ugly truth, the more support and love I received. So many people on a similar journey, some just starting out and looking for someone going through it too like I was at one point and some who were much further along in the journey and could offer advice and support about the future. I had found a community, a support group, a sounding board, and most importantly some of my best friends.
Kane on the ultimate camp adventure with his Lifetime Lite Leash. The handle on the Lite Leash unbuckles making it easy to attach around a bench or pole to secure your pup.
Kane has truly come so far in his training journey, most people never see his behavioral issues. This is partially due to countless hours of training and partially due to my ever-growing knowledge about management of a dog like him. But, we would not be where we are without the community of dog Instagram. He will never be fixed, he will never be a social dog, he will never be the dog I wanted but he is so much more than that. He is my whole heart, he has taught me so much in the past 5 years and I can only hope to repay him for that by giving him the best life he could dream of. To anyone who has ever offered support and love on Instagram and/or in real life, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would not be the person I am today without this community.
Some words of advice I have picked up along the way and do my best to remember on the hard days:
- Never let anyone minimize what you’re going through because they aren’t the one going through it.
- Don’t listen to the criticism of others, as long as you are trying your best that is all that matters.
- Don’t give up on finding the best life with your dog. And remember, it will look different for everyone.
- You know your dog better than anyone else, the sooner you learn to advocate for them the easier your journey will be. This was the hardest thing for me!!