Beware of Superdog Syndrome

Brad & Queen of the Superdogs, Abbey, with soon to be Superdog, Gibson

There’s a menacing problem in the pet dog world and I’m going to attempt to do my best to keep this from happening again in our own home. Yes, it occurred once 3 years ago….January 31, 2009.

The truth is, a great many dogs are affected by this syndrome, including many of our clients’ dogs. Fortunately it’s not contagious and it’s relatively easy to cure.  YOU are the most important ingredient to preventing and curing this menacing problem.

I must admit, however, that it can be a challenge to prevent.  Many of you may know that we had to euthanize our 8.5 year old Aussie, Gibson, in November.  After a sudden development of blood in his chest cavity and fluid in his abdominal cavity, trips to local vets and 4 days in ICU at the University of Georgia Veterinary Hospital it was believed he had hemangiosarcoma. Unfortunately, there’s no ability for early diagnosis of this canine cancer and when found, it’s in the advanced stages. There is no treatment and no cure. We gave Gibson the gift of a peaceful passing.

On that day, my world turned to black and white and I could do nothing but long for his presence.  My sights were behind me with no ability to look forward.  Gibson was the first dog in our home that was trained with only positive training methods and our relationship was a testament to that…nothing but trust.  No matter where we went, people noticed the deep connection between us.  We were a registered Therapy Dog team and we immensely enjoyed the nursing home visits and the myriad of the school programs we were asked to deliver.  Gibson started my clicker training journey and I honed all my dog training skills with him. I never intended to be a dog trainer, but merely learn more. So as I now begin to look forward, I’m considering a new canine kid and I’m scared of Superdog Syndrome.

Yes, after 8.5 years of training and relationship building, Gibson was a Superdog. Even at 5.5 years of age in January of 2009 when we adopted Cody (an extremely fractious, untrained 1 year old Australian Shepherd), Gibson was already a Superdog.  As was Abbey, who we had recently lost at 13 years of age and who we referred to as our Angel Dog.  She was the Queen of Superdogs!

Oh my…the training Cody needed!  One Cody, two dog trainers and endless days of helping him learn house manners was beyond tiring….physically and emotionally.  While at my wits end one day, I left Cody in the house and took Gibson for a walk around the pasture to quiet my mind.  I was frustrated because Cody didn’t have Abbey’s Angel Dog qualities, nor did he have Gibson’s calm, low energy Aussie qualities. On that walk, I realized Cody was Cody and it was up to US to help him become the best he could be.  He didn’t need to suffer from comparisons of dogs who had come before him.  He would never be Abbey and he would never be Gibson, but we would love him and train him and do our very best to meet his needs in our home and in our life.

As I write this, Cody is lying peacefully at my feet and has become the best of dogs.  He valiantly stepped into Gibson’s paws on our last television appearance on WRCBtv in Chattanooga.  He’s now a Superdog.

Superdog Cody!

So as we begin to think of bringing yet another new dog into our home, I’m going to do my best not to compare the new canine kid with those who have passed or the current Superdog in our home.  I will love and appreciate the new dog for all he or she is and vow to do my best to bring out the best  in that new canine kid, thereby preventing that menacing Superdog Syndrome.

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, a dog*tec Certified Dog Walker and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina.  She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S.


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