I wrote this post on my blog, and I am copying it here:
Among the English-speaking working border collie people (I know that’s a heck of a long noun phrase), I often hear or read that there are some things about a dog that are considered “a deal breaker.” It may be the dog quitting on the handler, a dog running too wide, a dog with a vicious and/or dirty grip, or a dog that cannot be useful on the farm. When the deal breaker occurs, the dog is often passed on to a new home. I understand that. I really do. There are practical considerations that one has to take into account when you have a working dog that is essential on the farm in its working capacity. And I would be the last to pass negative judgement on people who find good homes to dogs that didn’t make the grade as a sheep dog.
I find this expression very interesting linguistically. Why is it a “deal breaker” and who is breaking the deal? The dog? The handler? And who made the deal in the first place?
My third border collie was very hard to train (and that an understatement), and she still has quirks and wrinkles in the way she works. But my biggest problem with her is that she may jump up at people she considers strangers, which means everybody but me and my husband. And no, licking is not her object.
At some point, I shipped Darinka to a trusted dog trainer to try and improve on this problem for a few weeks. Unfortunately, her season started just then and in that very multi-dog household it was not feasible to keep her long enough to accomplish anything. So we cut her stay short and went to pick her up. She showed moderate enthusiasm upon seeing us. She showed moderate enthusiasm upon arriving at home. Life went on.
A few weeks later, I called her and told her to get into the car, since we were going to our field the long way by the road with a bunch of stuff for sheepdog training. She refused. I insisted. She insisted back. Being in the habit of out-insisting my dogs, I picked her up and put her inside. Knowing it was a lost battle, she climbed underneath the passenger seat. The entire 15 kilo of her.
Once in the field, I opened the door and called her out. Nope. She wasn’t coming. I wasn’t having it. I took her out. She jumped back in. I took her out again, and closed the door and went on about my business. Sort of.
Because Darinka was everywhere. If I stopped, she sat on my feet. If I bent down, she was there in my face. When I was tying down the tent on my hands and knees, she was there - her body under my torso and her head between my arm and neck. Needless to say, the task took longer than I had expected.
When I was done, Darinka jumped into the car immediately, and we went home without a mishap. It was later that evening that I realized this had been our first car trip, since I had sent her to the trainer’s. She was scared I would take her away and leave her somewhere. Forever.
And that would have been a real deal-breaker. Not the patience I was so very short of in her training, not the needless pressure, not the breaks in training for weeks on end as a result of "a series of most unfortunate circumstances."
The only deal that a dog makes with us -- without thinking it through, or planning, or looking at our pedigree -- is to be our dog. We yank them out from among their siblings, take them away from their mother to a new, strange place, and they only want to be our dog and us to be their people. That’s the deal they make.