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Mickey is Better, But Not Where We Wish He Was

Mickey is better, but not where we wish he was. And he probably never will be.

dog between feet

We rescued Mickey four years ago. He is rescue #9 for us over the last 30+ years. Like many rescued pets, Mickey’s story has some sadness to it. He was not given the vaccinations he needed as a puppy and developed distemper. While he survived, his neurological system didn’t develop correctly.

The vast majority of the time Mickey is just fine. We take him to our local dog-friendly gym where he has become comfortable with the loud noises, other dogs and banging plates. He goes on regular walks in our neighborhood, and rides in the back of my wife’s SUV when she runs errands.

Most of the time Mickey hangs out at home with our tenth dog, Sawyer, living the good life of a rescued Golden in a home where rescued Goldens are well loved.

But periodically Mickey’s neurological issues re-appear and he gets scared/aggressive. We don’t know all of Mickey’s story before we rescued him as a 4-year-old, but we do know that he was living in Houston, where Mickey had at least two incidents of aggressive behavior that went bad.

In one of them, he bit a delivery man and was turned in to be euthanized. The Houston-area Golden Retriever rescue group saved him and placed him in a foster home. Ultimately we got him from Houston through Lynn’s connections with that rescue group.

It’s been four years since we brought Mickey home. Today he’s eight – he’s spent half his life in a home where rescued dogs are welcomed, loved and secure. But he’s still not normal. And he probably never will be.

Along the way, we’ve learned a couple of lessons from Mickey that apply to all leaders and aspiring leaders.

First of all, Mickey needs clear boundaries. A delivery van just pulled up in front of our neighbor’s house. Mickey saw this through our front window and started to pant, look fearful and get anxious. Indeed, whenever things get too loud or too confusing or even too new for him, Mickey starts panting and getting anxious.

At that point Lynn and I can often see him looking very specifically at one of us. It’s as if he knows, “I can’t help myself – I’m getting scared – bad things may be happening and I may need to protect myself – I need somebody to tell me I’m okay.” Perhaps more than any other dog we’ve ever owned, we can tell that Mickey longs to know who “alpha” is. I’m not even sure he knows that is what he needs, but we can see that he needs the security of not being in charge.
Dog at Gym
Secondly, Mickey can handle change, but not too much and not too fast. When our gym re-opened in May, we started taking Mickey and Sawyer with us to our hour-long CrossFit workouts. At first, things didn’t go well. Mickey barked a lot, was scared and acted aggressive if people approached him too quickly.

Fortunately, there’s a bunch of great people at our gym, and slowly over time he got used to them and they got used to him. Now banging plates, loud energy-music and people cheering one another have become commonplace to him. While I’m still very aware whenever new people (and new dogs) show up at the gym, for the most part the gym has become one of Mickey’s “happy places.”

Finally, we also need to remember Mickey’s limits. We’ve trained many of our Goldens to walk off leash, enjoying the freedom-with-discipline that a well trained dog can experience on neighborhood walks and trips to the lake. We will never walk Mickey off-leash. For his sake as well as our neighbors, he needs to be closely connected to someone else who is in charge.

We have a friend who makes his living as a dog trainer. He works with Goldens, and also works with breeds like Huskies and Shepherds – breeds that you typically think of as being stronger-will and more aggressive. He’s also told us that we should never assume that Mickey is a typical, gentle Golden – we always need to be prepared for his “Inner German Shepherd” to come out. This includes always keeping him on leash.
Two Golden Retrievers
We love Mickey. Most of the time he is a perfect pet, and a wonderful companion to Sawyer and to us. We also know that part of our love for him means we need to understand who he is and make sure he is well taken care of.

Fellow leaders and aspiring leaders: how are you with boundaries, change and limits for the people you oversee and influence? Some of your people share some of the same characteristics as Mickey. If we are going to be the best leaders we can be, we need to know – and care for – our people well.