Anticipatory Regret: my time-honored method for making difficult decisions

Did I hear my name?

Those of you who’ve been reading me for years knew Sasha and know that we put Sasha down last September. Yes, that was my last blog post. It’s time for another one and, once again, its theme is making a difficult decision.

We’ve returned Jackson to the Echo Dogs White Shepherd Rescue where we got him two weeks shy of two years ago.

In the two years Jackson was with us, he quickly became the center of our attention. We replaced his crate bed innumerable times that first year as he’d chew through them; we watched countless training videos because Covid kept us contained (and the best dog trainer around is an hour and a half away and was closed through 2021 because of CoVid), and saw him through grueling and expensive heartworm treatment.

He was a barker, something we were not used to. And a reactive barker; he panicked easily when anything new entered his world. So, for two summers, we diligently worked with him as each AirBnB guest arrived: leashing him and praising him when he didn’t bark, showing him that new folks can be trustworthy, talking gently and softly and impressing upon him that he really didn’t need to bark them away. We were, in the dog-training lingo we absorbed, helping him associate new people with good treats. This worked with every one of our AirBnB guests. That’s a lot. He even got a few nice reviews in the guest book down at the Yurt. Not as many as Sasha, of course, but enough to keep us expectant that he had potential to turn into a great dog, some day.

He’d bitten a gardener, one he’d seen on other occasions, during his first summer with us. Not a hard bite, and one that was too easy to excuse. Still, it was a bite: he was no longer allowed to run free when workers came.

Then, last month, when a friend drove in the drive to return something big and bulky and I was rushing and did not go through the established AirBnB protocol, he bit her, twice. This one was impossible to excuse.

Though I did try.

I know how to deal with Jackson when strangers come, I’d been doing it for two years — leash, treats, soft words — and I didn’t do it. If only I had been more diligent.

He’s only two: still a puppy in many ways. Surely he’ll outgrow this bad habit. If I could just keep doing what I’d been doing …

If only the trainer had held that group class — Calm Canines he called it — when it didn’t conflict with grandchildren’s graduations. If only that trainer hadn’t given Jackson high praise when I brought him up for a boarding. “He’s a great dog,” he told me. He gave me hope.

Even my friend, the one who got bit, sought an easier explanation. She says she smelled of eau du pet ferret.

These and other thoughts raced through my mind for days, pushing away the only decision I knew I had to come to.

Like trying to understand why the husband beat his wife. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHY; HE SHOULD’T HAVE DONE IT. Biting, like beating, is never allowed.

What to do!

To make the decision, I found myself going back to my time tested practice: assuming I were to regret the decision eventually, which decision would ensure more regret?

Here’s how it played out.

  • I SEND HIM back and regret it. I can see him becoming the dog he’s meant to be: still handsome, but always under control, a real gem of a dog, never even growling at another dog, never mind a person. Looking to his alpha for direction. We would have so enjoyed him then. I’d tell myself, I KNEW HE COULD BE TRAINED. I can imagine feeling jealous at the core of my regret.
  • I KEEP HIM and regret it. The only reason I came up with was because he bit someone else. Maybe this time it was a child or someone who decided to sue us; maybe this time the injuries were far worse. In any event, I’d have major regret.

With that, the decision became easy. A bit over two weeks ago, I drove Jackson to meet his new foster mom, someone who will work with him daily. I’m sad, yes. And I know my sadness can’t change my decision. I’m not a strong enough alpha for him. I was for Sasha, whose temperament was so very different. And I simply no longer have the time he will take; the time he deserves.

At worst, I feel like a failure. The “if only”s come quick. So, I counter them with the upsides and I can always find upsides.

We’ll see wildlife this winter. It’s been years since we’ve had a moose or a deer or a bear in our yard. Our chickens are locked up for the winter and don’t need the protective eye of a shepherd. It might be quite nice to see deer grazing on the wintertime remains of summer’s bounty.

Maybe we’ll travel a bit this winter. We’ve given that a bit of thought and now seems like the perfect time. Maybe March. South. Warmer climate. Time will tell.

And Jackson will have a good life. The folks at Echo Dogs White Shepherd Rescue will make certain of that.

How about you? How do you make difficult decisions?

10 Responses

  1. Janet Heartson
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing this Janet. You are a wise woman. And of course, I am sorry for your loss.

  2. Vicki Litzinger
    | Reply

    I can imagine the stress of the past two years, the love given and received, and one of the most difficult decisions you had to make. You made the right decision. Jackson will be loved and trained. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  3. Cybele
    | Reply

    What a difficult decision to make! Thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts.

  4. Carolyn
    | Reply

    He was a handsome boy but you cannot spend your time worrying about what he might do. Sure, there are training sessions but there would always be the worry that he could bite again and next time the person bitten might not be so forgiving. You tried but you didn’t fail as he was not the dog for you. I think you have been brave to tell us about your trouble

  5. Tim F
    | Reply

    An incredibly tough decision, but a thoughtful one, and I’m sure the right one for both you and Jackson.

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