Taming the Beast
Tee’s Review: Pending….after recovery from her last visit to our house.
The first time I walked my dog Mindy, I acquired long-lasting damage to my lower back. Technically, I was not walking a dog but yelling at it and tugging with all my might to get it to go in the direction I chose. The dog, excited to be out of the house and into a cornucopia of sights and smells, had plans of her own. On longer walks, accompanied by my husband, we employed the PAD, Puppy-Assisted-Drive, for climbing the taller hills. The trick was to walk squarely in the middle of the road so as to maintain distance from any of the more pungent smells along the sides of the street and hold on for dear life as the puppy drags its walker up, up, up to the top.
PAD works well as long as any other people and their dogs are uphill and one does not get dragged down in an inappropriate direction by an over-excited drive mechanism. This was fun for only the shortest period of time. Walking this dog was a nightmare my back could not sustain. I started to look on You-Tube for some help with training. It was then that I realized just how much training was needed.
Lesson 1) Our dog is crazy, has never lived with dignified humans and must be taught that going apeshit every time she sees another human or dog is not acceptable behavior. Her excessive barking and diving at the windows or front door can bring us to the edge of sanity ourselves. Our dog is small, so restraining her is relatively easy just as long as our knees hold out. We squat to her level, hold her by the collar and squeeze her under an arm to keep her from moving forward until she has calmed. Visitors appreciate this. Solicitors speak quickly.
Outside distractions are a real challenge. Our neighbors on both sides have dogs. I believe Mindy would chew through our chain link fence to get to them if she could. She has many digging-under-the-fence projects underway. These excavations have unearthed many unusual objects like little dolls and stuffed toys. We hope they belonged to the previous owners’ dogs. We have placed pavers next to any fence space that would lead into the street behind us.
Lesson 2) She bites! Not hard, but in a way that suggests she wants to play like we are all dogs out for a romp. There are many methods available for dealing with biting. Everyone disagrees on what works best, is humane and works quickly. We have tried different techniques. Many advise to be patient; biting is a natural doggy action and may take some time to change. Meanwhile, the beast in residence finds the most tender parts of the human body to nip. I am not patient with this behavior. I resist the urge to bite her back. I have the physical means to restrain her and give her a hard, harsh bite on the ear. I am now becoming a dog.
Lesson 3) Outside manners are meaningless to my dog. She digs holes in the backyard for us to trip in. She rolls in any debris she might find and steals avocado peels from the compost, which absolutely does have a fence around it. She chases after a ball and brings it back when bribed with treats but then decides, when she is bored with this, she will hide the ball and refuse to return either it or herself to the origin. In the house she will respond to sit, stay and come, but outside, I am ignored as if I am an annoying presence keeping her out of the raised garden bed (site of many yummy chewables), dragging her away from her planned escape routes (via the back fence) and luring her out from under the deck (source of old poop and possum smells).
One evening our pup slipped outside while I was checking the level of rainfall. Fortunately, we had been training her to sit at the top of the stairs, on leash, to wait while we locked the front door. This is exactly what she did! We were so proud. Until she spotted a pedestrian stranger strolling past. Off she went like cannon shot before we could get a leash on her. She launched into her usual people-greeting routine of barking madly and then bit the poor man on the back of the leg. He was a bit surprised, but held his ground as I raced out to grab the miscreant cur.
Running toward my dog only encouraged her to run away. At least she lost interest in her original target as she swiftly evaded capture in the empty lot across the street. My husband joined me in corralling her, leash in hand. What fun she was having darting away from us as we attempted to get her to come closer. The stranger actually voiced his desire to move along, seeing that we had the situation, if not in hand, then solidly out of his jurisdiction. As soon as he started off, our little rascal experienced a renewed interest and began to follow him up the street. He stopped again as we paused in our endeavor to apologize for the situation.
Treats. Treats. Treats. Screeching “COME” with a treat in my hand, I finally managed to lure my wayward pup to my side. Relief in the form of grabbing her collar and giving her the treat. Good dog. Under-breath cursing. Come is the most important command for keeping a dog out of trouble. This particular canine doggedly resists.
Lesson 4) Oh, the places you’ll go! (Dr. Seuss). Walking is the number one activity for a dog. Mindy insists on walking where ever she wants with no qualms about our disapproval. I felt so desperate for a better walking scenario than pulling, yelling and back spasms. A friend suggested a training book that worked for her two dogs.
We began the steps toward our ultimate goal—total domination. Moving the leash to the front of the harness provided immediate relief from constant tugging. As long as there were no dogs or people or squirrels or possums visible from our path, our walk went from “miserable ordeal” to “barely tolerable.” I continue to follow the steps in the book and pray for even the most barely perceptible improvements.
Lesson Final) Dogs love their people and want to please them. There has been scant evidence in our home to prove this theory, but even miniscule progress is still progress. After a couple of months of bribing, entreating and trickery, the dog seems happier in her crate. I made a comfy cover for her bed and placed it inside the crate. From the first moment she slept on it, she slept quietly, all night, until we let her out in the morning. What a difference this has made on her humans, getting a full night’s sleep. When we are getting ready to go to bed, our dear pooch goes into her crate voluntarily. It’s a bit less voluntary when we are getting ready to go out for the evening; somehow, she knows the difference and vehemently protests our abandonment.
We know the importance of having friends, frequently making plans to spend time with our own. Doggie play dates have become part of our social life too. Maggie, the golden-doodle puppy from next door, is a consistent playmate. Running amok in our backyard with plenty of biting, rolling, and pinning to the ground like frantic wrestlers, these two provide for each other the necessary dog play that their owners refuse to participate in. Bella, the young dog I have tried to steal from another neighbor, has also come to play, after her initial hesitation. The older dogs in the neighborhood seem to run in the opposite direction when our spirited puppy approaches them. Even other dogs think she’s crazy.
Having a pet is a challenge. Our pooch is probably pretty normal; just arrived on our doorstep young and untamed. We have made plenty of mistakes (PAD) and have had some successes (bedtime). Spring is coming to the mountains soon and we will be ready to go hiking with a calmer, obedient animal. We might not have total domination, but we will be happy with undamaged backs and a few social niceties.
And you will succeed! Yes, you will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed). –Dr. Seuss
Guest Editor Tee has endured the canine banter and bites of my Mindy. She knows a lot of words for dog and made several suggestions for their usage in this story. She is currently seeking her own beloved beast.