Archives for January 2010

Can you really teach on old dog new tricks?

Maya in the Snow

A month or so ago, friends of ours came over for dinner.  After several glasses of wine, the conversation inevitably focused on the dog and my frustration with her immense dislike of other dogs.  Of course everyone had an opinion on the best way to curtail this behavior.

If you have every had a pet who has a nasty habit, albeit humping strangers’ legs, barking incessantly at its shadow or scratching its butt by dragging it across the carpeted floor, then you know that any criticism is taken personally.  Well, at least I did/do. So, while offering advice and labeling it as “we were just trying to help” our friends innocently stepped in it with me, and told me that I needed to get a prong collar.

I am DEAD SET against these collars!  They look like a torture tool and I promised myself that I would NEVER buy one.  So, of course, I reacted defensively and passionately when they offered their opinion.  My reaction was so severe that I seriously thought my husband was going to kick me in the shins to get me to stop “attacking” our friend’s opinion. In the interim, when not recommending the torture necklace, they told me that spending upwards of $500 was too much to pay for one on one training for a “Dog Whisper.” The evening, needless to say, did not end well.

The next day, one of my friends called and, after asking me if I had recovered, suggested that I call a canine training facility in Grey’s Lake, IL: TOPS. TOPS is well known for training police dogs.  If anyone can get through to Maya and tell me if she was a lost cause, my friend said that these trainers would. She urged me to stop contacting dog trainers and call TOPS.  But I still wasn’t convinced that this was the answer to my dilemma.

After taking Maya to PetSmart the next weekend and watching her charge at anything with four legs, I decided that I needed to call TOPS.  They set up an appointment with their lead trainer, Luis.  Last Friday, the family, the dog and I drive the hour north to Greys Lake and placed the fate of our dog in the hands of this stranger.

Would he be able to train our dog and allow us the ability to take walks during the light of day?  Or would we be destined to walk Maya at off hours and late at night to avoid any interactions with the neighbors and their seemingly friendly pets?

Let’s just say that the sign telling us to LEAVE THE DOG IN THE CAR PRIOR TO CHECKING INTO THE OFFICE told me that we were not alone.  It was a relief that there were other families encountering the same problem with their dogs that we were. So, I left Maya in the car and checked in. The trainer, Luis, was quite unassuming, grabbed a leather leash and, of course, a prong collar, and told me to get the dog.

To say that she was pulling and lunging as I took her out of the car is an understatement.  Maya was out for blood!  She wanted to attack all the dogs hanging out in the facility; and the blisters on my hands proved that she almost did. But the minute (the second really) that Luis put that collar and leash on my dog, and quickly but sharply pulled up on the collar, Maya stopped lunging and growling.  She was a different dog. She didn’t cry out in pain or growl at Luis; she just ceased being aggressive.

He took her into the training center, where yes, there were other dogs, and at first she tried to lunge at the other dogs.  With one quick pull (no yelling) and the command to sit, Maya learned to stop being (his words)” a bully”.  By the end of the hour, Maya could not only be in the same room as other dogs, she could walk in front of them without even giving the dogs a second glance. The prong collar worked and my dog was not in pain.  She just stopped the abhorrent behavior. And I purchased the collar and leather leash on the spot.  Thoughts of torture left my mind as visions of communal neighborhood picnics flooded it.  If the pronged collar meant that we would no longer be pariahs.

And so, it is time that I admit that I was wrong.  Yes, E & J, I have admitted it: You were both right and I was wrong.  Had I listened to your advice in the first place, I would have saved myself the many (now healing) blisters and embarrassing moments with my dog.  Thank you for getting me to the right place.  You saved me quite a bit of $$ and my ego.  And for these gifts, I am grateful.  What better way to show my appreciation than to publicly announce that I was wrong and should have listened to you.

Now, any recommendations for how to get the dog to stop crapping in the house? :)

I said that I would never get a dog!

Looking objectively at my life, I have enough responsibility: a child, a husband, a full-time out-of-the home job, a mortgage, a cat and various and sundry responsibilities such as trying to keep up friendships. Ha! So, when my daughter approached me last year and asked if we could get a dog, I told her to “Forget it!”  Then, later in the year, my DH and I bought her a mechanical dog “Biscuit” as a pseudo-stand in for the real thing; her enthusiasm for the toy lasted almost a week.  Three months later, she came back to me and again asked for a dog.  This time she approached me with a list of reasons why we needed a dog.  I responded by offering her a compromise and a challenge: I would get her a goldfish and if she could keep it alive for at least a year, then we could CONSIDER getting a dog.  (The goldfish died 2 days later; I was, of course, blamed for its untimely death.)

Finally, I relented.  I agreed to get a pug because I knew that K thought that they were really ugly.  But when she finally met a real pug, she fell in love. I also knew that we would never find the time to find a pure-breed.  I figured that I had some time before K asked me again.  What I did not count on what my DH approaching me on the flight home from Baltimore after Thanksgiving with my family.  I admit, I was tired from the trip and really looking forward to getting home. Let’s admit it, I was weak and agreed to “look” at dogs at Orphans of the Storm ( a local animal shelter in the area.  I told K that this was no guarantee we were getting a dog (who was I kidding?  Of course we were going to get a dog!)

And guess what?  There was only one dog that I wanted: a German Shepherd.  No small dogs for me!  I grew up with Shepherds and if there was a female German Shepherd available for adoption, I was going to get her!  Well, it was Kismet, of course. And we have adopted a German Shepherd, Maya.

Maya is six years old and a full breed German Shepherd complete with the typical German Shepherd personality quirks:  sensitive stomach, VERY smart, whiny and loving.  We have no idea what happened during the past 6 years and the previous owners did not share her pedigree papers with the shelter.  So, we have no idea of her lineage or any past experiences that she might have had with her last family.  But she is almost perfectly trained, knows basic commands, likes to walk on a leash and doesn’t steal food off of the counter or the kitchen table.  (Well, there was that time that I left butter on the counter and she ate an entire stick, but let’s not hold that against her, shall we?)  There is only one complaint: She HATES other dogs and is not a big fan of people walking on the street towards us when we are walking.  I never seen a German Shepherd act this way!  She literally lunges, snaps and refuses to acknowledge me when she sees another dog!  Because we live in an area where almost everyone has a dog, you can imagine how embarrassing it is to have the one dog on the block who would like to tear apart all the other ones!

So, Maya and I are off to TOPS, a German Shepherd training center, in Greyslake, IL this Friday.  I promise to write what I find out about this dog.  Will she be able to overcome her hatred for other members of the canine community or will we be doomed to walk this dog at odd hours of the day and night?  Is this simply a lack of self-esteem?  Or was Maya attacked by a gang of pugs in her past and continues to hold a grudge?

The mind boggles…Wish me luck and please, if you have suggestions for how to tame my dog, aside from giving her drugs prior to our twice daily constitutional, please let me know.  I am comfortable with Maya ignoring other dogs; but I am not so happy with her desire to eat them.