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My Dog Has Issues (Part 1)

October 6, 2009


My husband and I don’t have children.  We have a dog.  She is my first dog and our only child.  I used to make fun of people who treated their pets like surrogate children.  That is, until I got a pet.  I swear the night before we brought our dog home I was so nervous:  it was like I was bringing home an adopted baby (substituting shredded paper and a kennel for diapers and a crib).  I wanted everything to be perfect for her.  I read all the training books (“What to Expect When You Are Expecting a Puppy”), registered her for puppy classes and a vet visit, worked out a walking schedule.  We thought we were set.

We purchased our Schoodle puppy, Ellie (true name Elliott Jane McJaaska.  You can follow her Twitter account here), from what I believed to be a reputable breeder.  The first puppy love of my life, a friend’s standard poodle named Ani, came from this breeder and Ani was a perfect dog.  This breeder had a brisk business and a great website.  I felt so honored when we were approved for our girl.  The day we went to pick her up she was shivering in the kennel next to her sister.  I asked the kennel owner about this and his response was, “Oh, she’ll be fine.”  We brought her home and quickly realized that our pup was extremely high energy.  My husband and I joked for the first few months that she never slept because we literally did not ever see her sleeping:  each time we walked into the room she was chomping at the bit to get out of her kennel and play, no matter what hour of the day or how much activity we had provided in the hours before to tire her out.

We knew all about socialization and tried to have her meet as many people and experience as many new things as possible.  We had friends come over with their kids, neighbors came to visit, we took her to the dog park and puppy kindergarten.  She seemed like a skittish dog.  Although she was completely comfortable with me and my husband, she would often cower between our legs upon meeting new people.  She would bark at any commotion in the hallway of our condo and startle at loud noises and quick movements inside.  None of the books I had read addressed this issue.  They all talked about “normal” dogs and I had never had a dog before so I did not know that these were signs of a nervous or human aversive dog.

The first comments came from our vet and our puppy teacher.  They spoke of the fact that it seemed we had an anxious dog who needed much leadership.  So that’s what I did.  I practiced the “Dog Whisperer” methods, walked her for 40 minutes a day, taught her lots of commands.  None of it seemed to help much.  Ellie grew from a nervous cowering dog to one who was fearful-aggressive:  she would bark and charge at anyone who entered her space or surprised her in any way.  She was very territorial and we stopped being able to have guests over to our home.  She hated children, fat people, the mail carrier, and virtually anyone who crossed our path.  My husband hated taking her for walks because of how much work she was to restrain.  We would argue about his unwillingness to establish leadership over her.  We had to pay to have her boarded when we went out of town because she could not stay at any of our friend’s homes if they had children.  There were times I actually thought that we should give Ellie up because we were so isolated from others due to her behavior.  But we were so in love with this dog and I knew that she was a lifetime commitment.  I also knew that even if we did give her up she would be unadoptable and would likely be euthanized.  We couldn’t give her up but would she ever get better?   Something had to change.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2009 11:35 am

    Your story sounds so much like our story of “Sam.” I can’t wait for Part 2!


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