Let’s talk about dogs!
There are three, Coal, Dio, and Beatrix. I love them all madly, but sometimes wonder what I was thinking when the idea of owning three dogs seemed like a good one. Their relationship is complicated, and two (Dio and Beatrix) of them haven’t been the best of friends. Each is a good, yet difficult in their own ways. They are my world, and I will do everything I can for them – always.
When Isaac and I adopted Beatrix, a Carolina Dog (also known as an American Dingo), from Denver Dumb Friends League almost two years ago the Terrible Trio, as I like to call them, had a few scuffles as they adjusted. Things settled quickly, but not without revealing Bea had a resource guarding issue. We also found out she had barrier aggression, and loves to chase squirrels, rabbits, cats that have unfortunately wondered into our backyard, birds, leaves, you get the idea… We changed how we dealt with the Trio, made sure no toys or treats or chewies were available to the dogs if we were not actively watching them. In February of 2013 we discovered Bea had the springy legs of a gazelle and could leap trains in a single bound. After several fence jumping escapades, one of which ended up with Beatrix in our neighbors house after following a cat inside, she was no longer allowed to go outside by herself.
Do you know owning a dog is like having a hairy three year old child who will never grow out of the toddler stage? I didn’t always know either. At least a toddler doesn’t poop on the floor only to have its brother eat it. Well, maybe that has happen but I hope not!
So why not combine several very ingrained, complicated issues into one dog, right? What exactly do you do with a dog that has attacked another dog in the same house (due to redirected frustration) four times? Sit on the floor and sob. Feel your heart break because you love her, and the other dogs, and you desperately want to fix the problems but you don’t know where to start.
The road hasn’t been easy, but it’s better than it was in the beginning. I can contribute my love of dog behavior and knowledge of positive reinforcement (+R) training methods to Beatrix. If she hadn’t come into my life I’d still be in the dark about how dogs minds work. (Disclaimer: My knowledge also involves a huge learning curve; I am in no way a trainer or even doing things right sometimes. Books, blogs, YouTube videos, and a handful of amazing dog owning friends have shown me the light!) What I have learned has transferred over to how I interact with and train my horse, too. Hell, it’s even helpful with humans!
Let me stop here and say that Bea is actually a good dog. She is easy to work with and quick to pick up on what we’re asking of her. Last summer she accompanied Isaac and I to the farmer’s market each weekend and navigated the crowds of people and dogs without even batting an eye. Each trip we’d stop for a coffee and sit on the patio to chat. Bea would lay down at our feet and quietly watch the traffic from the market. At home Dio and Coal will bark at random noises and rush to the back door, but Bea will come and sit by my feet.
It took almost six months of steady work and patience to get where we are today with Beatrix, and we’re still not even close. Reactivity issues are hard to work through. There were nights I was driving home from work and loathed the idea of having to go stand outside while she went potty when I got home, because it could take five minutes or 30 to come back inside. (She would just stand and stare at you.) Part of +R is letting the dog make the right choice, but you can’t always help them get there – especially when the point of the training is getting them to make the right choice!
I didn’t go into too much depth here about Bea’s training journey, but I will in future entries. As will Coal and Dio’s stories. Right now this tired body is going to finish watching Dr. Who and then go to sleep!