Tonight is the second night of our new mama’s (Honey?) time with us, and she is settling in. She is so young – clearly a puppy still herself. She is so happy, lots of wags and excitement each time she sees us. And she has a surprising amount of energy given her “condition” and her very malnourished state. If she didn’t have whipworms and hookworms she’d be out with my other dogs, romping in the big yard by now. But we need to get her cleaned up inside first (and get rid of her fleas) before letting her interact with my dogs.
She is a funny looking dog! I hope to get some photos that really capture how she looks in 3 dimensions. It’s strange but she looks different from different angles. Sometimes she looks just like a hound, a coon hound or such but then you see her short legs. Tonight she reminded me of our dog, Brandy, who died this spring. Brandy had a similar look to her face, in the eyes and the ears, but normal length legs. This mama looks like she’s been cut off at the knees. I said that to her tonight, “Mama, who took your legs? Someone stole your legs and left you with these little stumps!” But she is unaware of her unusual look, and just radiates love and happiness. I love that about those foster dogs – how adaptable and agreeable they are.
Last night and again tonight I laid my hand on her side and felt the little puppies moving around. They are strong – kicking and squirming. It won’t be long now and we’ll have a whole bunch of little ones running around. Wonder what they will look like?
Brandyleft us just over a week ago. It was her time, she told me so in many ways. I could see it in her eyes, her behavior, her abilities, they all said to varying degrees that she was done. I’ll spare you the details of her declining health. She passed quietly in our home, with the kind and gentle assistance of our vet. Euthanizing Brandy at home helped to bring closure for our family and our pack. Bella, Hermes, and Lollie passed her one by one, sniffing her body curiously, knowing she was gone. Kristin and I wept as Ryan asked lots of questions. The vet and his assistant who made the house call were caring, compassionate, respectful, and professional – as they were when we put Sadie down five years prior.
I kept reading and hearing that when it was her time, I would know. And they were all right. The topic had been a frequent one in our home for months, increasingly so in the past several weeks as evidence mounted that Brandy’s time was near. I wavered as I took in the information she presented to me. I really wasn’t sure until I was sure, if that makes sense. But once I knew I didn’t hesitate or look back – it was her time.
I miss her but oddly not as much as anticipated. I guess I had a long time to think about her decline and had come to terms with it gradually. These past months I spent more and more time sitting quietly next to her, gently petting and stroking her head, neck, and back the way she liked. As Brandy aged, she was very reactive to sudden moves or any kind of jostling so I moved slowly and deliberately. She would relax and slowly lick her front paws and occasionally my hand or arm as I pet her. It was in those moments too that I knew she was ready. On her final day I came home from work early to pet her like she likes. She was stoic, guarded, with a long stare that seemingly told me she’s ready. My timing was perfect.
Brandy is gone in body but not of course in memory. I loved this poem authored and read by – of all people - legendary actor Jimmy Stewart on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The poem is called Beau, the name of Stewart’s dog:
The end of the road is nearing for Brandy. I find myself conflicted on deciding when is her time to go – if it should be my decision at all. She could die naturally, but seeing her decline is so hard for me I wonder if it is not kinder to put her down.
I bought Brandy from Animal Kingdom on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago in September 1994 when she was 6 weeks old. She was always a fairly high energy dog who loved to run and jump like most dogs but I will always remember how she seemed to love the wind. On windy days she would stop in her tracks to face the wind, sniffing, blowing her floppy Snoopy years backward. After a short time, she would bolt from that position and run around crazy – sometimes just I circles – as if to celebrate. This is a vivid but now distant memory. She is old now, arthritic, and increasingly losing the muscle needed to remain standing on all fours. Her legs will frequently slide out from under her in all directions just while she is standing or leaning over to drink some water. I’m sure she wishes we had carpeting to assist rather than our wood and tile floors.
We are currently living with an elderly dog in our home. My husband Mike’s dog, Brandy, turned 15 last August 4th. She has always defied age, seeming to be many years younger than she really was. But lately it seems, time has caught up with her. For a while now she has seemed to be much weaker in her legs, especially her back legs. She didn’t run as fast or as far and sometimes struggled getting up the stairs in our house. But she still walked with me every day – 2-3 miles, and spent many hours outside. But slowly things have been changing. After talking at length, Mike and I agreed (and the vet confirmed) that she seemed to be suffering from pain due to arthritis. So we put her on Rimadyl – first a half a pill a day, then we bumped it up to a full pill (half 2x per day) to manage her arthritis. It seemed to do the trick and we had our old lively senior back again…for a while.
Then the accidents in the house became more frequent and she began needing to potty in the middle of the night – sometimes multiple times. And she seemed to be struggling at times to stand up from a lying position and conversely, she often seemed to “collapse” in half from a standing position (her back legs would just fold at the hips and down she’d go, legs sticking straight out in from of her.) We decided to limit her walks. She seemed better for awhile but then she seemed to have even more trouble navigating the stairs, and often she’d simply slide down them after making it half way up. Mike started carrying her downstairs at night to potty. I do sometimes during the day too. We think maybe the walks, even though they were long, were actually helping with the arthritis so I’ve begun walking her again, but just a half mile a day. We will see how it goes.
Recently I saw her struggling to poop, the position she was in was difficult for her to maintain so she began to teeter, then she fell, sprawled in the snow. She struggled to get up and fell again, face first. She struggled again and you could see that her legs seemed to be locked in the wrong position, front legs pointing nearly to the sides. I had tears in my eyes as I watched…it happened fast and just as I was heading to the door to help her she miraculously regained her balance and somehow made it up the stairs. At the top she snorted and shook herself (it appeared to me that she was gathering up her dignity) and gingerly walked inside.
I have had a difficult time with Brandy for the entire time I’ve known her. She has been frustratingly defiant, difficult to train, and aloof. But seeing her move through her old age with such grace and acceptance has made me respect her much more. I feel for her so. And so now, we wonder, how long will she be with us? And, do we decide when it is her “time” to go? Or do we let “nature” take its course? There are no easy answers here.
Well, I am happy to report that I am not too old to learn a new lesson now and then. This particular lesson involves ticks. I was feeling superior to ticks, having not seen one attached to any of my dogs for years now. Regular use of Frontline Plus completely removed this pest from my life. So I decided to stop the Frontline Plus earlier than usual this year. It had been a cold summer and even though I had been told by many sources that it was a heavy flea and tick year, I had trouble believing it…I hadn’t seen any. We’d had a slight frost so I figured, season’s over, save a month of treatment this year. WELL, bad idea.
Two days ago, I found a tick full of blood on Bella. I immediately treated my three dogs who roam outside on our 3 acres. But I didn’t treat Brandy….she is 15 and only goes out for walkies and to potty. Yesterday there was one on her. Mike pulled that one off and treated her. Then today I pulled 8 more ticks off of Bella, they had implanted themselves already, and two off Hermes. I’m afraid to check Lollie but I will. Yuck. The ones I got today seemed unwell, so the medicine is working. I’m sure we’ll be all clear again by next week but YUCK! I hate ticks.
Moral of this story: Don’t stop your flea and tick preventative until there is a HARD frost, and for myself, I’m waiting for two hard frosts – just to be sure!
How many of you out there regularly brush and bathe your dogs? How many out there trim your own dogs’ nails? How many of you out there brush your dogs’ teeth? My guess is that the numbers decreased with each question. Most of us understand that bathing and brushing come with owning a dog. And for many of us, these tasks are an enjoyable part of interacting with our dogs. Some of us, for many reasons, choose to have our dogs professionally groomed. But all of us expect that there is some “maintenance” required in owning a dog.
However, many of us forget about the rest of the animal. I have seen many dogs with extremely long toe nails, some so long that the foot is being deformed and the dog is clearly uncomfortable walking as a result! These dogs are usually loved and cared for but their owners, for whatever reason, have neglected this part of their anatomy. Nail trimming IS often difficult. Most dogs dislike having their feet handled and if a dog hasn’t been given regular nail trims from puppyhood, they can resist nail trims with a nearly violent reaction.
My own dog, Lollie, hated nail trims. I tried to give them to her as a puppy but she struggled so much she often got out of our hold. Once she learned that she could escape by fierce struggling, she struggled all the harder with each attempt. Add to this my fear of her reaction and we had a horrible situation on our hands. It got to the point that at one attempt I was certain she was going to bite me. I stopped trimming her nails and took her to the vet. There she was muzzled and put on her side and struggled so much that the vet assistant, who was restraining her, ended up with multiple scratches and the vet’s glasses were flung across the room (her flailing foot caught the stem of them and off they went, into the air). I realized that we were in for a lifetime of panic and unnecessary drama unless something radically changed.
Spring is in the air – finally! It has been a long, cold winter here in Northern Illinois but the cold seems to be letting go. As the temperatures go up, everyone wants to get outside and for dog lovers that means walking your dog! I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone of what proper dog walking consists.
In my opinion, a good dog walk is one where both dog and owner are working as a team, both are getting what they need, both are satisfied with the walk, and both feel relaxed and happy while they are doing it. A good walk leaves you with the feeling, “AH, that felt good!” and a sense of looking forward to the next time you get to walk.
Now, ask yourself, how often do your walks feel like that?
Most people struggle with the walk; either their dog pulls relentlessly, acts unpredictably or aggressively, zig zags all over the place, or stops to sniff every little thing. Most people end up feeling stressed out by their walks. Add to that the guilt many people feel about not walking their dogs enough or walking them too short a time and you end up with an unpleasant experience and a mild sense of dread when the next nice day comes along.
I’ve been thinking about aggression a lot lately. I have been reading a book by Stephen J. Joubert called Final Hope: Gaining Control of Your Aggressive Dog. I like this book because it is well organized. I also like how clear it is and how matter of fact it is. It has a section on how to identify whether or not you actually have an aggressive dog and chapters on what to do about each type of aggression – fear aggression, dominance aggression and dog aggression. I like the manner in which he frames the work as “going to war” because that is exactly how it feels. And I know. Believe it or not, one of my dogs is dog aggressive.
I obtained Lollie when she was about 8 weeks old, maybe more, maybe less. She was born around the first of December, 2004 to a mother who looked VERY Pit Bull-ish. She was part of a large litter who was born in a shed outside, moved to a shelter and lived in a cage for a while, separated from her mother then driven (for 2 days) up to Northern Illinois, and parked in a basement until I picked her and two of her littermates up to take to my house near the end of January. These were my first ever foster dogs. My beloved dog Sadie had died of lymphoma just three weeks prior to their arrival and I was still grieving big time. My heart had a huge hole in it and I knew it wasn’t a good time to get a dog but I wanted to fill that hole up so badly. I thought fostering would be a good idea – a way to give back and get back without getting in too deep when I was still missing Sadie so. Of the three of the pups, I knew Lollie was going to be a handful. She wasn’t as fearful as her litter mate Babe (who she would get into the nastiest of fights with) but she was demanding, obstinate, resistant, and smart, with a seemingly never ending supply of energy. High energy and high dominance is how I would characterize her now – then I just said, “She’s a handful!” I had a feeling that I was in for it when our first family came to look at the pups and I actively steered them away from her. I would look at her and get this feeling like it was out of my hands – we were going to be together forever. I also got a sense that she needed me and I am a sucker for that. I used to say, “Lollie, you are my Buddha.” She has taught me, through necessity, everything I know about dog training.
I outline those early events in Lollie’s life because I used to look to them a lot for an explanation for her dog aggression. Nearly everyone I meet who sees her aggression says, “Oh is she a rescue?” and when I say yes they think that explains it. But she was so young when I got her; her aggression didn’t come from her past did it? Could her aggression be my fault? Those questions haunted me for so long. I have come to the conclusion that, yes, the disruption of her past and her uncertain breeding (could have been from fighting breed stock) are part of the reason she is dog aggressive. But I have come to the conclusion that I am also part of the reason she is dog aggressive. I was so new to dog handling back then and so, so very sad about Sadie. I just wanted to hold on and cry my eyes out and I used Lollie for that – she was supposed to comfort me, fill me up, make me forget my sadness, and take Sadie’s place; too tall an order for a little mongrel pup.
I was also afraid of her – she was part Pit Bull after all, and they are dangerous dogs, right? And even though I trained her well and early (she was the best behaved in her puppy class) and even though I socialized her well and early (we went to the dog park 5 times a week when she was a pup), I was still always afraid that I’d see aggression in her. And what did I eventually see? Of course I’m not saying that I made it happen with my thoughts or anything like that, but expecting to see aggression and fearing I’d see aggression clouded my ability to actually see what was going on with her and take appropriate steps. I can’t tell you the number of days that I would leave the dog park humiliated and ashamed telling myself, “she didn’t mean it, it was the other dog’s/person’s fault, it won’t happen again.” And some days it didn’t. She had some good doggy friends there and some people who really loved her. But most of the people who saw her, especially as she grew older, were afraid of her and would visibly withdraw from her. If I noticed that you can bet that she did too. At 6 months she began attacking dogs regularly and eventually I figured it out and stopped going to the dog park. I have been through the entire gamut of emotions about her aggression. Since it started so slowly I always feared it would keep getting worse. I became afraid for my son, strangers, kids we’d meet in the street. But she wasn’t aggressive in those settings. But put her with another dog, even one she has known for years, and she’ll try to attack. And it will happen so fast you won’t even see it coming.
I remember the day when I finally accepted her dog aggression. She was playing in the yard with a friend’s dog, Cocoa, one of Bella‘s pups that Lollie had known from puppyhood and had seen weekly for her entire life. I was upstairs looking out the window and saw Lollie in a dominant aggressive stance (tail up, hackles up, stiff legged, facing the dog, head lowered and growling) and I saw Cocoa give a perfect submissive stance (on her back, back leg up, head down and away, ears back). A normal dog will accept this complete submission, maybe rub it in by standing over the submissive dog and staring at it but a posture like that does not trigger a fight…usually. So I am watching this, Lollie above, Cocoa belly up, and I see Lollie lunge and bite Cocoa hard on the belly, repeatedly. Cocoa screams and Lollie keeps biting and Cocoa is struggling to get up and run away but Lollie keeps biting and by now I am screaming out the window and Lollie looks at me and Cocoa gets her feet under her and runs away and Lollie chases her and bites her again. By now I am in the yard (somehow, how did I get out there so fast?) and grab Lollie who goes all submissive on me but I ignore her and go to Cocoa and amazingly there is no blood. No blood? A definite wound, like you’d get if you were bit repeatedly without the skin being broken; swelling and bleeding under the skin but no broken skin. Spit all over her fur on her belly, neck, and back, but no blood. Thank god no blood. I am shaking just remembering it. It was that day that I decided that Lollie was not trustworthy with any dog.
This made life difficult as by then we had acquired Bella and one of Bella’s pups, Hermes. And we also had Brandy, the old matriarch of the bunch who was with us when Sadie was alive. Lollie and Bella fought a lot in those early days and Bella took the worse of it. She suffered many attacks from Lollie and although they did not draw blood, she would often have long teeth scratches on her neck that you could see through her thick fur. I felt terribly responsible and confused as to what to do and began to hate Lollie for all this unpleasantness. Lollie also attacked Brandy a lot and these attacks sometimes drew blood when Lollie’s teeth caught Brandy’s soft ear flaps. As I write this I realize what I nightmare I lived through – sometimes we’d have a fight a day in the house. I didn’t let myself fully realize how out of control things were getting; I just keep reading and trying to figure it out. I went through a period where I wanted to get rid of her. Those rare times when she’d run off I was secretly relieved. I just didn’t want to deal with her aggressiveness anymore.
Around this time I learned of Cesar Millan and began watching his videos. I would stop and play back scenes that pertained to my struggles with Lollie, trying to find the key to solving this conflict. I began walking all my dogs, at the same time, as he suggested and that helped. I also began to fully understand that I am the alpha in the pack, not Lollie. She may take her position over the other dogs but I am the number one. And then someone told me something that really helped me – I am number one, Mike is number two, my son is number three and Lollie is number 23, Hermes is number 24, Bella 25 and Brandy 26. Lollie is SO far below me that she has no way of ever usurping me. I began to feel more confident with Lollie and less afraid. Actually, I began to get angry. “Enough is enough! I am through with you being aggressive! This is going to stop, NOW!”
I kept up with Lollie’s obedience training throughout this time. I train with a great group called the Fox Valley Dog Training Club and at the club Lollie had to deal with a great number of on leash dogs in her space. I had a teacher that would work with me on her aggressiveness and I began to feel less ashamed and more confident. This was a problem my dog had and I was being a responsible dog owner by helping her work with it. It wasn’t an indictment about my worth as a dog owner. As her obedience skills improved and my confidence improved I began to be able to see her getting ready for an attack and block it. If I missed her cues and she lunged I would correct her with an “alpha roll” that I had trained her to do on voice command. I say “OVER” and she lies down and rolls to her side and puts her head down on the floor. She is to hold that position until I release her. Sometimes she’ll hold it for 45 minutes. It isn’t “cruel” she could go to sleep (and often does, when at home) in that position. It is a way I have to control her urge to be aggressive and communicate that I am in charge and I do not appreciate that sort of behavior. This has been my main communication tool. I have also gotten clear about what the rules of the house are and I enforce them 100%. Rule number one: NO aggression, that includes staring hard at another dog (Lollie’s early indicator of an attack) or growling. No taking other dog’s possessions (if you have it in your mouth it is yours unless I want it, then it is mine). No hassling other dogs (that includes pushing them off of a pillow you want or pushing them away from me), and no pulling on the leash when we walk. The rest of the rules are looser and I probably should enforce them more – no pushing past people on the stairs, no leaving or entering unless I say it is ok and then only after me and the other humans go first, no excessive barking, no chewing people stuff (toys, papers, garbage), no counter surfing (happy to say my dogs do not do this), and no jumping up on people (only Lollie does this, big surprise). There are probably more but I can’t think of them right now.
I write all this to give you a sense of what it is like to discover you have an aggressive dog and what it is like to come out the other side of this nightmare. Most dogs slowly reveal their aggressiveness. It is sort of something that builds over time. It is something that they learn. They try aggression and get what they want and are motivated to do it again. It is difficult to accept the truth of their aggressiveness because then you have to DO SOMETHING about it. I have thought long and hard about what to do about Lollie. I have even contemplated euthanizing her. In fact, I hold that option in my mind at all times. It actually helps me see her with more compassion – I literally hold her life in my hands. It helps me get into the mindset of being her steward and helps me take on the responsibility of being her owner. But we have found a way to work with her aggressive tendencies. Training and clear and consistent rules are a must. Daily structured exercise is a must. A daily pack walk for 2.5 miles minimum is a must, regardless of weather. Weekly training is a must. Strong leadership from me is a must. Blocking her aggression before it gets to an aggressive act is a must (and sometimes this requires her to be in a muzzle). Keeping my head clear, my emotions steady and my focus in the present is a must. With all of this I am happy to report that Lollie’s dog aggressiveness is under control. I would never say that she is “cured” and for the rest of her life I will not trust her with other dogs off leash. But I do walk her with my three other dogs and include my neighbor’s big female black lab, every day. And when we have fosters who aren’t dog aggressive I include them as well. Lollie will walk, with strange dogs just my two legs away from her, and behave herself. This is the biggest accomplishment I could have ever imagined and I am so proud of her and me for coming this far. So, if you have an aggressive dog, do not despair. But DO something. Face your part, get clear about her triggers and get help training her. And good luck.