At a crossroads with Lollie


There is a difficult decision on my mind tonight. One that I hope no one else ever has to make but one that I assume some of you have made before. The decision about when the time is right to euthanize a pet. I’ve made this decision before. I’ve “released” a pet from their pain in old age and in illness. They were difficult decisions made easier by the knowledge that I was, in a twisted way, helping them still. They were suffering, their end was near, I was simply easing their exit.

This decision is different in every single way.

My dog Lollie has been difficult from 6 months of age on. That is when, in pitbull lingo, her “fight turned on.” She began fighting dogs for balls at the dog park. Then it was fighting dogs for getting too close to her. Then it was fighting them for no reason I could figure out. So we stopped going to the dog park. Then she began fighting with friend’s dogs who she had known all her life. Then the dogs in our own pack. But back then I was younger, had more free time, didn’t work outside my home and had an inflated sense of my power and ability to control outcomes. I believed I could “cure” or “save” or “fix” Lollie so I did everything I could to learn all I could about her. I began to be able to anticipate her reactions, nearly all of the time. And I became good at stopping the attacks, nearly all of the time. But it was those times in between, when I wasn’t astute enough or fast enough, that she would harm another dog.

At first, it was mostly noise and spit, just a dominance display, nothing more. I told myself this to calm my fear. I decided that if she ever drew blood, then I would have to do something about it. Then in a few of those exchanges her tooth nicked an ear, a lip and blood was drawn. “She didn’t mean to bite” I told myself, it was just an accident. I became even more vigilant and stopped bringing her around other people’s dogs all together. I told myself that she inhibited her bite. She never tried to really harm a dog, she was just reactive. Then she had an exchange with a dog she knew for years at our dog training club. She appeared to want to greet the dog so badly. She was all wiggles and softness, low to the ground and polite. My friend and I agreed to let them sniff noses – the first contact Lollie had ever had with another dog at the dog club. As soon as Lollie got close enough to sniff, she lunged, with a snarl, and grabbed a hold of the other dog’s muzzle in her teeth and did not let go. I had to yell in her ear “DROP IT” over and over until she finally released the dog. No blood, but still that experience shook me. Clearly there was something going on for her that I did not understand. So we stopped going to the dog training club.

Time went by without anything but a random, unnecessarily intense reaction from her toward our other dogs. I would stop it and although she appeared to “sulk” for a few days it would blow over. It was a relatively peaceful time. Then last year I started working outside the house. The hours I spent away from home increased again this winter as I began training for a marathon. Whereas in the past I would only leave for 2-3 hours, I was gone from the house from 5-7 hours at a time. Then, three months ago, my son begged that we keep one of the dog’s we fostered and I relented. I never thought Lollie would allow him into the pack but somehow she seemed to understand that he was staying and she would have to accept it. We keep them separate and only one slight skirmish has occurred thus far. But things have gotten worse in another way. About a month ago I was getting ready for bed when I heard a terrible sound. At first I thought it was a low flying plane, it was loud and sudden and angry. Then my brain registered it was a bad dog fight. I flew downstairs to see Lollie attacking our dog Bella who was in a crate (she was sleeping in one of the crates where I had removed the door.) She had no way out and Lollie was biting her legs and face. I stopped the attack and as I looked at Bella’s sore face with two puncture wounds, the long scratches on her legs I decided to move the line a bit more. Clearly this was an attack, clearly she did bite, but still, was it that bad? “Ok,” I said to myself, “I will just crate Lollie when I’m gone and keep her separated from Bella at night.” But that attack scared me. It was becoming difficult to predict what would set her off. And even more difficult to rationalize the attacks to myself.

Lollie sleeping

Then just last night the worse attack yet happened. I was out brushing the dogs. It crossed my mind that I should probably put Lollie in the garage and brush her separately, but it was so calm and peaceful out under that tree and I was just enjoying the moment. Lollie wasn’t really even participating, she was off by herself. I called our other dog, Hermes, over to me and as he was approaching Lollie put herself in front of me and turned away from me to face him. I knew that this spelled trouble so I said firmly, “GET” to move her away, and that’s when she lunged at him. It took all of 5 seconds. Five seconds for me to get up and run the three steps over to her and yell “LEAVE IT”. She stopped the attack then but it was clear he was hurt. He was limping and I could see she had bitten him on the legs in several places. But the wounds seemed relatively minor, not even puncture wounds so I brought him inside. But I kept seeing blood. He was licking and licking his legs in various places and blood was covering his legs. However, when I searched his fur I could find nothing. I called the vet and he offered to look at him even though it was two minutes to closing time. By the time I arrived, the ace bandages I had wrapped around Hermes’ legs were soaked with blood. There was blood spattered over the walls of the back of the SUV. It was terrible. I brought him in and we all just looked at him, trying to understand where all this blood was coming from. That’s when the vet said, “Could she have gotten his tongue?” and sure enough, there was a dime sized flap of skin, about a quarter inch thick, hanging on by a tiny bit of skin. It was way back on his tongue, and not obvious. But it was bleeding badly. Thirteen stitches later the bleeding had stopped. I brought him home.

Lollie as a puppy

I had never articulated it directly. Never said, “if this happens then…” but always I had it in the back of my mind that there was a limit to what I would allow from Lollie. I would hear other stories of aggressive dogs wounding resident dogs and think “That I would not accept.” I would hear how the owners would spend hundreds of dollars on stitching up the victim of the attack only to have it happened again. And again. And I thought, “I will never be that sentimental. If I cannot keep my pack safe with Lollie in it, she will have to go.”

So now I stand at that abyss. I see now how much easier it was to say “I will not accept that” than to do anything about it. I understand now more deeply why I kept moving that line in the sand, why I kept tolerating increasingly more dangerous attacks. Who wants to admit that the dog they’ve raised since puppyhood has to go? Who wants to see this perfectly healthy, beautiful dog in the prime of her life killed? Who wants to see all that work, all that love just thrown away? What was it all for? Why? Why has it come to this and is there any way at all to avoid this? She’s the only dog in the pack who understands me when I say, “go find Ryan.” She’s the only dog who listens to me as I guide her to finding the ball. She’s the only dog who plays Frisbee with me in the winter, who will jump and twist for it. She is in so many ways my best trained dog. But there is such a cost for having her. So much anxiety. I am always worried, watching, aware of her and the potential for harm. I am always trying to anticipate and think through and avoid situations that could lead to attacks. And they are getting more and more violent. And harder and harder to anticipate. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a huge part of me that would be relieved beyond belief if she were no longer with me. But how to get her to not be with me is the question. I have to kill her? Really? It has to come to that? I just can’t figure out how to get from here to there without that happening. I wish I could see into the future. I wish I knew what to do.

And this attacked crossed that line. I find myself trying to find a way around it, a way to rationalize it, but I cannot.

Lollie as a puppy

Killers Among Us

We live with killers. Did you know that? Likely all of you reading this are sharing your home and possibly your beds with a known assassin. Even the sweetest among them are lethal and don’t you forget it for a second.

Bella the hunterToday I saw first hand, the violence in action. My sweetest of all dogs, Bella is ruthless when her prey drive is in 5th gear. She has been hunting a nest of bunnies in our big yard for a week now. Well, actually, she hunted for a day and then has spent the rest of the week inside. I had hoped that the bunnies would be old enough by now to get away, but I was wrong. I heard the squeaking while I was moving large rocks. I started running while holding a rock, didn’t get far, stopped to drop the rock carefully and ran to her, the whole time yelling at the top of my lungs “LEAVE IT!!!” (which didn’t work, even for me, by the way). I thought I had saved it, it looked unharmed and wiggled in my hand, but then slowly, I saw it’s neck moving strangely and, well, I’ll save you the details. The bunny just slowly died. I stood there for some time, marveling at the beauty that goes so largely unnoticed by us – those velvety ears, the tiny nose, the beautiful fur, the perfect little face. It made me so sad, so very very sad, the waste of it, the loss of such a young life. I walked with it to the edge of the yard and gently slid it to the other side of the fence. Maybe some wild thing will eat a meal today. Maybe the life won’t be lost for nothing.

But then I realized the hypocrisy in me – I nearly rejoice when they kill chipmunks – the critters that ruin my gardens and my morning sleep – why do I have such an arbitrary view on the value of life? And as I turned to walk back to the house, Hermes joined me with a low head, sweeping tail and a smile that said clearly, “wasn’t that COOL? Dude, SO cool!” And I saw Bella in the distance, looking for more. They do what they do without all the stories in mind – they just do what they know to do – chase little furry things that move fast, but not fast enough.

What to do about dog barking

Barking dogsA question comes in on problem barking:

Q: Any suggestion as to how we can work with our dog when she is sitting in our yard, and barking at others who walk pass our house?

A: Barking is self-reinforcing. That means you don’t have to do anything for the behavior to become a habit. That is why bark collars (the citronella and static shock kind) work – they give a negative correction when the bark happens, breaking the habit. But, before deciding on one of those, I like to try to train the dog to “quiet” on command. To do so, you have find a way to encourage them to bark, and name it a command name (like “speak” or “defend”). When you say that command word, knock on the wall or do what it takes to get the dog to bark. Then, after they bark 3 or 4 times, say, “QUIET” and “Watch!” As they turn toward you, give a treat. So you begin to associate “quiet” with a treat. The other thing you can try is to tell her to “leave it” as she is barking and call her to “come“. Once she is next to you, treat her and bring her inside.

Really, most dogs will bark and that is ok – it just becomes a problem when we have no off switch or if the barking becomes excessive – as can be the case for a dog who isn’t getting enough exercise or stimulation. You have to assess the situation and see what applies to you.

Correcting puppy and dog behavior

I have been training people to teach their dogs to be well mannered for a few years now. I have been teaching myself even longer. But it is always amazing how simple it is for a dog to teach another dog how to behave.

I have a puppy class I’m currently teaching at The Water Bowl. I brought Hermes tonight to show the class what they can shoot for, what is possible. Hermes is a great dog. Very self possessed but still funny and playful. Smart as a whip and very willing to work for me. He always makes me look good and when he bucks my authority it is usually either a helpful teaching moment or a message that I’m asking him to do something I shouldn’t be asking him to do. So, I brought him and as soon as the wiggly, overexcited, and uninhibited puppy, Abby, came in I knew we’d have a “teachable moment.” Abby is old enough to know better. Her family is tired of her antics. In a baby pup her behavior would be considered cute but she is big now and so it is just plain rude. We all are seeking ways to help her understand what parts of her behavior are unacceptable. Hermes did what her family has been trying to do for 2 months in less than 2 minutes. Abby understood him completely.


Update on Lily

Here is an update note I received on Lily (from Chloe’s litter) from her forever family…

Today we went to the vet and Lily is a whopping 23.5 lbs. That is a 6.5 lb gain in 3 weeks. She got her last distemper and her first rabies and her nails trimmed. They did listen to her lungs and stuck their fingers down her throat trying to figure out the hacking issue in the morning till they eat. I had mentioned that a few other littermates were having the same issue. She said the lungs sound clear and there was nothing blocking in her throat, that she might have a little reflux. Her recommendation to me was to give lily a half of a 10 mg pepcid ac at night before she goes to bed and see if that helps. So we will try that tonight.

Last night William wanted to be brave and let Lily sleep on her pillow all night in our room instead of the crate. We blocked it off so she was only contained to our room and she slept all night no accidents. When he got up at 6 he took her out and let her have roam of the kitchen, family room and our bedroom till I get up at 8:30. We have been letting her roam the 3 rooms in the morning from when William wakes up till I get up for over a week and no accidents. So she is moving up in the world!!!

She is zonked right now, it is nap time, plus the shots and anxiety of the vet knock her out all day.
We have also been taking puppy classes with Kristin and Lily knows sit, leave it and is working on stay. She is also walking very well on the training collar Kristin recommended, walking her is now a breeze and enjoyable instead of being pulled everywhere.

So that is my Lily update


What to do when dogs fight

I got a question recently about fighting breaking out in a pack of three male dogs who up to this point were getting on fairly well. Here is my response:

blkdog2Given that one of the dogs is 10 months old, the increased fighting may be due to increasing testosterone levels in the youngest dog. (The older two are neutered, the youngest was just neutered) Even after he is neutered, these levels will remain high for some time. High testosterone levels not only cause a dog to be more prone to assert himself, they also cause other dogs to assert themselves more frequently toward him.

Don’t be so quick to let the only dog who “isn’t starting the fights” off the hook. Unless you are watching very closely, you may be missing the ways he is starting them. Some dogs have an uncanny way of winding up other dogs with just a look. He may also be using the placement of his body in a way that signals a direct challenge. Just because one dog is quiet doesn’t mean he isn’t causing trouble!

blkdog1All the dogs in the pack are doing what any group of dogs do…working out their status relative to one another. This will happen and it isn’t necessarily a problem as long as you are clear to the dogs that the humans are ultimately in charge. I wouldn’t suggest doing things to challenge the status that is already in place, such as feeding the highest ranking dog last – you run the risk of them fighting even harder when you aren’t around. But neither would I support the status, like allowing a higher ranking dog to take the bone or bed of a lower status dog who is using it. I have a rule in my house: “If your nose is in it or your butt is on it it is yours unless I want it and then it is MINE.” No other dogs have the power to displace (more…)