15 April 2016

The second car, the house, the...dog?

I've been itching for a dog for what seems like forever, but since we were not in a position to get one until recently, I spent countless hours watching The Dog Whisperer and Animal Planet's Dogs 101 on Youtube, reading Cesar Millan's books from the library, and practicing calm-assertive techniques on my sister-in-law's dog and during the kids' meltdowns. Some nights I would practice being a good pack leader in my dreams.

*Note: I know there is some controversy surrounding Millan's techniques. I've researched those critiques and I think they are baseless. He is awesome at what he does. He is my dog-rehabbing role model and I will continue to utilize his techniques regardless of any mean comments left here.

I also have very high expectations for a dog. The dog of my childhood was in training to become a leader dog for the blind when he was shot in the chest with a bbgun and had to have what they call a "career change." (That's really what they call it.) Red was a very calm, obedient dog; the kind you could let your toddler walk because he would never misbehave. I grew up thinking that all dogs always walk calmly next to their owners, never jump up on guests, drop balls on command, let you lay on them, get into the car when you tell them to, essentially they always did exactly as told. It was quite shocking to me when I got older and realized that not all dogs are trained so well. I have always vowed that any dog of mine will be an obedient, respectful dog.

Matt and I had a few breeds in particular that we liked, including German Shepherds, pitbulls, and Newfoundlands; big and/or powerful breeds, no silly little yippy dogs for us. I stalked the website of two local shelters for months before we were ready to adopt. We needed someone good with little kids and cats and someone who would be satisfied with daily toddler-paced family walks and a 30 minute slow jog. Such dogs were few and far between, but when we were finally ready (or, I felt that we were finally ready. Matt begs to differ on our readiness), a German Shepherd mix popped up. Her description said that she was an anxious girl who needed some stability and was good with little kids and cats. Within two days, we were wading through a loud hallway of kennels looking for Bella the dog.

I used a Cesar Millan-approved leash and spent a solid hour fighting to get Bella to chill-the-heck-down. She was crazy-bounce-off-the-walls anxious with a high-pitched bark. She had no interest in my calm-assertive energy and barely sniffed me. (A dog's most important sense is the nose.) With much patience, I got her to stop barking and to lay down in a somewhat calm manner in a little waiting room, but I could never get her calm enough to take her for a walk. She was so large and powerful that keeping her restrained literally made my arm sore the next day. I wanted Bella really badly. Eleanor, Theodore, and I had gone to PetCo that afternoon to pick out the leash, some toys, and a bag of treats. The crate, outdoor cable, and food bowl I ordered from Amazon had already arrived and were set up waiting for her. We even had her new name picked out: Roxy. But I couldn't bring this dog home. She was too crazy. She would easily bulldoze the kids. She clearly didn't respect me as pack leader. I didn't even think she knew I was there.

We drove home. And when my sky-high hopes came crashing down, I started to cry. I had felt foolish standing in the middle of the hallway at a county animal control adoption center as an amateur trying to utilize Cesar's somewhat counterintuitive techniques. Volunteers, clinic workers, and uniformed officers walked by, staring at me as they passed. People petted her on the head as she bounced around barking, unknowingly encouraging her anxious behavior. I wanted this dog, it took guts to stick with my interaction techniques, and now we were at home and I was staring at Roxy's empty crate. It still held the old blanket I'd been using for the last few days, trying to get it to smell like me so that when she laid on it, she would be further imprinted with my pack leader status.

When my tears dried up, I wanted a second chance. One more shot at Roxy. So that night, I called my mom and asked her to watch the kids for me for one hour while I went back up to the shelter.

It was 24 hours after our first meeting. I opened Bella's kennel door and she came out calmly and sniffed me. She let me put my leash on. She let me lead her through the maze of hallways. When we reached the waiting room from the day before, she laid right down. She remembered! Cesar's techniques got through to her despite all the craziness! When we went outside, the crazy-bounce-off-the-walls returned. The anxiety, but not the barking. The dog who was known around the shelter as, "The Barker" did not bark when I held her leash. At that moment, she shed Bella and took on her new identity: Roxy. And the kicker? The super-awesome clincher? As I went to pay for her, I learned that dogs are half price on Wednesday. So Roxy found herself in her forever home.

If I had only one word to describe Roxy, it would be "Sweetheart." She is fabulous with the kids, she is scared of the cat, and she is very obedient in the house. The "good with kids" part is my favorite. She gives them wide berths when she walks by (distance in dog world means respect, according to Cesar), she does not chew their toys, and she respects my rule to stay out of the girls' rooms. Today the girls crawled in her crate with an armload of diapers (this is what happens when I nurse Theodore in the bedroom), and when Roxy walked into the room and up to her crate, the girls threw a diaper at her. She just walked away. Abigail has poked her in the eye, "sung" to her at the very top of her lungs, and dropped the cat on her tail, and every time, she just sat there calmly (okay, she jumped a bit when the cat freaked).

Anxiety is this poor girl's middle name, though. But she has made amazing progress in merely two days. She has so far overcome her fear of loud kids, the door to her create closing, vehicles with trailers, diesel engines, buses, and cats hissing. I think it's because I'm calm and assertive when they happen. Roxy has a serious desire to please and follow a pack leader. I use Cesar's "no touch, no talk, no eye contact" rule when we got through a situation that makes her nervous in the house, and when we are outside, I jog or make her turn in a circle so that she has to concentrate on her movement and can't focus on the buses.

Rox is so anti-confrontational that she won't even make eye contact with my camera. Girlfriend needs some confidence. I'm excited to come up with some games to get her to use her nose and teach her some cool tricks. I really want to get her to help me pick up the kids' toys, but right now she doesn't even know "sit" or "stay." (Except shake - she'll shake your hand, but that's only if you can get her to understand you want her to sit down). It also be awesome to get her trained to be a therapy dog - I'd love for her to alert me when Abigail bolts for the street. Despite Roxy's extreme submissiveness, she packs a serious bark, so while I doubt she'd actually do anything to an intruder, he'd probably avoid us just due to her size and her woof.

I can't believe this is my life. If someone had told little 13-year-old Jacqueline, depressed and frustrated locked her in room that one day she would marry a totally hot man (13-year-old Jacqueline thought she'd never even have a boyfriend), have three kids, live in her dream house, publish a book, and have a German Shepherd all before her 30th birthday, she would probably die of happiness. So maybe it's a good thing no one told her because I totally love my life and I'm thankful I'm around to live it.

I held a treat above the camera so she would look over here.


Kindra said...

Love, love the addition of Roxy to your family and to your blog!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.