It takes only one thing to rehabilitate a dog (or dogs) with “issues”: PATIENCE.
If you have true patience, every needed training skill can be taught to you. Lacking patience, you haven’t a foundation upon which to even build a skill-set. Patience is the key to both learning, & to a dog’s psyche & heart.
When patience is non-existent, blame inevitably is put onto the dog (by poor or ignorant trainers) for his “bad behavior.” An insightful trainer recognizes that the majority of canine “bad behaviors” are actually reflections/amplifications of the energies, attitudes, & behaviors/fears which dog owners themselves unwittingly project via body language & facial expression; even scent. This is precisely why patience is so critical in rehabilitating problem dogs.
Dogs (psychologically) sense & reflect our energies; even more so when they are tightly bonded with us. We notice that our dogs become more protective & clingy when we feel sick or have been injured, we see our dog leap to our defense when he hears us cry out in fear, & we feel our hearts swell when we whisper softly into his ear & he sighs & gazes at us adoringly. None of this is imagined or anthropomorphism on our parts.
Our dogs have & experience true emotions, with depth & breadth. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (f-MRI) studies demonstrate that dogs experience emotions much as we do. When shown photos of their owner’s faces, study dogs’ brain “pleasure centers” lit up, just as human brains do when shown images of loved ones. Other ongoing studies continue to support & clarify earlier results: Dogs feel.
Perhaps the greatest & the worst of the canine’s attributes is his ability to sense–& reflect–his human’s emotional state. If that human is patient, calm, assertive, & capable of leading his/her Pack, then all will be well, even if the dog has “issues” & needs retraining. However, if the owner is impatient, is anxious, &/or fails to provide leadership to his/her Pack, then chaos will reign. If the dog has “issues,” those will be compounded & typically doubled or tripled by the time the situation culminates–usually with the dog being relinquished or euthanized. And far, far too often the dog is blamed for acting out “bad behaviors” actually brought on or supported by the owner himself. Heartbreaking.
Consider the hundreds of thousands of dogs in shelters & rescues *right now.* Think of just the ones you’ve seen with “special needs” come across your FB feed over the past month; perhaps they must be “only dogs,” or they “guard resources,” or they “suffer separation anxiety.” Most people scroll right past them; they’re just too much work. The general consensus is that they are damaged goods, & they will never be “normal” dogs.
I’m here to tell you that is WRONG. With just one thing, virtually ANY “problem dog” can be a “normal dog.” It simply takes PATIENCE. If you do not believe me, I invite you to come meet our two Younglings, Belle & Zeus. These two remarkable dogs are living proof that patience wins–not pinch collars, shock collars (in fact, I do most of my work off-lead), or harsh training methods, etc.–PATIENCE WINS.
We are now down to a census of seven dogs: Frankie & Margret (two rescue Bostons) who are still awaiting Forever Families; Pinky, Chaos, & RocketDog (our retired show Bostons); & Copper & Finnegan (adopted rescues), Boxer & Labrador, respectively. Just a few short weeks ago, our count was eleven & that did not include the Labrador. Finn didn’t arrive until December 14th, 2012! It was all Bostons, baby! Well, except for my Hunk, Copper, of course…
Matt & I keep walking into rooms & finding ourselves looking around corners & behind furniture, trying to figure out where the hell all the dogs are. Several times I’ve found myself in the kennel room (which is our fancy-schmancy name for what used to be a porch-turned-office-turned-room-with-crates-&-dog-show-supplies-in-it) double-checking to see if we (meaning Matt) have forgotten to free all the dogs from their crates. Nope.
Once, I even ran outdoors in a near-panic, frightened dry-mouthed at the image in my head of the back gate standing open & half my GrayHaven Gang of Bostons dancing a jig in the middle of the road, down which most drivers speed at a cool sixty or seventy miles-per-hour, with imagined checkered flags fluttering across their fields of vision. But what did I find out there in the blustery December afternoon? Nothing but a single indignant Guinea fowl clucking & hollering at me to get my shivering butt back in the house. She even chased me a few feet just to get me moving.
Matt & I sit down nearly every day after work & enjoy a few minutes at the kitchen table with tea or coffee. It’s inevitable that we end-up with a dog or two or three on our laps. Lately, though, we’ve noticed a dearth of demands to be held & oddly enough, we’re bothered by it. Funny that, because previously the endless pawing & snuffling & licking drove us both to distraction while we sat together… Now; however, we agree that the house just feels so – empty. After the insanity & hubbub & noise of eleven (& sometimes more) dogs, seven really feels like so FEW. I know that must sound tremendously strange, but it’s true.
The heart of the matter is this: we are grieving. We are not callused, hard-hearted people; quite the opposite in fact. To effect this huge change in our lives, we had to make incredibly difficult & painful decisions. We parted with companions we helped into the world & aided in taking their first breaths, dogs we trained & who accompanied us on romps & errands, friends & confidants who’d been there for us & never asked for anything in return beyond loving care. The oldest was eight years; the youngest only six months; the others were all ages in between. Moments & lifetimes… gone from our hearts & home.
We love every one of them unconditionally.
We miss each one of them quite terribly… Although we are trying quite diligently not to admit that it’s true.
So, in this moment, I want to thank each of them for their love, loyalty, compassion, joy, & adaptability that make the Boston terrier such an incredible breed of dog in general, & personally such a treasure in my & my husband’s hearts:
~ Wiley, 8 yrs – CH GrayHaven’s Brains Of The Operation
~ Boomer, 5 yrs – GrayHaven’s Bona-Fide Brainstorm
~ Gossamer, 18 mths – GrayHaven’s Sheer Terror
~ Bouncer, 4 yrs – GrayHaven’s Bouncin’ Betty O’Katbird
~ Ruby-Ruby, 18 mths – GrayHaven’s Corundum Conundrum
~ Tazmania, 6 mths – GrayHaven’s Tazmanian Devil
Every single one of these beautiful, loving Bostons was an incomparable friend & companion to our family. For me in particular, Wiley, Boomer, & Bouncer were very, very special friends. I’m still not really able to talk much about letting go of Bounce-Bounce; she was such a special girl to me & the pain of letting her go will remain for quite some time, I think. Letting Boomer go ended-up being sort of a humanitarian mission when I learned that dear friends who owned another of my cherished retired boys had found him passed away in his sleep, then his sister died a couple weeks later, & their third dog (Boomer’s sister) was left alone. I made a rather rash decision to let them take Boomer & amazingly I am content with it. It was right. Wiley, I am thrilled to report, lives with Gossamer (his grandson) just a few minutes away from me so I am able to visit regularly. That alone helps with the pain of all of the other losses.
I think Matt & I are beginning to get used to the quietness. I don’t notice Matt looking around the living room with that haunted look anymore, at least. And I have to guess that I’m not doing the same thing as much. We’re definitely enjoying watching television with only five or six dogs lying on the sofa, as opposed to nine or ten leaping & chasing one another across us. It’s a totally changed atmosphere & the dogs, too, clearly appreciate it. They are much more relaxed & calm (well, except for Frankie, of course).
All of the dogs we placed out are doing very well – probably better than we are! Bostons are so darned adaptable it’s amazing. I am happy for them & I’m so glad that I knew when it was right to let go in order for them to enjoy life to the fullest. All the best dogs deserve that… And really, aren’t they ALL the Best Dogs?
Do what is Right.
Do the hard work: making sure your dogs are happy isn’t the same thing as making sure you are happy.
“Oh, I could never let them go the way you do! It must be so hard.” I hear this statement at least one time from every person taking home a GrayHaven Bostons puppy, retired adult, or rescue dog. Normal people – people whose lives don’t revolve around canines every waking hour of the day & even into the supposed “sleeping” hours – just don’t get how I can love and care for a puppy for eight , ten, or sixteen-plus weeks, then joyfully pass that puppy on to a new family; or raise a dog from birth to middle age with love and devotion, then hand that beloved dog to another family and watch them walk away; or take in an emotionally wrecked rescue dog, nurture him until he blooms into a wonderful companion, then adopt him out. How do I do that? Well, it’s actually easier and a bit harder than you think:
- I put my dogs’ needs ahead of my emotions.
- I work to avoid assigning complex human emotions to my dogs’ behaviors.
Dogs are pretty simple creatures, if you think about it. They don’t hide their intentions or try to engage in high-level intrigue. If Chaos wants the steak off the table, Chaos’s either going to make a grab for it while I’m looking or he’s going to mill around waiting for me to leave the room – a maneuver she’s learned over time and one for which I’ve become prepared. Chaos isn’t going to sneak to the cellar and cut the power to the house, causing me to venture into the basement to check the circuits. That’s when Chaos shuts the door and locks me in, just so she can eat the steak. Chaos also isn’t going to intentionally leap under my feet at a precise moment and angle so I trip, fall and strike my head on the counter, thus enabling her to consume the steak while I lay either unconscious or dead. Thank goodness for Mankind (and me, in particular) that Chaos’s mind doesn’t work that way, or we’d all be scared witless of our dogs and their Hitchcockian machinations! The vast majority of dogs are simple in that they just need to be loved, cared for, given a share of quality time, housed well, and fed regularly. Notice that “fed” is last on my list? That’s because for most dogs, being loved and cared for is more important than even being fed. True.
So, how do I let go of dogs I love?
I love them enough to let them go.
Although I stuff it down and don’t put it out for display, it always hurts tremendously when someone supposes that they would “love their dogs or puppies too much to let them go.” I assure you, it is precisely as a result of how much I love my puppies and dogs that I do let them go. If I kept them, it would be a grave disservice to every dog in my care, because then no dog would receive the appropriate love, care, and time s/he deserves. Have I given up dogs that I would’ve rather kept and cherished myself? Of course, but I did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do for that dog’s well-being and that is always paramount to me. This is what it means to put the dogs’ needs ahead of my emotions.
One of the first adult Bostons I had to place out was a nearly two year-old boy named Havoc who had become my Heart Dog. He was also my Velcro-dog. I was heartbroken over the need to place him, but he had proven to be deaf in one ear and I had purchased him as a show dog and breeding prospect, which couldn’t happen due to the deafness issue. In order to obtain another show prospect, I had to give up Havoc.
I thought I’d dehydrate from crying in the days before his new mama came to get him.
I fretted and worried and worried and fretted… All for good reason: Although Havoc loved Sandi, he did not love the idea of leaving the house without me to go with her. After a couple attempted draggings, I opted to carry him out to the car. He went in okay, but as soon as he realized I wasn’t getting in, all hell broke loose. He began leaping back and forth through the car, from window to window, screaming and crying, scrabbling and biting at the glass. I just sank onto the porch step and sobbed. The car pulled slowly out of the drive with Havoc yipping and flailing like a dervish in the rear window, frantic to get back to me. I wondered if I had just destroyed him.
Several hours later I found an email from Sandi. She wrote that by the time they reached the end of our road (perhaps half a mile); Havoc was lying down calmly in the back seat gnawing on a Nylabone. He then fell asleep and snored the entire rest of the ride home… Havoc went on to bond very tightly with Sandi and is currently her Velcro-dog extraordinaire. He is none the worse for his dramatic parting from me.
However, I on the other hand, learned a tremendous lesson from that crushing leave-taking: Dogs do not “feel” the same way humans do. Yes, they absolutely have emotions! No, they do not have the same type of complex emotions that people do. Havoc clearly didn’t want to leave me, but once I was out of his sight, he took comfort in his immediate surroundings and the people who offered him love and comfort. Would he have remembered me? Absolutely he would have, if I’d gone to visit him regularly. I know this from an eight year-old retired boy I placed with a wonderful woman here in our hometown just this past summer. Wiley knows my van when I pull in her driveway and he gets so excited! Even better, he’s a much, much more relaxed, happier dog at her home than he was at my home, which tells me I made the right decision to place Wiley with her. He’s always ecstatic to see me, which thrills me to the core, but he is also clearly quite content living with his new mom, which also makes my heart incredibly happy.
So, how do I do it? I absorb the joy. When I get photos and emails and letters sharing huge Boston smiles and reports of happy puppy and dog happenings, they make every difficult moment, every shed tear worth it… Because I know my dogs are cherished, adored, treasured… Exactly the way I want them to be. And I know I’ve once again met my goal and have done right by my Bostons, in the manner God intended.
When you own a dog, it’s inevitable: at some point in time, sooner rather than later, you’ll see an odd, quizzical expression overtake your dog’s (or puppy’s) face as she hurriedly plops her bottom to the floor & wiggles side-to-side. Immediately thereafter, she’ll appear nonplussed or slightly pained as she suddenly lifts her hind legs elbow-level, digs her front claws into the floor, & drags her madly itching anus across your pristine carpet. Your beloved dog slits her eyes & drops her jaw in ecstasy. You’ll totally freak. This disgusting, canine butt-scratching event is known at our house as the “Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie” & though every dog delights in it, owners world-wide live in daily dread of it.
This morning, my husband released the GrayHaven hounds – aka nine Boston terriers – from their safety crates & as the pack thundered through the house toward the dog door (located in the kitchen, at the opposite end of the home), our Alpha bitch, Sheriff Pinky caused a four-Boston pile-up in the middle of the living room. Alas, she’d been stricken with the Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie in mid-run; not a pretty sight. As Chaos, Ruby-Ruby, Bouncer, & Rocket-Dog untangled themselves & resumed their stampede for the morning duping grounds; Pinky proceeded to scrape her delicate rose of a tush across my lovely patterned area carpet… She was blissfully unaware of events to come.
Now, Pinky is one of my loveliest girls, in fact, my nickname for her is, “My Best Girl,” but seriously, no dog is attractive whilst performing the Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie. So, once the terrier traffic jam cleared, it took my mind a moment to wrap itself around the horrific sight before me… Then, I freaked: “PIIIINKYYYYY!!!! Quit! Go outside!!!!” I yelled at the poor, butt-itchy dog. Of course, she ceased scootching in mid-cootch & gaped at me with her ears pinned back, totally clueless as to why I was hysterical at the fact she was rapturous from the rough caress of carpet fibers across her puckered posterior opening. Pink gave me her patented “Puss-In-Boots Eyes” with her hind paws hovering near her shoulders, confused & clearly wishing I’d leave the room so she could resume the Scootchie. However; I firmed my resolve against her hypnotic, bottomless eyes & pointed a trembling finger toward the kitchen, “OUT! Take your itchy bum outside, Pink. Go out, NOW!” At last, the Sheriff dimmed the eye-wattage, heaved a sigh, & headed for the dog door – but only after a final skilled side-to-side cootch. I can only suppose that, after having been stricken while running, then bowled over by her pack-mates, she felt fully justified in completing as much as possible of her HCS routine.
Despite the fact that Pinky’s morning attack hit while only family was present, it seems that this odd & revolting affliction fells countless canines when houseguests are present, always causing embarrassment & disgust. The more important your guests; the more likely it is your dog will perform the HCS in front of them. It never fails. I’ve attended parties before where, although of course I’m a dog owner & lover, I’ve been beyond appalled at the sight of the host’s dog(s) performing the Scootchie repeatedly in the midst of the guests over the course of the evening’s events. And I’m sorry, but there’s just no tactful way to overlook an eighty or one hundred-plus pound dog scouring its bum along the carpet (& we all know how they love the carpet, don’t we?), desperately searching for relief. How do you eat appetizers while a faint brown trail is being emblazoned on the creamy berber right before your eyes? For me it’s impossible, so I certainly can’t expect it of anyone else. Therefore, we long ago began safety crating the GrayHaven pack when expecting guests, specifically to avoid the mortifying effects of the Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie which seems to surface inexplicably with the arrival of company.
Sadly, the Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie is a fact of life for dog owners everywhere; there’s no prevention, treatment, or cure; there’s simply an illusion of control at the moment of onset, as you frantically shriek at your dog to cease & desist (fully expecting her to obey) & she most likely ignores you, at least for the amount of time it takes to utterly defile a portion of carpet. If the Scootchie takes place when – to your dog’s delight, you happen to not be hanging about, you either never realize your carpet has been despoiled or you later ponder the origins of several dull cocoa streaks, never noticing your dog smugly scrutinizing your mystification from the corner of the sofa. It’s a lose-lose proposition for both you & your floor covering of choice.
So, what’s a dedicated dog owner to do? Here are some Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie safety tips:
- NEVER leave your dog alone with your carpet
- NEVER leave a teacup dog alone with the sofa (or bed)
- ALWAYS spot-check your dog’s bum after duping, to ensure no ‘danglies’ are present
- If you own a “serial Scootcher,” ALWAYS safety crate when expecting guests
- If visiting a friend with carpet lighter than tree bark brown, NEVER take your dog along
- If you’ve never seen your dog do the HCS, ASSUME s/he’s done it 5 times just this week
- NEVER leave your dog alone in a conversion van or RV (or any vehicle w/ carpeted flooring)
- Okay, just NEVER leave your dog alone with fabric of ANY kind; it’s a tragedy waiting to happen!
If you have some Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie safety suggestions, please comment & share them! In this way, we can improve the lives & carpet fibers of dog lovers everywhere!