Sunday, March 12, 2006

This is a job for Cesar Millan

Those of you even remotely familiar with me are aware I have a wasabi loving dog to whom I frequently refer to as "Tenacious D" of "The D man". His real name is Dudley and the name fits him to the proverbial T; in other words and if I'd had any idea this goofey Treeing Walker Coonhound was the dog version of me, I would have run in the opposite direction.

I'm Dud's third owner; according to the pound I rescued him from, his first owners never socialized him with other dogs and may have kept him chained up as well. After almost 3 years, they turned him into the pound because he was "too needy". The second owners adopted him (why the pound sent him into another home without neutering him first is beyond me) and brought him home, where they already had another male dog. I don't know if they introduced them outside the home and walked them together before bringing Dudley into the house or not, but mayhem ensued. The second owners supposedly took him to a trainer and worked with him, but turned him in shortly after having him neutered (he still had stitches in when I came across him, they didn't give him a chance to calm down after being neutered). When I picked him up, the girl at the pound told me he could never be with another dog and if I returned him he'd be put down immediately. My first thought was that this was a good way to ensure I didn't adopt every rescue I came across. The aberrant behaviour began immediately after I brought him home: food aggression, fear aggression, dominance aggression and toddler like temper tantrums that lead me to utter "I am the alpha and you are my bitch!" prior to calling the pound for the number of the trainer that had supposedly worked with him and family #2. The pound was no help - to the point my vet was pissed that they wouldn't provide any records about him (including info on his shots) as well as the fact that in order to help this animal, they wouldn't even consider trying to find out who the second family used as a trainer despite the fact it would have been very helpful to turn to someone familiar with Dudley's history. I ended up first taking him to a Penn trained vet and animal behaviorist which helped get us through the worst behaviors (and inadvertently taught Dudley how to lock the front door when the doorbell got on his last nerve). I then put him through a canine good citizen course at a now defunct kennel and training center. Things were going better, he was friendly with a few dogs in the neighborhood but still barked at unknown dogs on walks, but I saw marked progress in him and was willing to deal with him being a hound as long as we were getting through the problem behaviors. Then he had some setbacks with aggressive behvior towards dogs he'd previously been OK with, two I think he would have gotten through if it weren't for the third which involved a beagle (I'm still not sure which of them started it) and his owner who, knowing Dudley's issues, has proceeded to spend the past few years torturing Dudley by stopping to have conversations or dilly dally around the front of our house with the beagle (she lives a few blocks over) while Dudley freaks out watching them through the front window. He became so loud and anxious on walks, I just stopped walking him and decided to tire him out playing in the yard or running around the house because I was embarrassed by having "the bad kid in the neighborhood".

Despite everything, I know he is a pack animal who would be well served spending time with other dogs and taking long walks (as would I since I've gained a lot of weight this year). He supposedly plays very well with the other dogs when I take him to "school" (the place I board him when I have to go out of town for work) so I've been talking to one of my co-workers who does rescue work about his issues and how to best address them. She has four dogs in her pack: 2 great Pyrenees; Bandit the pit-bull mix, and I forget what the 4th is (she also has 4 cats, a bunch of birds and I'm pretty sure the 3 blind mice call her place home as well). Thanks to her, I've been emboldened to start working intensely with Dudley. I started him at school a few times/week and, if I can pick him up and get home at a reasonable time in reasonable weather, I'm walking him again (I use the wacky walkr urban; I highly recommend the brand if your dog still pulls - Dud doesn't pull, but I'm still partial to the leash) and have had mixed results with the innapprorpiate hysteria over other dogs. Yesterday, however, was a trying yet beautiful day.

Yesterday, we had incredible weather so instead of taking Dud down for his first play date with my friend's pack, we decided to have my friend bring Bandit up to meet Dudley and challenge his territorialism. I walked Dudley for about 40 minutes before Bandit arrived, he barked/growled at one new dog in the neighborhood and only let out a few barks at the German Shorthairs down the street. When Bandit got out of the car, it seemed like I heard most of the dogs on my street barking (especially my next door neighbors Aussie, who is normally very quiet but seemed very displeased that some other bitch was on Dudley's turf). Dudley flipped out as expected - we did the both dogs walking up and down opposing sidewalks and I was eventually able to get Dud to pay attention to me while ignoring the Aussie the 2 German Shorthairs and Bandit (it was really funny when Dud was behaving and the German Shorthairs were barking their cute little heads off, since it's usually the other way around). Eventually, my friend and I had the dogs walking well together, side by side, all over the neighborhood. He didn't even bother with the other dogs behind their electric fences. It was amazing to the point we brought both dogs on my front yard and then into my house (both on leash). That part wasn't quite as blissful, with Dudley cycling through aggressive growling and lunging, and calmer periods reacting to my telling him to lay down (putting him into submission). I didn't quite trust Dud to let him and Bandit get closer than a few feet from one another in the house, but the fact I was able to quiet him with her in our house gives me confidence that while I will probably never excude the calm alpha confidence of Cesar Millan, there's hope for Dud (& me) yet.

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