I was not raised as a dog person. Our dogs were never allowed in the house and we never knew what putting one down would be like, because, well, they all ran away. And I wouldn’t have blamed them.
Here’s my little secret: there is nothing better to me than the sight of a man and his well-trained dog, riding shotgun in an old pick-up truck. Or a boy wandering in the woods with his leashless companion, seeking adventure. Or a forbearing old pup with her ears over her head in a hair clip, the honored guest at a tea party. Or never having to clean the high chair out after dinner.
I am a dog person.
My Auntie Jay, however, is the queen bee of dog people. Her dog, J, was the best collie in the history of mankind. He left such a hole when he died, she didn’t even consider another dog for 10 years. When a skinny, shy shepherd/collie mix needed a home, like a true dog lover, she said “for a few days.” The rest is history, and Belly Button became the dog that was just meant to be. Seriously, I loved that dog, not just for who she was, but because she was the dog that healed a dog lover’s broken heart. And, she was a saint. She guessed what A. Jay wanted before A. Jay even knew.
The incomparable Belly Button
As BB got older, my aunt fell in love with a sheltie, Miss E, and brought her home. When Belly Button died a year later, Miss E, while not a pre-trained savant, was a balanced, stable dog, who got into a little trouble. Add a rescued collie to the mix a bit later, and my Aunt now has a pack again of quirky, delightful, if sometimes mischievous, dogs.
So, when our beloved Great Dane/Lab Mix, Banana, grew older, we realized, we were not responsible at all for her good behavior and pleasant demeanor. Banana came to us from the pound, 2 years old, all but trained. She was goofy on a leash, and didn’t know how to sit, but she was mostly potty trained, didn’t jump up, and never ran away.
Our forbearing Banana, putting the "great" in Great Dane/Lab mix
When we x-rayed her hips last year, and saw they were rapidly deteriorating, we put her on some heavy-duty, pricey pain medication and supplements, and started thinking about saying goodbye. I would not allow a dog of ours to suffer, as I had seen so many do in our family’s veterinary practice. But, our family could not be without a dog, and a new baby (Hoss) was on the way. I liked the idea of getting a puppy that Banana could train as her successor.
I calculated this would leave us with a one month window to get a new dog as the stars aligned: morning sickness must have subsided, Banana would train her as much as possible, 4 months to potty train deadline (before the baby came), oh, and a puppy at our itty bitty, underfunded animal control. And did I mention, I wanted a medium-sized Brittany spaniel? Female. Pssh, shouldn’t be so hard.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? On November 30 of last year, a litter of Brittany/Pit bull mix pups had been dropped off. All had been adopted or sent to the puppy adoption center an hour away, except one little girl, who was on hold for three days. We put our name second in line, and waited.
I worried myself sick about bringing the much-maligned pit bull anything in our house, and talked it out with my brother-in-law, the vet. He had no reservations, and said he worries more about a poorly trained shit-zhu. A friend pointed me to this reassuring website in the meantime: Saving the St. Francis Terrier. These dogs have extremely high pain tolerance, and have always been considered family pets–shocking, huh? Ok, red light went to yellow. Besides, I had done some temperament exercises, and she passed with flying colors. So, when we got the call, I was ready for another magical rescue animal experience from our $60 pound puppy.
And the reality, is, well, slightly more work than we had anticipated. We crated her, and became the pack leaders pretty easily. We have her kennel in the living room, and she’s not allowed upstairs. She is kind with the children, and tolerates all manner of abuse from the newly mobile Hoss. She is shamelessly adorable, inheriting all of the best qualities of both breeds.
From her Pit side, she is smooth coated, has muscle-y little legs, has a high pain tolerance, doesn’t hate cats, and is remarkably trainable. From her Brittany side, she has a soft mouth (granted we worked on this almost obsessively her first few months-jamming our hands in her food bowl and inserting our fingers in her mouth while she was chewing a toy), boxy ears and dainty face, and a fascinating slow-motion point/stalking of the unfortunate squirrels that wander into our backyard.
But, our dear Monkey has a slight chewing problem. Mr. BLD has begun to refer irreverently to another of Cal’s chewed fashion dolls as “Landmine Barbie” (the most prolific of all Barbies here). She is actually well potty-trained, but loves to dig in the backyard. She doesn’t bark much, but runs away (as our many helpful neighbors know). She loves to ride in the car, but won’t walk on a leash. She loves people, but jumps up when they first come over.
Actually, that’s a lot of “but’s.” So, I picked up a copy of Cesar Millan’s “How to Raise the Perfect Dog” on audiobook, and we have been inspired. When Monkey gets worried, I tend to be more strict on her, assuming I am being a better pack leader. Actually, I am just scaring her. What we learned is to use scent (our dogs’ most important sense) to snap her out of a “deer in the headlights” response.
So when Monkey balked going outside yesterday (I have been making her sit first, and sometimes she just freezes 10 feet from the door, obviously confused), I grabbed the nearest smelly thing I could find. After waving the stick of my husband’s travel-sized deodorant under her nose, she was able to focus, and came and sat before I let her out. It was a little crazy, actually.
When we had attempted walks, she was overwhelmed by constant correction as we tried to keep her beside us instead of out in front. Cesar suggested carrying an umbrella to create a physical barrier, and Monkey has gone on two nighttime walks in the past two days, with the leash floating loosely next to her.
We have established her main problem comes from us. I am actually okay with that, as it means I can fix this. We have been letting her out in the back yard as her only exercise, and occasional trips to the dog park. Combined with our attempts at leadership training, we have been leaving her feeling confused, if not overwhelmed by our inconsistency.
When we adopted this dog, we made a promise to keep her healthy and take care of her. Now we have the skills to do better, channelling her natural medium-high energy level with a goal of two daily attentive walks, using her nose to focus her, and as a result, including her in more of our lives. I can’t wait.
Intuitively trained dogs like Banana and Belly Button are once in a lifetime companions. But, I’m starting to believe that, even though our efforts need to be more deliberate, our Monkey might fool everybody into thinking she’s a natural.
She is, after all, a very good dog.
Our Monkey. I'm a little bit Brittany, I'm a little bit Pit Bull