Now Wait a Doggone Minute

Part II, see Part I here.

Beach Little Dog

Little Dog

My parents have learnt a lot about their dog since adopting her from the shelter. She couldn’t stand the smell of smoke, or any vehicle noisier than a two-stroke motorcycle. She feared the kitchen and kitchen-type noises. She feared a door that was neither open or shut. She feared feet. She didn’t understand water could be found in designated bowls. She thought a ball was a weapon rather than a toy. She didn’t know grass, sand or dirt. She didn’t know she could dig. She cowered at any hand that reached for her.

My parents have learnt she loves children and will wag her backend off and/or cross traffic at the sight of one. She’s also an optimist. Despite evidence she’s been abused by the adult man of her previous life, she continues to approach men, cowering with appeasing Bambi-eyes, sometimes dragging herself along on her stomach to reach them in the hope of their approval.

I marvel at how adaptive and forgiving dogs can be and for Little Dog, most of the fears and anxieties she exhibited in those early days have dissipated, or in some instances, disappeared altogether.

This brings me to the day she was attacked by another dog. She survived, and she walks through the park where the attack took place without hesitation and continues to ignore other dogs like they don’t exist. The only thing that has changed is Little Dog gets defensive when strange dogs race up to her, even if they intend to play. They can bark or do cartwheels for all she cares so long as they keep their distance, but a fast-paced introduction leads to growling and a brief scuffle. This is compounded by my mum’s own anxiety on the issue, who’s now fearful of any dog off-lead.

This would be manageable except for the surprising number of dog walkers who disrespect our wish to not engage with their dog.

They say, ‘it’s fine, she won’t hurt’ or, ‘he’s friendly’ but it’s incidental – we don’t want other dogs racing towards ours but we cannot convey this, or Little Dog’s back-story before the other dog gets to us. Even if we manage to say ‘Can you please put your dog on lead’ they offer the same answers. A man told my mum to take her ‘f*cking dog elsewhere’ among other profanities as he had no control over his own dog nor had he bothered to even bring a lead. In another instance a woman told me indignantly it was an off-lead area. I said, ‘that’s fine, but as you have no control over your dog, how can I protect yours from mine?’

[Okay, so I wasn’t quite that eloquent, but I conveyed that point and it gave her something to think about.]

Even though we put our dog on lead when another approaches, it’s rarely read as a sign by them to do the same. One lady once let her dog off to meet ours. She was lovely, and the dog was lovely but that’s beside the point. By the time Mum was able to explain her concerns, the dogs had been with each other long enough to settle. Mum said it makes her feel like a over-reactive fool when she cannot prevent the exchange and then all her concerns amount to nothing.

As Little Dog is calm and unreactive, I guess people assume she’s ‘okay’ and they can please themselves, but I’m certain they’d be more cautious if Mum owned a Rottweiler or a Doberman or a German Shepherd. And simply because your dog isn’t the ‘problem’ dog, doesn’t mean you should be inconsiderate of others. Here’s another perspective, in this blog post by Liz.

Our dog is great with other dogs, if given the time to adjust to their presence. Please think about the dog walkers you approach – they may be one of those wonderful people who’ve adopted a ‘broken’ dog or they have a dog with a complex history. Respect that.

You do not know their story.


The Curious Case of Little Dog

Part 1

My grandparents had a Corgi. She was ‘broken’ when they got her – she loved children for their flavour and she bit all the hands that fed her at one time or another. Their love could not help her. I was five when she died, so I only remember her snarling at me behind a wire-mesh gate. My grandparents adopted their second dog from the family across the road who’d moved away. It was a black Labrador crossed with something that shrank her into a smaller body. A loveable dog with velvet ears and a sweet disposition who’d do anything for food.

My own family’s first dog arrived the year I turned fourteen. She grew into a neurotic, protective dog who was completely useless at a game of fetch and difficult to take out because she choked herself on her lead and barked at other dogs and strangers. In spite of that, in her own home, she was a beautiful dog and we adored her.

I’ve always loved dogs, but loving dogs doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good owner. We did the best we could for our dog at the time but I still feel responsible for her anxiety. She was probably wired to be somewhat neurotic, but if we’d socialised her more as a puppy her life would have been easier. I took it upon myself to know dogs better. While I absorbed every dog related book or video I could find, I also volunteered at our local dogs’ shelter – it was here I learnt about their diversity.

I’m not talking about particular breeds or crossbreeds (though, the Corgi X Rottweiler was an interesting combination), I’m talking about personalities. Like people, they are complex and as much products of their DNA as their upbringing. Even after my induction at the shelter and my extensive reading, I had this delusion that volunteering would be full of pleasant strolls, slow-motion runs through the long grass, wagging tails and tongue-slobbery happiness. No. The reality is far more sobering. These dogs have multiple and varied histories. Occasionally, they’re surrendered because their owner was ill or had passed away, or surrendered by responsible people who’ve recognised they’ve picked the wrong pet for their lifestyle. Sadly, and all too often, they are saved from the street, suffering from different levels of ‘broken’. Most dogs have no known history, most are nameless and don’t come to you when called. At best they’re confused and at worst they’re dysfunctional – and that’s after they’ve passed their temperament tests.

I took a Staffordshire X for a long and exciting walk with all the sniffing (that is, we walked, she sniffed). We went up The Hill and around the grounds of our facility and she had such a good time, I decided from then onwards I’d take every dog I walked up The Hill. The next dog was a Poodle X Powder-puff. He stalled at the foot of The Hill with a face that said, ‘You’re not seriously going to take me up that, are you?’.

It seemed some dogs weren’t adventurous walkers. Some dogs would walk in any weather while others would cower at rain like it were made of acid. Some dogs were interested in possum trails, some dogs were more interested in fellow dogs while others preferred people. One day I took a dog out for a walk and she suddenly became fearful of me. To ease her distress, I handed the lead to an employee who’d come to my aid. ‘I don’t understand why she’s so upset!’

‘There’s something in your pocket.’ she said.

It was my treats’ tin. As I pulled the container out it rattled against my car keys and the dog cowered.

This dog had been beaten with chain.

It breaks your heart.

But in that heart break, in the knowledge there are people is this world too cruel to speak of, there are people who save dogs. People who adopt these disassociated canines and give them a new and good life. People who make these dogs better in their own time and at their own expense . Kind people who give these dogs a chance at ‘happy’ instead of ‘broken’.

Which brings me to my parents, and the curious case of Little Dog