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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dogs Behaving Badly

I call my dogs the Hairy Hounds of Hell because, on the whole, they are a law unto themselves. Boy dog used to have basic training skills, but since we adopted Girl dog he seems to have lost his skills. Girl dog is impossible to train – I’ve tried every way I can think of, and she’s still as dumb as a daffodil.

Both will sit and hold their paw out to shake when offered a treat. Both will take the treat calmly and without nipping fingers. That’s really where it stops. Both are a nightmare on the lead – Boy dog barks and bounces around at anything and everything, flipping around so violently at the end of the lead that he slips out of his head halti, leaving you grappling with the lead attached to his collar only, which is dangerous as he could do himself an injury. This reaction is, according to our vet, a reaction of fright. When he was a pup we shared a house with another couple and their two dogs, one of which was a complete nightmare and would torment our Boy dog pup relentlessly. Now, even though Boy dog is six years old and a fairly large size dog, that fear is instilled, so when he sees another dog, or person, he reacts by shouting at them to tell them to go away even if they haven’t yet posed any threat. He sees this as protecting us, and he goes absolutely crackers. I can understand why people cross the street to avoid us, but it does leave them under the impression you’ve trained your dog to be an arse and have a go at everything and they give you some awful looks and make some scathing comments (One I had, when I was seven months pregnant and trying to get him to the vet, was “Get him neutered if you can’t cope with him, love” – My reaction was, “He is neutered!”) In addition to this, Boy dog is frightened of funny noises – at home, having him scared of the Hoover and the hairdryer isn’t much of an issue, but when you’re out walking him and he’s trying to run away from the lorries, buses, coaches (the air brakes freak him out) from motorbikes (loud and buzzy) and many cars (a certain deep pitch can freak him out too) it becomes a battle trying to walk him anywhere. When he was younger we used to be able to let him off the lead for a run about, as where we lived we could take him to the common where sometimes you wouldn’t see another sign of life for hours and his recall was very good – while we have access to a vast forest here we wouldn’t be able to trust him anymore to come back to us when we call, as his recall has gone since we got Girl dog and now he flounces off without a second thought. Girl dog, in contrast, despite being smaller, is a lot braver; But to the point of stupidity. She’ll run over to the lorries, buses and coaches to investigate the funny noise; she’d step out in front of the motorbike or car to see what it’s doing, if she was able to. So trying to walk these two badly behaved freaks is a mission and a half, and not possible for me to do alone, so I have to go out for walks with them with The Hubby, which means that they only get evening walks as he’s off out first thing, and if he’s not finishing til late they won’t get an evening walk as The Boy is already in bed and we can’t (obviously) leave him home alone. The Hubby is also unable to walk both the Hounds of Hell single handedly, which adds to the ongoing nightmare.

It would be unfair to walk Boy dog without Girl, and vice versa, but the breed that they are denotes that they need a hell of a lot more exercise than we are currently able to offer either of them. We try to get them out as much as possible, but sometimes it isn’t possible and for the most part they have to make do with running round our (generously sized) garden. We investigated the option of training classes, but were faced again with Boy dogs problem with other dogs – it would mean paying extra for special one-on-one classes for him, which isn’t an option. I found out that Dog Borstal was filmed fairly locally and I was all up for taking the pair of them, but it would have to be something The Hubby and I did together with them and The Hubby refuses resolutely to be involved in anything that involves a video camera and him appearing on TV.

To add to our woes, Girl dog isn’t well housetrained. She is up to the point where she won’t squat and go in front of you, and she won’t do it in her cage, but despite having her for almost four years and countless efforts, we’ve only just managed to get her trained thus far. We’ve stopped the pair of them going upstairs at all by keeping the kitchen and front room doors shut, so they’re limited to downstairs only – when we allowed them the freedom of the house she’d disappear upstairs to have a poo on the landing, not ideal in any circumstances but especially now we have The Boy to consider we can’t have that. To start off with, we allowed the Boy dog to have the roam of the house overnight, and locked Girl dog in her cage in the kitchen, as this was the only way she wouldn’t mess in the house overnight. After about a year of that we stopped both of them going upstairs at all, so they have the roam of downstairs overnight and she’s only done it once or twice since then. It used to be the same if we went out – Boy dog could be trusted, Girl dog could not. She’d mess in the house, have the bins turfed out and the contents shredded, she’s even been known to get up onto the kitchen worktops to get at oven trays and kitchen utensils which haven’t been washed up so she can chew them/lick them clean. It’s only been in the last few months we’ve been able to leave her roaming when we’re out and not come back to an awful mess.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for both of them to be rehomed. For them to go to a family who can offer them lots of regular walks, keep up with the training on a daily basis (realistically, between being a housewife, a mum and working from home I just don’t get the time) But then I think how awful that would be for us as a family. We’ve had Boy dog since he was an 8 week old pup – he’s six years old now, and we’re the only family he’s ever known. To uproot him now would not only break my heart, but surely his as well? He gets on so fabulously with The Boy, and I’m a big fan of children growing up around animals, I think it teaches them valuable lessons about life and love and caring and sharing, and the two of them are BFF’s already. And Girl dog was a rescue when we got her, after she was found running the streets around Christmas one year and taken to the local police station where the dog warden collected her. She had no collar and wasn’t chipped, so after seven days she was put up for adoption and that’s when she joined our family. She still has panic attacks over the strangest things, like if you pick up a skipping rope she freaks out and hides, or if you try to hold her to clip her claws she shakes and shivers and gets so upset she wets herself – it makes me wonder at the kind of abuse she might have suffered before we adopted her, and that makes us her safe home, and I don’t want to ruin her completely now by giving up on her and rehoming her elsewhere.

So I’m a bit stuck. I’ve got these two crazy furry hounds that I love dearly, but who are both clearly mentally unbalanced and need a lot more attention than I’m currently able to give them in order to try and work out some of their issues. The Hubby is a great one for starting a project and not finishing it – to begin with, dog training was his job, and he did very well with Boy dog as a pup, but it wasn’t kept up enough and Boy dog has lapsed into bad habits which are hard to break. Again it was The Hubby’s job to train Girl dog when she arrived with us, but he didn’t stick with it and she quickly became a handful. I’ve tried all different kinds of training methods, but what works with Boy dog doesn’t work for Girl dog and vice versa – Boy dog will do practically anything for a ball, he loves playing fetch and he’s always got a toy in his mouth to play with (One of the reasons him and The Boy get along so well is that The Boy is now at an age where he’ll play fetch with Boy dog). Girl dog, in contrast, couldn’t give two hoots about toys but if you offer her food of any description she’s up for it. Trouble is, with both of them, they get too distracted by the reward and after five minutes of attempting to train them they’re bored of what you’re trying to train and wander off with the reward.

So if you ever see a person in the street struggling with two mentalist dogs barking and being generally loony please don’t presume that person is lazy or hasn’t tried to keep their animals under control, for all you know they’re struggling on a daily basis to instil the basics and for whatever reason it isn’t working out well for them. I don’t know whether we’ll ever reach a point with our dogs where I can walk both of them nicely, when their recall is excellent and I can allow them free roam of the forest safe in the knowledge they’ll come back to me when I call for them, but I can dream. It would be lovely to be able to take a leisurely stroll with The Hubby, The Boy and both dogs, but it’s such a chaotic, mad event at the moment that it’s something I look upon with dread. With winter upon us it’s even more of a nightmare as its dark by the time we get them out after The Hubby returns from work, and dark makes them both worse because Boy dog also doesn’t like headlights and Girl dog seems to think that streetlights are something to be barked at when illuminated. Sigh.

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