Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Fonzie

So, week three with dog.  As the walks and plastic bags and failed attempts at "sit" accumulate, my complete ignorance of dog ownership has channeled itself into one doggie question: how good does my dog need to be?

Now, for the most part, Fonzie is a good dog (said in that universal dummy doggie voice where you raise your voice five octaves and add some guttural throaty "let's rough house" oomph to it).  He doesn't bark in the house, he doesn't go to the bathroom in the house, he leaves the cat alone, and he has only chewed through one computer cord and one can of trash.  (Translation: he has not touched the sneakers.)  Outside of the house, however, Fonzie has a mixed track record.  Again, for the most part, he is good.  He walks well on a leash (whatever that means), and sometimes he runs well with me. 

Other times, though, he pulls and pulls.  The trainer at the dog obedience classes warned me about getting leash burn on my hand, and sure enough, there's some redness that I pretend I don't see.  Fonzie has also taken to barking at other dogs and occasionally tries to jump up on me or others.

And then there's his PTSD.  On a couple of occasions, Fonzie has completely lost his mind.  At first I thought it was crowds or loud music, and that something traumatic must have happened to him in that kind of setting.  But then, on a perfectly normal Sunday afternoon, while taking a perfectly normal walk on a path we walk almost every day, something clicked in Fonzie's brain.  He began barking like mad and attempted (almost successfully) to jump over the wall enclosing the path where we were walking.  It was a full twenty minutes before he calmed down.  It was embarrassing as hell.

So, there's anxious/PTSD Fonzie, and then there's normal dog Fonzie.  And the anxiety -- well, not sure what I can do about that except hope that it gets better.  But it's the normal "bad" behavior that I'm unsure about.  Is it bad that he barks at other dogs?  Or is it okay and normal?  Or does it depend on the bark, and somehow I'm supposed to distinguish between good bark and bad bark?  I know that I do not want a dog that jumps up (or that sniffs human crotches), but the "ignore the jump" advice I was given does not seem to be working.  Fonzie is responsive to getting squirted with a water bottle in class; do I just start carrying around a water bottle on a holster?

All of my issues and insecurities came down to a decision I had to make in this week's obedience class of whether or not to use this gentle leader leash that the trainer recommended I try on Fonzie.  It goes around the dog's snout and head, so that he can't pull on the leash.  It looks like a muzzle, but the trainer assured me it's not.  "He can pant and chew and everything," she said.  The trainer let me try it out during class to see if I wanted do purchase it.  Fonzie, of course, hated it.  He pawed and pawed at it, and we didn't learn a single thing in class.  Finally, he was able to pull the gentle leader leash off of his mouth, after the trainer had loosened it slightly.   I knew that the muzzle-looking leash wasn't cruel, and that it would help Fonzie not pull when we walk.  But, I just couldn't do it.  Partly it was watching him with it on, and partly I wasn't convinced (or ready to admit) that he needed it.  Sensing my reluctance, the trainer showed me pictures of other dog graduates with the gentle leader / muzzle-looking leash on.  "See?!" she said, except the dogs in the pictures were all pit bulls or other scary-looking breeds.  Not like my sweet, female-looking, innocent Fonzie!

I know my question of what is acceptable dog behavior comes down to the question of what is acceptable to me.  And I know that I do want a well behaved dog and that that requires me to be a disciplinarian, although I've been told that my "NO!" is way wimpy.  To what extent do I accept that Fonzie is not a perfect dog (the Craig's list ad did say "near perfect," and now I understand the "near)" and to what extent do I insist on perfection? 

Part of the problem is definitely me and my vanity about walking around in public with a squirt bottle or a dog who looks like he has a muzzle on.  Will I appear vicious or cruel?  And would that be worse than looking (accurately) like I can't control the dog?

Well, yesterday at 3:00 p.m., I had sided with my vanity about not using a leash that looks like a muzzle.  

By 3:30, I had changed my mind.  Oh, the difference a walk makes.

The freak-out was a Fonzie standard, and this time, it was prompted by a noise coming from the Just Tires store.  "Really?" I asked him, "Just Tires?"  After his panic attack kicked in, he pulled and pulled and barked and couldn't walk normal.  It as a full 15 minutes home, and he pulled every step of the way.  

By 4:45, I had purchased a gentle leader head collar.  And by 5:45, I could have done an infomercial.  Fonzie definitely does not like it, and I'm starting off really slow; so far, we've only been on shorter walks and we've gone at a snail's pace.  I have to figure out how to properly use the thing so that it can effectively teach him not to pull.  But the little instructional manual converted me to the belief that the leash will help with Fonzie's anxiety and freak-outs, and that his resistance to the leash means that he is the kind of dog who could use it.

The gentle leader leash still looks like a muzzle.  And I interpreted a look we got from a lady on our walk today to mean, "how could you muzzle your dog!"  But, worrying about what other people think is my problem, not Fonzie's.  And if he can be fine with the muzzle-looking gentle leader leash (even if takes 57 treats to not get him to pull at it), then I should be, too.


evandebacle said...

OK. So you're not going to have the perfect dog. Have you met mine? He's miles from perfect. He jumps on people, doesn't like other dogs, and is an unrepentant beggar. Still, he's a good egg.

As far as the anxiety goes, that's a tough call. As you go through training he's going to learn to trust you more and, more importantly, he will learn who's boss. That you, by the way. Boss Kraut. You were born to be a Chicago politician with a name like that.

As far as the gentle leader goes, Fonzie will get used to it. He may never like it, but it doesn't hurt him and it will help you control him a little better. Just don't ease up on him and make it looser than the instructions say it should be. Remember, you still have an escape artist at the end of that leash.

And hey, if he never becomes the perfect pup, maybe he's trying to tell you that perfectionism isn't all it's cracked up to be.

OrangeMoJoJo said...

Remember that people who give you looks like that ignorant lady did don't know why you have a "muzzle" on your dog - he could have a penchant for ripping off arms or something. What does she know? It's not the muzzled dogs that make me nervous - it's the one straining at the leash in my direction barking and snarling while their owners hold them in a death grip several feet off the sidewalk.
Bou used to be terrified of us and had some issues left over from her owners before us; but, though she's definitely got her own personality, she's calmed down a TON and has accepted us the masters of the house. Or at least the food. And I have a hard time even brushing her because I know she hates it so much!


Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

Hmmm, I wish I could say more on this, but every dog we've had has probably been trained by my mom, Jake included. Jake was smaller, that helped even when he truly had his own PTSD. (Really, just tires? Perfect, perfect punchline.) But we had bigger dogs before that. Then again, I've been bit in the face by two family dogs too.

So, I don't know what to say except a few things from Ravenswood walks with Jake (well, Jeff did them, he did the heavy lifting, I can pass along the account...)

Once, a woman snottily said something about Jake looking cold and then said, about her dog, "Ergo the coat." Ergo the coat. Jeff and I still love (hate) that line. He was out for a quick walk, he (like me!) didn't like coats. But the main conclusion is that these people can f**k off. Take their opinions and keep them to theirselves. Jojo's right -- I'd rather see a dog on a gentle lead than a dog who seems like he could get free and pounce at any moment (or run into the street, by cars, etc etc -- so, for his own sake as much as mine!).

And, there was another Shih Tzu on the block over from ours when we were on Paulina. This poor little thing only had one eye because a Schnauzer (maybe even a mini, certainly not a pit bull) took out his eye on some attack!?! I don't know how that helps or what it says except that -- as much as I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE dogs -- they are animals that have instincts and impulses and can hurt themselves and others if we aren't the nice but needed boss? I don't know. Evan's a rescue dog authority, I'd follow his advice.

One more thing though...our old neighbor, the NICEST and a vet student and serious animal advocate and volunteer and dog walker and all else. I'm 99% sure she used that leash on her dog too.

It matters most what you think and what's best for Fonzie. (Maybe he needs to watch some Happy Days boxsets to heal from the PTSD somewhat and channel his fears into Henry Winkler like cool??) The rest of these people and what they think? Whatevs! :-) XOXO