Dogs aren’t bred to know what ‘sit’, ‘come’, and ‘stay’ mean without someone showing and training them first. Just the same, dogs are also predators by nature, and showing them that eating all the smaller creatures isn’t right takes training as well.
We had decided to adopt a dog, but weren’t finding anything suitable. The dog situation here goes like this: If you want a pit, there are plenty–the shelters are choked with them! If you want a non-pit, you have to scour Craigslist in a 200 mile radius, or wait months on the Humane Society’s list.
I’m impatient, I’ll admit, and I rush into things. Usually I don’t regret any decision. I researched the breeds I was interested in. My ideal dog should be trainable, energetic, like to take long walks on the beach, play fetch, be bold, and get along with other animals [since we have 4 cats and one conure].
I noticed a blue heeler show up at the Shelter and as soon as my husband woke up from his midnight shift sleep, I lead the march to the shelter to see her. She had been posted for adoption for 2 hours by the time we showed up and she seemed perfect! Smart, energetic, playing fetch like there was no tomorrow, she impressed even my husband. The only question was what she thought of cats. They took her into the cat room and she looked away from the cages like there were no furry beasts anywhere.
It seemed so perfect, we felt there had to be a catch. We kept thinking the owner would call the Shelter or something. As we waited for her to be spayed so we could take her home, we prepared for the new arrival.
The day we went to pick her up, as we were about to leave the shelter, a lady came in and then commented that she knew the dog, her name was Skylar, and the man she gave the dog to just the day before had said the dog was fine. She had tears in her eyes. We weren’t really sure what to say or do. But the lady gave us her number and went back to look at the cats.
We got Skylar home, took her for walks, played fetch, met the neighbor dogs [that didn’t go so well, she snapped at the nicer dog], and walked through the house. She didn’t react to the cats, not even the one within three feet of her. It seemed like it was going to be perfect….until she saw the bird. It was obvious by the look in her eye that she viewed the bird as a toy. She whined at us, with the thought “why don’t you throw that thing already?!?” on her face. Even with the bird on our shoulders, she was anxious to get to it. Alright, with training, we might be able to get through that one.
The next day was pretty much the same. She was feeling better, so she was more energetic and barky, but she was fun. She was a little more pensive about the cats, and appeared to want to chase the ones that ran. Meh, they’d get used to each other. She also seemed scared of cars passing by, the toilet, her leash rubbing against a chair. She was very jumpy, not really to her breed’s description of being brave.
The third day, while walking out to the backyard, she passed our largest cat, sitting on a chair, and she growled, her hackles went up, and then she hid her head behind the curtain. The cat didn’t move, so she slowly crept out, bravely took a sniff, and then exploded in a mess of snarls and yelps and growls! She was terrified! All of the sudden, the cats became little demons in her mind. I decided after dinner to bring her into the kitchen to hang out with the cats and see if she could tolerate it. She had the same reaction, but much faster without the sniffing. I brought in her sleeping pad and we sat on the floor. It took her a long time to fall asleep. As soon as her eyes would close, she would start awake, looking around for the cats. She eventually fell asleep while I stroked her head on my lap. She was such an awesome dog, but I knew we weren’t right for her. We were dog amateurs up against a dog with fear aggression. We had read a training book before getting her and one line kept going through my head: “All bets are off on how long it will take to train a dog with fear aggression.” It also said that it will be up to the dog to decide when it’s over its fears, you can’t force the issue, and contact with the fear should be gradual.
It’s hard to admit defeat, especially with a dog as awesome as she was. Maybe if we only had one cat, but four cats and a conure were too many lives at stake. I’m sure we could have helped her through, but if another animal’s life ended with us trying to train her–we just couldn’t risk it. We were in over our heads and it wasn’t because she was a bad dog, it’s because we were bad owners for her. I showed my husband when he came home what her reaction was. This time she shakily went up to the cat, and when his tail twitched, she exploded in her snarling tantrum, but then headed towards the cat with head lowered, hackles up and growling.
It was a hard and tearful decision, but we took her back and she went to the lady who originally had her. It took me over a week to mop the floor where her paw prints were. It all makes sense now though. At the shelter she didn’t look at the cats because she was displaying aversion. It was her nature to be scared and to reach the aggressive point in a flash. That’s just her.
I don’t think we’re fully over it, but we tried again with a different dog. She is a complete 180 from Skylar. Bear is a 92 pound Pyrenees that apparently worked a livestock ranch her whole life. Her retirement started as her confined to a kennel. She was traded to a farm [for a llama] and seemed to like it there, but someone thought she might like to become a pet, since she seemed to want to go in the barn at night and what not.
When we arrived to look at her, she was in a pen, sitting happily in the middle of the ruckus of guinea hens, chickens, cats, dogs, goats, a llama, and a horse.
She fits her breed’s description of being serious, stubborn, very calm in the house, not minding the cats, and being a heck of a lot to groom. She doesn’t bark much, though, hates car rides, doesn’t fetch, and isn’t really trainable [no agility classes for her].
Even though she doesn’t fit my ‘awesome dog’ description, she is awesome in her own way and an incredibly sweet dog and fits in so well here. I feel like we can give her a good retirement and make her final years as comfortable as possible…right after she gets two decayed teeth pulled, her ear unclogged and uninfected [both requiring anesthesia], treated for fleas, and professionally groomed [I can’t get out some of the mats]!
I’ve got plenty of years left for that dog that plays fetch, loves car rides and hiking. Bear has just a few years left after working tirelessly to relax and enjoy the pampered life. And what better ‘first dog’ anyway. :)