There’s so little in parenting children that’s clear cut. (Except for keeping your kids safe. Of course.) For which there is just one “right” way. Where you can completely discount personalities or situations.
“Parenting” a dog is nothing like that, I am discovering.
ND has some quirks. We mostly live with them because:
- a) it makes her fit right in to the family (what, we have quirky? really?)
- b) her overall deportment is good
- c) she’s not destructive
But she was a bit of a loose cannon out of the house. We’d take her for walks (leashed), and she would ferret out every discarded piece of food in a 50 foot radius. Bits of bread and chicken bones in particular. And woe unto you (read: me or Taxman) if you tried to take anything away from her. She would bite. Real biting, with teeth. Over a quarter of a chicken carcass.
(It’s weird, because she is transformed into some fierce, wild-eyed animal. At home she lets AM stand over her food dish and wags her tail as she eats, but on the street, with a scavenged piece of trash, she’s the meanest junkyard dog you’ve ever seen.)
Taxman and I theorized that perhaps she had a deprived childhood, as it were. As a foundling, we literally have no idea how she survived the first 10 or 12 weeks of her life. Maybe she needed to fight for chicken bones and bread crusts to survive.
So I asked the vet about the biting and pitched the idea of early psychological trauma. “Hmm, maybe,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter. She is displaying an undesired behavior, and you need to stop the behavior.”
In other words, we have to show her who is the boss. Because it’s not her. This is not a child we are raising up to be independent and to make her own decisions. There is no room for negotiation. Whether it’s this or something else, when the chips are down she has to listen and obey.
Sounds kind of strict. But as I said, raising up dogs and raising up babies are not the same.
The vet suggested that we put a muzzle on her during walks, which not only prevents her from biting but prevents her from opening her mouth in the first place. He put one on her to demonstrate, and she wasn’t happy. Her resistance made me nervous, because the vet is a lanky Dutch guy and I am…not.
But in our house, ND was more relaxed; I was able to put the muzzle on without any problems.
Although it kind of killed me. It was like all the joy had been sucked out of her. We went for a walk, and she sort of dragged her tail behind her. We came upon another dog and she couldn’t bark, which was a shock to both of us.
But time after time, as I took her out with the muzzle on, I finally felt relaxed. I didn’t have to constantly scan the ground in the park for party leftovers. I didn’t have to worry on trash day.
Being a dog, ND has bounced back from the insulting addition to her wardrobe. She wags her tail and hops up on short walls. She still tries to take it off with her paw at least once per walk, usually after we’ve seen a dog she wants to bark at or something she wants to eat. (So, you know, it’s working.)
The down side is that she looks menacing. Because if you didn’t know better, you’d think that she’s muzzled because she is a threat to the general public. She’s not. She’s a threat to herself and (potentially) the person on the other end of the leash. Not to the kids toddling up to pet her or the mailman or the plumber (whom she barked at, then proceeded to try to lick to death as he laughed and explained he had had a dog who looked very similar).
“Does she bite?” people ask me.
“She eats things that aren’t good for her,” I explain.
The vet anticipates that over time, she’ll get so used to not being able to eat whatever’s lying around that she won’t even try.
I…don’t know about that. But for now, this is the new reality. We’re working with it. This too, this aesthetically unpleasing and negative connotation dripping piece of dog ownership, this shall pass.
She’s still cute.