Awesome Stories

My Dogs Have Issues, But I’m Not a Terrible Owner

I’ve spent hundreds of dollars, countless hours and most of my sanity attempting to train my pooches to be “good dogs.”

It hasn’t worked.

I am aware of the stares when my 40-pound whippet mix Rosie lunges and barks. I can feel the judgment in the air. And it really bothers me.

I adopted Rosie as a 5-month-old puppy. I remember sitting in the waiting area at Albuquerque’s Animal Humane shelter, anticipating meeting the adorable puppy I had seen on their website. I waited perhaps 15 minutes, when finally the shelter worker entered the kennel with Rosie in tow. She said that it took awhile to wrangle Rosie (at the time named Saphira) because she was so terrified of the leash. Rosie immediately jumped on my lap and started licking my face. Later, I learned from another employee that this timid dog had not reacted like this to anyone else. Why did this shy dog feel comfortable with me? Probably because I sat in a chair and ignored her until she approached me, but who really knows. She’s stayed pretty close to me ever since, using me and my older dog Daisy as a shield from the world.

During the first few months with Rosie I felt like I had adopted a child. She was very needy. She displayed fear aggression. The barking was non stop. She hated cats. She loved to boss other dogs around. I cried several times, thinking I just could not handle this fearful, yet strong-willed dog. When she was 6 months old, I took her to the dog park for the first time. She weighed about 25 pounds, but had the attitude of a much larger dog. She stood her ground with a full-grown German shepherd. She also tried to break up a pitbull/mastiff play session (which almost resulted in a fight).

“So, she is a bit of a fireball,” you’re thinking. Yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

During this time I also enrolled Rosie in puppy kindergarten. The first few classes revealed a terrified puppy who was trying to overcompensate for her fears. Eventually, we overcame many of Rosie’s insecurities over the course of two obedience classes and several agility courses, but the core problem remained. She was now accustomed to the dogs and people at agility. All other dogs and people (and cats and roadrunners and squirrels) were enemies. Lunging and barking (followed by hiding behind me) ensued. And her unstable behavior began having an effect on my calm, older Labrador mix, Daisy. In fact, it appeared that Rosie was purposely instigating fights because she knew her big sister Daisy could hold her ground. So now I had two dogs that I couldn’t handle.

I enlisted the help of a professional dog trainer, who gave me two pinch collars. I didn’t really like the collars, but the trainer placed one around my wrist and pulled to demonstrate the sensation the dog received. This placated me a bit – it really was just a pinch. The collars worked well, but after awhile I was tired of having somewhat draconian looking devices around my dogs’ necks. My dogs were mostly good except when they were bad, anyway. And they had tons of training.

Which brings me to Labor Day 2016. My boyfriend and I hiked to a popular hot spring in northern New Mexico with my two dogs and his elderly pitbull. Little did I know that this hot spring would be teeming with dogs of all sizes and temperaments. Rosie barked at several dogs, lunged at another, and then barked and lunged at a woman who dared approach us. I was uncomfortable and embarrassed. I knew that Rosie could sometimes be a little barky, but overall, she has calmed down a lot in her five years, and she certainly doesn’t normally bark at people anymore. I tugged on their leashes a bit to control the barking and pulling, but I knew that the dozen or so people lounging beside the river and in the hot springs were judging me with all their might. Later, we went to a brewery (also dog city). Rosie barked at every dog who entered the room. Daisy, empowered by Rosie’s barking, joined in and lunged at a large dog, almost knocking a chair over in the process. I saw a woman at a nearby table roll her eyes and whisper something to her partner. She was no doubt judging me too.

I left the brewery tired, frustrated and embarrassed. “Why can’t I just have normal dogs?” I thought to myself. I even felt like I had to justify myself to my boyfriend, who noted how well behaved all the other dogs were. “I’ve sent them to several training classes.” “They’re tired.” “There are too many dogs here.” “They’re overstimulated.”

“So, what is this crazy dog lady trying to get at?” you say.  That I’m not the terrible dog owner you think I am, so please stop judging me when you see me and people like me (who are truly trying and failing with their dogs). My dogs aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked really, really hard and done the best I could. And it doesn’t mean that my dogs are bad, either. Some dogs just come with baggage. And some dogs come with lots of baggage.

This post was originally published at tinadeines.com.

profile-picTina is an Albuquerque-based writer specializing in dogs, wildlife and conservation. She loves hiking with her dogs Daisy and Rosie throughout New Mexico and beyond, and participates in canine agility with them. Daisy is addicted to tennis balls and Rosie responds to commands in three languages: English, Spanish and German. Tina blogs about dogs and wildlife at 21Pupstreet.com.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Jody

    Jul 21, 2017 at 3:22 am

    Oh, I have been there so many times. I have three dogs, all rescued.

    The oldest is a 6lb Chihuahua who likes women and kids who tell him he's cute, dislikes men and will try to boss around larger dogs and his sisters. He's 15 now and has mellowed some, but is still the dictator on occasion.

    One "sister" is a chi/Corgi who is the sweetest, most laid back dog on the planet, though has a severe case of wanderlust. Pretty sure that's how I came to rescue her. The Chi relentlessly bosses her around. But the two of them are fairly behaved in public, so people are fooled.

    And then there's their "sister", the Chi/Italian Greyhound mix. Gracie was abandoned by her previous owners in an eviction and went hungry for several days before being rescued around age 1. I was initially going to turn her over to a rescue group, but realized quickly that she had decided I was her person. For several months, only my dog sitter and I could get near her. I figured out that she had been abused and was lashing out in fear. We've come a very long way in 5 years, but I still can't trust her around strangers. She gets very upset if you try to force the introduction, to the point that she will try to bite you if you continue to reach for her. That sounds horrible, I know. I've worked with her over the years and have validated the lesson of ignoring the dog until they come to you. I caution all the guests in my house that way and we stay out of trouble. I can usually get her to the groomer at Petsmart without incident so long as I'm vigilant and limit her exposure to strangers. No Barktoberfest for the princess. She would not do well. But like the movie Bolt, I am her person and I love her.

    All this to say you're right, there's only so far you can come with dogs, especially if they're older and come with baggage.

  2. Eric Young

    Dec 5, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    I feel you’re pain but my situation is worse. We adopted Jack when he was just 2 months old. Actually he was a foster that never made it back. He grew up with 2 other dogs and a cat and was introduced to foster dogs on a regular basis. About the time he reached adulthood we moved and stopped fostering animals for about 6 months. It was after that we noticed he was having aggression issues and fostering animals was becoming an inconvenience because he could not be around them. At this point he was so bad he would outright attack another animal on sight. Long story short me and my wife divorced and I got Jack. Hes a wonderful dog who adores people but loathes other animals. I have had him for 12 years now and have had to give up a lot because of his special needs. I walk him at midnight just so we wont run into other dog walkers and thats pretty much his life. No dog parks, no hiking trails, no going to the company lakehouse in the summer and vet visits have to be planned out at the end of the day. He has even cost me a few relationships because you cant move into together when your dog wants to kill theirs. All in all I have missed out on a lot in life because of him but I wouldnt give him up for anything.

  3. Jan

    Dec 5, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Have to respond. Sam, my lab/border collie mix was like this. He was great at daycare and visits to friend’s houses who had dogs. Not a problem. Smart, fun, great buddy. But on the leash he lunged and barked all the time. Three trainers and four different collars, leashes later he would still do this and I could not keep this 80+ pound dog in line. I settled on a gentle leader, 6 foot leash, and lots of walking to burn off energy. But no dog parks and if I saw another dog on our walk, I retreated to a different street to avoid confrontations. Overall that worked really well for Sam, but he still would go after another dog, never hurting them, even at the age of 12 when he had cancer and had to be put down. He was never the hiking buddy I’d hope to have, but otherwise was just a wonderful dog.

  4. Melissa

    Nov 22, 2016 at 7:43 am

    I feel your pain! I have experienced the same thing with our Bella. We like to say she is “misunderstood”. I have uttered the same thing “Why can’t my dogs be normal!” Thank you for sharing this and letting me know that I am part of an exclusive club 🙂

  5. J ward

    Nov 15, 2016 at 4:44 am

    It feels so good to know i’m not alone. THANK you for this article.

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