Crossing Over: from Dog Owner to Dog Trainer

I had every intention of telling this story first.  But each time I tried to write it, I discovered that it’s impossible to honestly and carefully condense almost two and half years of angst into a sweet, simple blog post.  This story is important.  This dog changed my life.  I’d like you to meet my sweet Rose Marie and tell you how I traveled the road from dog owner to dog trainer.

Part I:  Rose Comes Home

Listed on Petfinder as “Marshmallow”, I adopted Rose Marie without meeting her.  I saw her picture, read her bio, and fell in love.  A special needs Pit Bull (due to her deafness) she was about 9 months old, purported to be good with children and other dogs, but her history with cats was unknown.  I spoke briefly with her foster who verified the information.  She was beautiful:  soft, white fur all over, with patches of black heavily concentrated on both her ears and a speckling of dots on her belly.sleeping dog on a tie down

When did I get an inkling that something wasn’t quite right?  Immediately.  She was the last dog off the transport van. Her crate was at the back, in the corner, surrounded by cardboard. I remember thinking ‘Why on Earth would they take away a deaf dog’s ability to see?’  My second inkling came upon arriving home.  My goofy, sweet, 4-year old Chocolate Lab was leashed and ready.  A dear friend had agreed to help me introduce the two dogs with something called a parallel walk.  She was to walk Finn while I walked Rose, down our dirt road together, side by side, before bringing them into the house.  But when Rose saw Finn, she launched, snarling and barking, hackles raised and flecks of salvia flying. Finn retreated between Donna’s legs and looked to me, unsure and frightened.  (Good with other dogs??)

It took a couple of days of baby gates, crate-and-rotate, tethers, and tie-downs before Rose was calm and quiet while in the same room with Finn.  Supervision was constant. Finn had free reign to come and go. Rose was either tethered, leashed at my side, or in a crate. Walks were individual, as was time in the backyard.  After witnessing and breaking up one dog fight in my life thus far, I tend to err on the side of caution; but my patience generally pays off:dogs playing tug

Rose always slept with one ear to the floor, neck twisted and bent at odd angles.  I surmised this was for security reasons- hyper-sensitive to any type of vibration, nothing was going to sneak up on her.  When awake, Rose watched everything; she missed little.  I was teaching her American Sign Language.  She was quick to learn the signs for ‘eat’, ‘good girl’, ‘ride’, ‘walk’, and ‘bone’.  A delight to work with and train, she was intelligent, fun, and eager to please.  However, her behavior out of the house continued to be a concern.  She often barked at the bank teller while we made deposits at the drive-through window.  She cowered, snarling and barking, upon meeting my young nephews.  (So much for ‘good with children’ …. on the plus side, she was great with the cats!)

On our first vet visit, she morphed into a ballistic, frightening ball of fury upon seeing the other dogs.  An exam door was opened immediately and we flew across the waiting room, me feeling as though I’d just run a gauntlet and Rose, huffing, chortling, hackles up, walking stiff-legged around the room.  It was several minutes before she was calm for the examination. Bob loved her! She was fabulous with him, allowing a full physical, complete with blood draws. Rose had demodex, blood in her urine, giardia, and a host of other things that required prescriptions, creams, x-rays, ultrasounds, and follow-up visits.  Approximately 3 months and $2,000.00 later, Rose was pronounced physically fit. (Now what?)

Walks were a nightmare.  First of all, getting her into the harness was like wrestling a pig into a prom gown.  She simply could not stay still, no matter what I tried. She was a complete and utter nutball upon realizing that we were going for a walk.  Tearing around the kitchen.  Coming back to me.  Holding still for 2-point-5 seconds before flipping over, twisting sideways.  Tearing off again, half-clipped harness trailing behind her.  In the beginning, it could take me anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to ready her for a walk.  Second, even though we lived on a mile-long dirt road with exactly 3 (wonderful) neighbors, they all had dogs. I was terrified of running into one of them on a walk. I wound up scheduling my dog walks when I was fairly certain they were at work.  Additionally, I also lived with the danger of having my arm wrenched from its socket if a car happened by.  Several times, in frustration of not being able to chase the vehicle, Rose would redirect her rage and frustration on Finn- snarling and biting, whereupon I’d drop his leash, releasing him to safety, praying a car wasn’t coming as he shot away from us.

The warning bell air-raid siren went off one afternoon. Upon leaving our driveway, I heard voices.  I turned to see three children walking towards us. Who? Wha… with…. Oh my god, they have a bunny; they are walking a bunny… I froze in terror as I heard the taller girl call out, “May we walk with you?”  As Finn went into his “ohmygoodnesschildrenhappydog” play-bow, Rose morphed into a nightmare on a leash, and adrenaline flooded my system.  My heart trip-hammered with terror, but in my calm third-grade teacher voice I responded, “Today is not a good day to walk with Rose.” Survival mode kicked in and I began moving backwards, literally dragging Rose with me, away from the children, creating distance, down the road and away.  

I went up to the logging roads, up into the woods, to walk, calm myself, stop the shaking and clear away the jibbering ‘what-ifs’.  I don’t remember much of the walk or how long it took Rose to calm down.  What I do remember is breaking down that night while telling my husband what had happened; the fear and terror resurfacing.  “I need help,” I said. “I have no idea what to do and she’s getting worse, not better.”

Please come back for the rest of the story in a two weeks.