Rose is my Muse

Rose: a small, deaf Pit Bull; the force behind where I now find myself

Muse:  a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist

I have attempted many times to write the story of a little white dog who changed the course of my life.  But then I would stop because it still hurts. The journey was profound, filled with love and heartache, and so many mistakes. However, I believe it has made me a better, kinder, and more understanding person.  I know it was the reason I became a certified, professional dog trainer.  Rose, this is for you, with love.

sleeping Pit Bull

How I came to have Rose is in Crossing Over.  And after our scare, the next few months consisted of constant searching.  I made telephone calls, talked to trainers, and met with trainers.  I needed professional help as I was in over my head. I was honest and upfront about Rose’s behavior, “Can you help?” I would ask.  They all said “yes.”  All but one lied.  And I learned a powerful truth:  anyone can advertise as a dog trainer.  Anyone.

Over the next year, I paid for private consults, private lessons, and a group class (yes, you read correctly- a group class.)  It was called “Growler’s Anonymous” and the trainer assured me Rose would be fine.  We lasted less than 15 minutes. Due our entrance, Rose and I were directed to a far corner. Rose was muzzled, then sprayed with citronella when she continued to snarl, bark, and launch at the other dogs in class.  We were asked to leave.  Trembling and flushed with embarrassment and anger at the trainer, I held my head high as we marched out of the facility.  My arms ached from the strain of holding her back.  As I bundled my saliva-flecked, red-rimmed and wide-eyed girl into my Jeep, I began to cry. Exhausted from her ordeal, she curled up on the seat and fell asleep.

Naive, growing desperate, I kept looking for someone who could help us.  Writing this next bit is so very hard, and brings back a flood of painful memories…  I actually allowed a (very expensive) trainer to use an e-collar on Rose.  I was assured it wouldn’t hurt her; the ‘stimulation’ was ‘gentle’ and would immediately let her know she’d made a ‘mistake’.  An e-collar is the PC term for a shock collar.  The sole purpose of which is to provide an electric shock (of varying degrees) to the animal wearing the collar.  There is nothing gentle about electric stimulation shock.  I watched my spunky, clever girl nearly disintegrate right before my eyes.  In less than 15 minutes she was literally flattened to the floor, refusing to move.  Shaking, barely able to speak, I stopped the “lesson” and went to her… pancaked on the floor, motionless.  I sobbed nearly all the way home.  The memory shames me to this day.

I was ignorant; I thought if one advertised professional dog training services, one was educated in canine learning and behavior.  I learned otherwise.  This profession is not monitored, nor do you need a license to operate.  After the shock collar, I began to do my own research.  I read everything I could get my hands on relating to dog training.  I drove hours to attend seminars.  I signed up for webinars.  But I wasn’t learning fast enough and Rose continued to grow worse.

You might be wondering why I didn’t put her down.  Clearly she was a liability.  But it’s not simple when love is involved.  Rose had a tail that could pound nails, she wagged it so hard.  She was my husband’s co-pilot.  That dog adored truck rides: to the dump, to the bank, to… anywhere.  Didn’t matter.  She loved to ride.  She was fabulous with both my daughters and their spouses.  She knew close to 20 cues in American Sign Language.  She took Kong time to an entirely new level; she made it an Extreme SportWhen she had licked out most of the contents, Rose would take the Kong in her mouth, pull her head back, and, as she leapt upwards, she would fling the Kong down smartly to the floor where the impact would jar loose any remaining contents.  The first time I bore witness to this, I was struck dumb with amazement, then filled with admiration.  I adored her.  I kept looking…

And then I found Helen St. Pierre at No Monkey Business Dog Training.  I was required to fill out an extensive, in-depth questionnaire (a first) and return it prior to our meeting.  When I arrived, Helen was in a chair, adjacent to the door, and as she welcomed us in, she began tossing treats to the floor!  Rose was delighted and quickly relaxed, sniffing and thoroughly enjoying herself as she searched for treats she couldn’t hear fall.  In the course of that one hour, I learned that Rose’s aggression was fear-based and the physiological response to that fear activated the age-old “fight or flight” response.  The months of living this way kept Rose in a state of chronic stress- which negatively impacted her learning.  As Helen put it, “Can you imagine trying to learn your multiplication tables while surrounded by spiders?” (my huge fear)  Yet, I had been asking Rose to do just that:  learn while in a state of panic.  Once again, I was near tears.  As Helen handed me the box of tissues, she said gently, “There’s medicine that can help alleviate Rose’s anxiety.  Then, we can teach her positive associations with the things she fears.”  My tears of regret turned to tears of gratitude and hope.

The veterinary behaviorist was also kind, but cautious.  She reminded me that Rose had been living in various states of fear her whole life.  Even with the medication, my dedication, and Helen’s behavioral training plan, I was not to expect miracles.  She was also firm, if this didn’t work, I must consider euthanasia.  Within days, Rose began to show signs of improvement on the medication.  We had 6 wonderful weeks.  Then, an incident involving a young child made me realize I could not keep Rose safe from all the things she feared.  Nor could I guarantee safety from Rose.  Thankfully, the child was not hurt; but there could never be a next time.  I did the only thing left I could do for my wonderful, sweet girl:  I set her free.  No more fear, ever.

I will never forget Rose.  She paid dearly and a debt is owed.  One I attempt to repay each and every time I work with a dog.  I remember her fear, my love for her, and the science that stands rock solid behind force-free, humane dog training.

Pit Bull in winter sweater


In memory of Rose

March 2011 – June 2013