what you want, but if you try real hard, you get what you need. Ever have a picture in your head of how it’s gonna be? Yeah. This was my picture: happy, confident Bull Terrier next to me as we drove to class. This was my reality: anxious, miserable Spinone moaning in the back as I desperately looked for a place to pull over before he threw up. Again.
Many of you already know why I have a Spinone instead of a Bull Terrier. (For those of you wondering, you can discover why here.) I love Enzo. I fell in love with him from the first moment I saw him- who wouldn’t? By itself, puppy breath is intoxicating; add the other signature markers: fat, waddling, adorable and the most stalwart and staunch fold under the cute overload. At least I had prepared and planned for this event.
I had done my research. I interviewed and spoke with several breeders. I realized it was going to be highly unlikely, if not impossible, to find a breeder who used Puppy Culture and was also located within a day’s driving distance. However, I knew I could do the 8- to 12-week protocols here at home. The most important thing was to find a reliable, responsible breeder whose ultimate goal was the improvement of her breed.
I wanted a confident, easy-going pup, as I had hopes of using him (or her) in my business. I also wanted to participate in dog sports- tracking, Rally-O, maybe some agility. Of course I would start with the basics every dog should have: puppy class, a few basic obedience classes, and successful completion of the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. I strongly feel that by obtaining the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen, you have a foundation upon which to build success for almost anything you’d want to do with your dog.
Enzo was 9 weeks old when we started puppy class. I was surprised to discover he was cautious, needing to watch the shenanigans from under the safe haven of my chair before tentatively venturing towards the play arena. Sometimes he would romp with the other puppies, other times he was content to watch from the sidelines. He was allowed to go at his own pace and make choices. I learned a great deal about who he was by watching him. My boy needed time to get used to novel things, preferred playing with only 1 or 2 other pups, and liked chase games.
Enzo was about 14 weeks old when he started getting car sick. Up until then, he had been going with me nearly everywhere: the feed store, school, the bank, and puppy kindergarten. One afternoon as I lifted him from his crate, I noticed his baby beard was soaking wet. I was perplexed; I normally dried his beard after he drank; I had towels strategically placed all over the kitchen. I must have missed it. I dried him off and away we went. On the way home he began whining and I assumed he needed to potty. As I lifted the hatch, there he stood, head pressed against the crate, drooling and shivering. I quickly opened the door and got him out, noting he’d been sick in his crate. Once in the house and cleaned up, he seemed fine. I put it down to too many treats combined with the excitement of puppy class.
The next day we headed out, and all was well… until we approached the Jeep. Enzo stopped, backed up, and planted his feet. I coaxed. I made kissy sounds. I knelt down and showed him a cookie. He turned his head. I picked him up. If there had been any doubt as to what was causing the behavior, it was removed as my puppy struggled in a desperate attempt to escape being placed in the Jeep. Halfway to our destination, I heard low moans, then the sound of vomiting. I pulled over to clean him up. He was ill several more times before we made it home.
I spoke with a fellow trainer and put in a phone call to my veterinarian. They provided information and new ideas. I did some futher research, then purchased a Thundershirt based upon swaddling an infant to ease discomfort, Through a Dog’s Ear, a CD based upon studies which link classical music to more relaxed and restful behavior, and an Adaptil collar, based upon studies of calming pheromones. There was no guarantee any one of these things would cure or even help Enzo. But neither would they cause him harm.
Lastly, I reviewed all my counter conditioning and desensitization notes from my classes and sketched out a training plan. The next day, I began. As we approached the Jeep, I stopped before Enzo did. He looked at me. He looked at the Jeep. Click! Treat! I waited. I was looking for any movement toward the Jeep. I kept the sessions short, 3-4 minutes a couple of times each day. From there, we worked up to actually standing next to Jeep, then having Enzo eat his midday meal in the back of the Jeep. Next, we ‘drove’ the Jeep to the end of the driveway while classical music accompanied his picnic lunch in the back. Then we would ‘drive’ back to the garage. It was slow, painstaking work. But it was working. And because it was working, I made the decision to forego the 40-minute drive to his next two puppy classes rather than risk all we’d accomplished towards building a positive association with riding.
Enzo is a little over a year old now and only tolerates travel. He needs frequent breaks. And although easy-going and comfortable at home, he lacks confidence when we venture somewhere new… and we’re working on that-slowly, patiently. He’s happy tracking with me and we just enrolled in an AKC Canine Good Citizen class. Enzo has much to teach me. I’m honored to learn. Enzo may not be the dog I’d envisioned, but he’s exactly what I needed.