Saturday, September 25, 2010

NOW What??!?

If you've been following, you remember that last May we rescued a dog.  His name is KC, he's an eight-year-old apricot miniature poodle, and he's had something of a checkered life.  He was first rescued after being abandoned by a probably-abusive owner.  (He still cringes at odd times and has led us to believe that at one time in his life he may have been whipped with his leash.)  The older lady who first rescued him passed away and KC went to her daughter, a friend of ours from church.  Unfortunately, her daughter already had a couple of large dogs, and those dogs did not "take" to KC.  He was spending his days hiding under furniture -- furniture under which the larger dogs could not fit -- and generally being bullied, beaten up and having his food stolen by his "roommates."  When my wife and daughter heard about this, they were moved and begged me to rescind my long-standing "no" on dog ownership.  See, I knew that with my wife's long hours as a physician and my daughter's career as a high school student, I would very likely be the one who had to walk the dog in foul weather, clean up his messes, and so forth.  As long as they could promise, absolutely promise me that they would be the ones responsible for taking all care of this animal, I would let them bring him into our home.

We were assured by our friends that the dog was of a sweet disposition, that he was housebroken, that he slept in his little bed, and so forth.  He is sweet and affectionate most of the time, but does occasionally snarl and nip at us, mostly when doing things he doesn't like -- like bathing.  (We were also told that he loved baths.  Maybe it's our tub, but...he doesn't.)  The housebroken part is more problematic.  Our friends have a fenced-in yard and a doggie door, so KC could go outside when he needed to do so.  We do not have either the doggie door or the fenced in yard; we simply walk him three times a day, at least.  I began noticing pools of stale urine on our carpet.  Things came to a head when I also began finding -- and I apologize for this but there is no more delicate way to phrase it -- turds in our living and dining rooms.  KC has apparently never learned to ask to go outside, or else is going through some major behavioral issues.  Finally, although we had been told that he was fine to leave alone, we returned from choir practice one night to find that he had completely destroyed the kitchen floor near our back door -- apparently he was trying to tunnel out.  We had to immediately buy a dog crate to place him into when we go out for more than a few minutes.

When we mention the problems to our friends, his previous owners, they are genuinely surprised to learn of them.  He never acted this way with them.

So the little guy is more messed up than anybody realized.  And we are not bad people.  We have dropped over a thousand dollars on veterinarian fees to get his shots up to date, to have tumors removed, to have his teeth brought up to snuff, etc.  Not a small amount of money for us.  We figured consulting a dog behaviorist was worth a shot, if only to justify the investment in him we've already made.

We hired a Dog Listener, a woman who specializes in "it's-me-or-the-dog" problems.  She told us that the excrement, the urine, the property destruction, were all caused by the dog stressing out over feeling like he had to lead our family "pack" successfully.  We were his puppies and he was stressing out over our well-being.  This was why he panicked and lost control of his bowels and so forth.  She taught us a number of simple techniques to help KC learn his place in our family so that he would not worry about being forced to be our leader.  We began feeding him a certain way, walking him a certain way, and giving him rewards for special "following" behaviors.  Things had been going better for the past week.

Then last night, my daughter had a few friends over to celebrate turning eighteen.  It couldn't really be called a party.  There was no loud music, no ruckus, just four girls eating chips and pizza and watching TV and YouTube videos.  My point is that this was NOT a big disruption to our regular routine, it was just a couple of people.  We followed the Dog Listener's protocol for what to do when guests visit, and things were going well.  Then suddenly, for no reason we could discern, the dog lunged at one of our guests.  Bit her.  Thankfully not badly, and we have heard nothing from her or her family today, so maybe they are not litigious.  In any event, the protocol for extreme bad behavior is isolation from "the pack" so my wife went to lock KC in the bathroom.  He bit her.  Again, not badly, but she was bleeding.  She treated herself, while I removed the dog to a bedroom where he barked and barked for the remainder of the night.

I find myself at a crossroads.  We had always agreed that biting any of us was a deal-breaker.  I am fully prepared to send him on his way.  I have not bonded with KC like the women in my family have, despite the fact that I wind up spending the most time with him.  They want to give him another chance, more time with the behaviorist, etc.  I want to be able to come and go as I please, and to have guests over without fearing for their safety or listening to constant muffled yapping and barking until the guests leave.

Please -- if you've made it this far with me and you have any advice to offer, PLEASE leave me some advice in the "comments" section, or e-mail me at  I honestly for the first time in a very long time do not know what to do.

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