Spectacle Lake was my first overnight trip with Dog. An easy to access hike in Wenatchee National Forest, Spectacle Lake featured an easy approach, solitude, and stunning fall color. Dog and I had an easier expected hike in, followed by a rougher than expected night, and I gained some perspective on dealing with Doggo’s more difficult anxious behavior.
“Sometimes it’s hard to be patient with her. When Dog is anxious she whines. She paces. She demands attention. But looking at her there by the lake, scared and needing reassurance, it was easy to remember: Six months ago the family she had grown up with, loved, and been loved by drove her to a local feed store, put her leash in my hand, drove away. She hadn’t seen them since and had no idea why.”
Dog (aka Janie May, Mainie Jay, or, The Janiest of Mays) is a two-year-old, 60-pound pit bull with impulse control issues, separation anxiety, and a tendency to act first and think never. She came into my life over Memorial Day weekend of 2016 when I answered an ad placed on a local Facebook group by her family.
On the occasion of our first meeting, Dog’s first act was to leap out of her people’s car and begin running laps around my house. She wouldn’t listen to me. She wouldn’t listen to her people. When someone finally did catch her so we could have an up-close meeting she jumped on me, licked obsessively, and yanked mercilessly on the leash held by her petite mom.
It didn’t take much to diagnose her as a Grade A canine nightmare–but there was something sweet in that floppy-lipped face, and her situation was dire. Her family loved her to distraction, but a work-necessitated move was taking them to an area with a breed ban. If Dog went with them she could be seized and destroyed at any time.
Dog’s people were starting to face the possiblity that they would have to put their healthy, well-loved animal down themselves. On hearing this my partner and I looked at the lolloping monster doing speed drills across our flower beds, then at each other, sighed and agreed that—while she was definitely not the dog for us—we could foster her till she found another home or could be placed with a rescue.
Doggo comes to stay.
Given our reaction to her, neither my partner or I were surprised when Dog failed to find a home before her family’s move date. People of our word, we brought her back to our place, where we added to our catalogue of her less than charming behaviors, including:
Eye stinging farts
Whining in the car
Less than stellar potty manners
Shaky command of “sit,” and “come”
Tendency to pester our 9-year-old Jack Russel to fits of snarling distraction
But still. There were moments.
Our first night together, when she jumped up on the bed and snuggled herself as tight as she could to me while we watched TV, before going quiet as a mouse to her crate for bedtime.
That trip to the dog park where she romped like a champion and turned down a number of invitations to fight
The time she got too close to the electric fence around our bee hives and came barreling into my arms for comfort.
The day when she finally responded to consistent training and came when called.
The next when she came faster.
My 60 pound problem. I didn’t make it a week before acknowledging the truth: Dog wasn’t perfect, but she was mine.
It wasn’t a thing I did lightly. I’m good enough with dogs to know how difficult dealing with a challenging animal can be—I have high standards for canine behavior, and had high ambitions for my prospective canine companion.
When I answered the ad that brought Dog to my door, I was looking for a activity companion. I’m a runner who logs 15-20 miles a week, and I was hoping to get back to hiking and backpacking—activities I had enjoyed as a teenager. I had pictured a sharp, obedient, and athletic friend to take on my adventures. A dog who I could expect to pick up on cues quickly, and a teammate I could count on in the backcountry. The flailing maniac (who, for all her show of speed at our first meeting, couldn’t pace me for a full mile when we met) was not exactly what I’d had in mind.
Dog has been in my life for six months now, and while she still qualifies as a challenging beast, the protracted period of consistent training—and even more consistent running—are starting to show. I’ll be going into more depth on specific fixes to specific problems in future posts, but at this point in time she is coming when called consistently, doing her business outside (as long as I read her signals—which are subtle), and can be more or less trusted off leash.
The reward for all of this work—aside from having a much more livable companion that is—Dog and I have started hitting the trails.
This blog will discuss our progress and chronical our travels. I’ve found that too much of the information out there on dog training treats dealing with behavioral issues as though the process where linear. Find the magic formula, and your dog will get better with no set backs, new issues or future frustrations. I’d like to be a voice talking about the whole process, including the moments when backsliding occurrs or when new issues crop up. I want to talk about what works, and also, what doesn’t. What we can fix, and what requires compromise.
Mostly, I want to talk about being in the backcountry with a dog who needs a little more understanding and care. I can’t be the only one out there with big dreams and a challenging animal–not to mention a limited budget on which to make all of this work.