You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry

July 2011

Our little girl is coming along nicely.  Yes, she’s bull-headed and pushy and choosy with her crate-training.  Yes, she can leap clear over the top of her baby gate and make herself comfortable on the couch.  But she’s sweet and loves to snuggle.  She barrels into closed doors at the right speed and oomph to pop them open so she can investigate the happenings on the other side.  She wags her entire body.

And Zozo is amazing.  He’s patient and kind and ignores the little girl until she needs to be yapped into line.  He shows off his cues and proves to be a great big brother and occassional alpha.

Individually, they’re wonderful.  Together, they’re their own little wolf pack.  It’s delightful.

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We’re excited to introduce MJ to the people and places we love to take Zo.  We call to schedule her for a bath.

“How old is she?”

“Oh, almost 8 months.”

“Weight?”

“32lbs”

“Breed?”

“Catahoula/Pit mix.”

“…Hold on…. (hold muzaq).. I’m sorry, we don’t groom Pits.”

“Oh, but she’s very sweet and has never shown any signs of aggression.  She loves kids-“

“Sorry, no Pit Bulls.”  Click.

This happens with the daycare we like to take Zozo to.  The Yappy Hour.  I begin noticing people avoiding our pink bully as we puppy-lurch down the road (our leash skills could use some work).  MJ doesn’t understand; she just wants to shimmy and play and give kisses.

I find myself shying away from admitting she’s Pit-mixed.  “She’s Catahoula with some kind of American breed– boxer maybe.”  It’s a lie no one falls for.  She may be gloriously speckled, but her snout is all Pit. 

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And I feel like a coward for betraying her heritage.

Gradually, when I call to make plans for spa days, daycare, boarding and training, I start the conversation off with the following phrase:

Do you have breed restrictions?

The question becomes part of our vernacular.  The answer? Unsurprising: can’t, no pit bulls. 

We became one of those families.  We’re young, living in the suburbs.  We have two rescue dogs.  One is a Pit Bull.  Obviously we’re dangerous drug dealers or thugs and criminals, and she’s vicious. 

And that’s when I get mad.

 

 

“Hello, my name is Zozo, and I have social anxiety disorder.”

February 2009

We take turns luring the pup off the deck. We nudge (read: push) him down the deck steps to the lawn. We practically drag him around the yard to do his business. He vacillates between being afraid of the front yard and, when the wind direction changes, the back yard. The Black Ninja Squirrel’s appearance provides no comfort. He’s scared. He’s nervous. He’s jumpy.  On the plus side, his appetite hasn’t wavered.  Thank goodness for little favors.

Our little family has limped through the last three weeks.  We couldn’t be more ready for Zozo’s first day at Olde Towne School for Dogs Day Care Training Program.

We’re intellectually prepared for what’s ahead of us.  For the next three weeks, Tuesday through Friday, I’ll drop Zozo off for training in the morning on my way to work.  At the end of the day, James will pick up the pup on his way home. We’ll go about our business during the day, and Zozo will attend the most prestigious and intense dog training program I’ve ever heard of in the DC/Metro area.  Zozo will have focused, one-on-one training three times each day for 30 minutes at a time.  (There’s a lot of numbers in that sentence.) He’ll be out-and-about in the city, honing his leash skills in parks, busy street corners, a noisy corner store, and in the presence of strangers, kids and geese.

James and I are not entirely off the training hook, though.  Each week we have one lesson with Zo and his trainer, and we’ll have nightly homework to do after the first week. We have to force ourselves to encourage Zozo to go further, to not give into frustration and distress if it doesn’t go well, and to learn how to read Zo for triggers of a meltdown.  If all goes well, we’ll graduate the program with a certificate of accomplishment, an honor student bumper sticker, and better tools to help Zozo cope with the world around him.

So here we go….

The first day of school, I’m down with the flu (of course) and DC’s February weather descends with the first sleet storm of the year.  And still, I’m out of bed at 7, bundled up and in the car with Zozo riding shotgun (it’s a Mini; he’s riding shotgun even if he’s in the backseat).  The shop opens for drop-off at 7:30am, and we’re the first through the doors.  Zozo is excited to meet the ladies behind the counter– he’s becoming quite the ladies’ pup– and is escorted up to his school crate while I write a check.  He doesn’t even look back after I hand off the leash.  Fine, if you’re going to be like that…

At the end of the day, James returns home with a sleepy dog, who lumbers over to “place,” flops down and sacks-out for the night.  We have to wake him up for dinner and to take him out.  He’s so exhausted he doesn’t even snore.  The rest of the week progresses much the same.

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Saturday morning, we rise and shine ourselves, throw on some layers and head out for our first family training. For the next hour, we follow behind our trainer marveling at how confidently Zo is walking on leash.  He’s “heeling” like a pro.  We take turns learning to walk him in community lot.  We struggle with holding the leash, moving the leash, giving the verbal cues… it’s walking and chewing gum and rubbing your belly and patting your head.   It’s hard.  The trainer gently stops us, adjusts our errors and sets us on our way.  Zozo is equally patient. He quietly sits and looks lovingly from human to human (to human) while we get ourselves together.  He’s ready when we are.  And then it’s over: we head home knowing that we humans have our work cut out for us and that our dog is a superstar.  That’s a great feeling to have.

Every night for the next two weeks, we take Zozo on homework walks.  He still spooks easily, but when he has a job to do– Let’s go! Heel! — he can get it together and focus on the prize (liver treats, say what?!).  We drop him off, we pick him up, we do homework, he sleeps.  By the end of our training, he’s automatically sitting when we come to a stop, he’s able to “down and stay” on crowded sidewalks.  He’s oddly more comfortable walking in the dark than he is in the daylight, because he’s literally afraid of his own shadow.

We finish the program with no fanfare: just a quiet, final training session and some words of encouragement about what’s next.  These are our hard facts:  Zozo’s never going to be an off-leash walker.  He’s always going to be uncomfortable around strangers, especially men. When he can take his social cues from other dogs, his anxiety levels lessen.  The world is big and bright and too noisy for him sometimes, and that’s scary.

But the best news is he’s got us, and we’re not going to let him down.

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