Stubbornness, a family trait

July 2011

Apparently, after three months of puppy bliss, MJ has decided two things:

1. She will not walk on leash beyond the end of the driveway.

2. We’re not allowed to touch her feet.


The foot thing we can deal with easily: a quick swipe of a towel disguised as belly rubs when she comes indoors from a damp walk.


For nail trims, we hustle her over to the vet, where it takes three techs plus Mom and/or Dad to hold her down, where she struggles until she pukes. It’s more traumatic for us, though, because she’s wagging her tail and trying to give kisses the entire time. At least, that’s what the professionals tell us.

The walking thing is an entirely other matter. We ply her with her cheese. We speak to her excitedly. We’re fun. We’re silly. She peers at us with pity. She knows exactly what we’re up to, and she’s not having it. Zozo, on the other paw, is psyched and ready for action.

Unlike Zo, MJ didn’t arrive to us with anxiety about the world. Nothing phases her. And also unlike Zo, there was never an incident we could blame for her decision to dig in and pull back. One day, she just won’t budge. We trot happily through the gate, past the cars, down the driveway. The moment we veer left, she plops her rump down. We try going right, and she’s all, “what did I just say?”

Our furbaby cannot opt-out of walking on leash. We keep trying, switching up handlers and times of day and high value treats. She hunkers down at the edge of the driveway. “Your move, humans.”

We had definitely been considering sending the Miss to Olde Towne School for Dogs (OTSD), like we did with Zozo when his nerves got the better of him. I call and request an evaluation for MJ with our previous Trainer, Tim. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how that went. OTSD was a huge part of our lives with Zo, and we are thrilled that they LOVE all breeds and are able to fit us in pretty much right away.

We are referred to Kathleen, who turns out to be exactly what MJ needs. Kathleen allows MJ to be her goofy, adorable self, but she won’t take any of her crap. We tried to be stern, but really… sometimes you just have to call in a professional. She’s firm and fair and generous with liver treats and belly pats. She toughens up our little love bug. Kathleen also happens to be a pretty cool chick.

Thus begins the daily shuttling of the puppy to and from school. Our evenings are filled with homework and exhausted, snore-filled naps (not necessarily from the puppy).


MJ is whip-smart. She struggles with sitting “like a dog” instead of lounging like a queen on a settee. She’ll down-stay, but she’d rather lean the back of her head against your knee so you can scratch under her chin. It turns out that she’s super-suspicious of large, potted plants. Random.

She and Zozo learn how to walk on leash beside one another and, if MJ’s on the outside, Doodle can walk for miles without freaking out at the noises and distractions of city life. That’s a huge improvement for him. If Zo gets ahead of her, MJ will pull and strain to catch up with him; we’re working on that.

But the best news is that we can get beyond the driveway and out into the neighborhood again. Two dogs. Two leashes. Combined, they outweigh me. Maybe we won’t run into any small woodland creatures.

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.”




“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.



The Status is Quo

February 2009-December 2009

Now that we’ve completed our three weeks of formal training, the informal portion begins: business-as-usual.  We’re reinforcing the lessons we took away from our time with Olde Towne School for Dogs, and we’re getting better at reading Zo’s cues before he melts down.

We’re not always successful, though.  The following are a couple of examples of our continued failures:

  • We throw a party, and people trickle in starting around 7.  The music’s not loud, the dishwasher isn’t on, and the attendees are a group of people whom Zo has met and loved.  He enjoys the people-food that our guests “sneak” to him, and he’s a champ at making rounds and licking up the crumbs until about 9pm, when something sets him off and he runs down the hallway to our bedroom.  He wedges himself under our bed.  If people want to say hi or bye to him, they have to squat down and peer under the bed.  Many of our guests do this.  He remains there until the last person leaves and the serving-ware is dried.  He’s reluctant to venture down the hall when it’s time for a potty break before bed.  He slinks outside, tail tucked and shoulders lowered, does his business in record time and then bolts back inside.  By the time we’re ready for bed, he’s calmed down enough to hang out on his cot, but his wide eyes and panting let us know that it’s going to be a long, restless and jumpy night for everyone.19777_1337730476256_4112101_n
  • It’s finally occurred to us that we should light up the fireplace in the basement of our rental house.  It’s chilly outside and the air smells like cotton, pine needles and cloves.  A perfect night for pulling up a chair (or rearranging the furniture so the couch is in warming distance to the mantle) to the fire.  I’m upstairs in the kitchen making hot cocoa in a pan, and I’m just about to the add the Bailey’s when Zo comes flying up the stairs, almost not making it around the corner into the hallway and back to his under-the-bed hiding place.  James isn’t too far behind in ascent.  He lit the fireplace, and Zozo got spooked and bolted.  The heat, the smell, the sound– we don’t know.  So, we push the couch back into its carpet-divots, break out a heavy blanket and enjoy our beverages and books sans flame.
  • Zozo has met my father-in-law more times that I can count.  They have spent a lot of time outside with a tennis ball.  And yet every other time he comes over, Zozo submission pees as a greeting and crouches into his crate.  Maybe Zo’ll grow out of it; maybe he won’t.  But I do know we’re buying stock in paper towels and Clorox wipes in case he doesn’t.

On the flipside, some wonderful things happen that make us forget these instances of “what have we done?”  There are absolute moments of joy.

  • We take a vacation and Zo and Athena can’t join us.  Off to camp they go!  “Camp” is my mom’s house. She has a cat of her own, Asparagus (or Gus, for short), who gets along tolerably well with Athena, and Gus doesn’t seem to mind Zo too much, either.  The cats divvy up the sunspots and nap away the week, and Zo hangs out with my mom.  They go on daily walks around the neighborhood, and he gets the hang of someone else taking him on-leash.  New smells, new human friends.  A fenced backyard inhabited by a family of bunnies.  He’s in heaven, as our daily reports… report.  In fact, we’re emailed photo-evidence that he’s having a good time.0     2
  • SNOW.  This dog is meant for cold weather, and for a hot minute we consider moving west to Colorado, he’s SO happy in the snow.  The dream melts away when I remember how much I loathe the cold.  This snow is just a dusting, but we spend hours outside playing, wrestling and chucking a tennis ball. Sure, we have to blow-dry the ice pellets out of his fur when we come inside, but the silliness is worth it.  In fact, Zozo perfects running into the back of my legs to make me fall over in the snow, just so he can lick my cheeks.  Gross? yes.  Hilarious when it’s happening, though.

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  • We take ourselves and Zo out for adventures.  We find local dog parks, Yappy Hours, brunch places that allow dogs on the patio.  We make play dates with friends and their furbabies.  Zozo is great with a rawhide bone under a cafe table.  He’ll sit by a park bench and sniff around and nap while we have coffee with friends.  He’ll run at the park until we force him to take a break.  He loves the ladies- who seem to love him- and he’ll tolerate male strangers if they have a friendly dog of their own.  We’re getting exercise and socialized.  We’re all coming out of our introverted shells.222882_1049956682091_8851_n


If this is what having a dog is all about (the goofy personality, the playing, the snuggling, the little kisses on my nose or feet, the daily success at conquering his inner boogeyman), it was more than worth the effort.

Trainer Tim

I generally shy away from jumping around in chronology in this blog, preferring instead to weave the story of our rescue and early life with Zo as I remember it and as it was chronicled in my emails, conversations and pictures with friends and family.

Today I’m going to break my rule to talk about Trainer Tim.

Tim was the instructor we happened to be assigned to when we took Zozo for a training consultation with Olde Towne School for Dogs (OTSD).  Tall with a very slight Ichabod Crane hunch, Tim had mid-length curly hair that whisped out from under his beanie and a slight under-bite. He favored fleece and fingerless gloves against the damp DC winter.  Zozo took an instant liking to him, and not just because he smelled like liver treats and wool.  There was something very gentle, calm and deliberate in the way he spoke to us, interacted with the pup and moved about the shop.  If I had to pick someone to train Zo, I probably would have picked Tim.  He kind of looked a little like a rescue pup himself.

During the three weeks Zozo spent working with Tim at OTSD, I’m pretty sure our dog fell in love with him.  I know James and I did.  We brought him a dog afraid of the outside world, and Tim outsmarted the boogeyman and returned to us a dog a little more confident and a little less “let’s hide under the bed” every day.  During our family training sessions with him, he quickly read how to deal with us as a couple and individuals, which allowed us to shine.  That immediate understanding of people is an incredibly rare gift, but that’s one of the things that made Tim an absolute delight.  We also learned that Tim could zing the wryest observation, which constantly caught me off guard and left me giggling like a muppet.  I would absolutely recommend Tim to anyone looking for a dog trainer.

After we rescued our second dog in 2011 (who you haven’t met yet, but she’s coming), we wanted her to have the same foundational training as Zozo.  It would afford us a common vocabulary and allow Zo to help train his fur-sister and be the good big brother we know he is.  I called over to OTSD to inquire after their new tuition rates (because rates always go up) and to check Tim’s schedule.  I was put on hold until the phone was retrieved by one of the school’s owners.  They’re looking forward to having our family back, but she had some terrible news: Tim had passed away several months before.  It was quite sudden.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask for details.  I wept into the phone.  I apologized for not knowing (how could I know?).  I kept saying, “He gave us back our dog.” I said it twice, and I’m sure it made no sense to the poor woman on the other end of the phone.  I pulled myself together enough to make arrangements for the new puppy’s training.  I called James and shared the news.  The rest of that day is hazy.

It may be dramatic, but I really do believe that Tim saved our dog.  We were approaching wits-end when we brought Zo in for a consultation.  We don’t have a lot of money, and behaviorists and daily medications for the rest of his life may have been outside the realm of our capabilities.  We had been doing the best we could, but it wasn’t working.  Without Tim, I don’t know what might have happened to our little family dynamic.  I don’t even want to “magic if” that.

I’m sad that we hadn’t made a better effort to remain in touch with Tim after our time at school ended.  For one month in 2009 he was an essential member of our family, but his legacy is with us every day.  On leash, calling cues in the house or calming Zo when it’s neighborhood-noisy, I hear, “gentle, but let him know you’re alpha” in my ear.  I wish he could see how far Doodle has come during these last few years.  I’m curious what he’d offer—what tiny adjustment—that may take Zo three steps closer toward calm.

Thank you for giving us back our dog.

“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.


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.