Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gone to the Dogs

This little lady is Ava, and she's the newest addition to my household. She's cute. She's good company. She's also a good challenge--at least, that's what I am telling myself.

Don't misunderstand me--Ava is a good little dog. She has a sweet disposition and she loves nothing better than cuddles and snuggling up next to me. It's just that she has a few unacceptable habits of which I'm trying to break her:

1. Alerting on everything. I keep reminding myself that she's only been with me for two days, so she's still not used to her surroundings. Every noise she hears outside causes her little ears to prick and her to growl, make a little gruff, or sometimes a bark. I've been working on this with her, and slowly, but surely, we're making progress. My method is to grab her snout and say, "SHHH!" and then praise her and give her treats when she's quiet. She's pretty receptive to this, although we've still got a ways to go. I also think some of it may be her testing my authority and seeing how much she can get away with. Just a few minutes ago, she made a little bark, with no provocation, and then looked at me as if to say, "Your move, counselor."

2. Socialization. She's not socialized. At least, not a lot, and this is evidenced by her being scared of other dogs when we encounter them on our walks, or other people. I've only had her for two days, but I can tell I've got my work cut out for me on this one. I felt like we took one step forward yesterday and two steps back today. My method to get her socialized is full immersion--walks around the block where she's bound to run into other animals or dogs, taking her on errands with me when I can, and tomorrow we're going to the Davis Island dog park after work, weather pending. Yesterday she did so well--didn't bark at anybody on our walks, and on our errand to Petsmart she was quiet once I got her in the cart and started walking around. I could tell she was a bit overwhelmed and scared, as it was a sensory overload, and she was shaking (which broke my heart), but she seemed to relax the more I petted her and told her she was being a good girl. And she let the Petsmart clerk pet her without any protest. When we got ready to go on our walk after work today, though, she barked bloody murder at a guy who was coming up the stairs as we were going down. The grabbing her snout trick and going "SHHHH!" didn't work--at all. I think the guy took me closing her snout as me trying to stop her from biting him, which wasn't the case at all, and he eventually walked to his apartment via an alternate route.

Later on our walk, we ran into a guy named Jeremiah who had two dogs, and this experience went a bit better. I could tell Ava was scared, but she didn't bark, and allowed the dogs to sniff her and she sniffed them back, even though a couple of times she tried to run away from them (didn't get very far, though, since she was on the leash). She did allow Jeremiah to pet her, and I explained that I just got her and we were working on socialization. He said she was a good dog, and said that the dog park was a good place to take her as well. After Jeremiah, we ran into an old guy who was walking his dog, Samson. I honestly couldn't tell whether Ava was scared or was trying to play with Samson (who was also a little dog--littler than Ava, in fact). I do know that she ran around the old man's legs, which had me frantically following her, trying to untangle the leashes. The old man was nice, but he and Samson did walk on the opposite side of the sidewalk after the leash untangling bit.

3. Separation anxiety. She barks for a minute or two after I leave, then settles and is quiet. It's not a huge problem, but out of all her traits, this is the one that bothers me the most, mainly because I don't want to annoy my neighbors. Yesterday when I was heading out the door, my next door neighbor, The Screamer, (look for a post on him later) came out and complained about her barking. I was nice and explained that I had just gotten her and that I was working on breaking her of her habit, but he just mumbled something about "if she carries on..." and walked back inside his apartment. Everybody I've talked to all have said the same thing: I shouldn't stress, her barking for a few minutes after I immediately leave isn't a big deal, and she's not doing it during inappropriate hours, like late at night. And it's a pet-friendly apartment, he knew that when he moved in, so he should expect to hear a dog bark once in awhile. I know they're right, and that's what I keep telling myself as we work on training, but it still makes me paranoid as all get-out. I freak myself out by imagining worst-case scenarios, like The Screamer rallying all his other friends I never knew he had in the complex and then the whole angry mob comes pounding on my door, demanding I get rid of my dog. Not unlike that scene in Beauty and the Beast where the mob demands to "kill the beast."

I know this one will take some time and I need to be patient, but I have started taking steps to get her more comfortable with me leaving, like putting her in her crate for a few minutes when I'm home and giving her treats through the bars so she'll begin to associate her crate with treats and not always with me leaving. Today after our walk we spent a few minutes going over my "getting ready to leave" routine up until putting her Kong toy in her crate, so she can begin to get used to it. Tomorrow after the dog park will be more of the same. Right now I'm listening to the CDs I play for her when I'm not home so she can get used to the music and not associate music with me leaving. As mentioned before, I bought her a Kong toy (recommended to me by all my other pet parent friends) which I stuff with peanut butter and freeze and give to her so she'll have something to work on while I'm not home. I also give it to her when I am home so she can figure it out, play with it and enjoy it so that when I do put it in her crate, hopefully she'll think "Kong time!" instead of, "Oh, no, she's leaving!" I've also tried to make leaving and coming home as low-key as possible, so she'll know they are not big events. It's a work in progress. We're only two days in; I know I have a long way to go.

4. Me. This one isn't one of her habits, but it does affect how she acts, I think. Quite simply, I need to chill out--big time. The process of training her has been a bit overwhelming, and I don't even have the extra stress of crate- and house-training her. Since I brought her home Sunday night, I have been in tears at some point every day from sheer panic, and my sister and several very understanding pet owner friends have been on the other end of my tear-filled neurotic venting. I know I need to stop worrying about my neighbors, stop getting overwhelmed and emotional and just focus on enjoying Ava and training her, but it's easier said than done. At one point today, I was sure I wasn't able to handle it, but luckily I had enough foresight to talk to my sister and my friend Taylor who talked me down from the ledge. I also understand that this is a transition period for Ava, too, and try to keep that in mind. She's probably had to make a bigger transition than me, considering that two days ago she was uprooted from everything she knew (my sister and her apartment) and forced into new surroundings. I know things will get better once we get used to each other and develop a routine, and I'm pretty sure I can probably smooth the entire process a little if I can just get it together, take the bull by the horns and focus on training her. This is a challenge, and I'm trying to look at it as a good one. In the end, I will have the patience of a saint, and Ava will be the best dog she can be.


  1. This is great SVB. Ava is doing wonderful and so are you! Can I make one more recommendation? Get a bottle of Tylenol PM and get a really good nights sleep. You are never as stressed and anxious after good sleep!

  2. I got a little more sleep last night--Ava only started growling and gruffing (but didn't bark) about three times, during which I woke up, told her to "shhh" and she settled back down. And the reason she alerted was because people were coming home late. But the good thing is I am getting used to sleeping with her now so I don't have a problem falling asleep any more.

  3. This is awesome. I'm so glad you've decided to become a dog owner. It suits you so well. Things will look up soon. It's hard to adjust to adding a new roommate. On another note, dogs make excellent dude-magnets. ;)