Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Dog with the Dual Personality

Jackson, six months old

I've owned cats since I was six years old.  My first kitten, with the witty name of "Middy" (who lets a six year old name the pet?), came after long periods of begging and a failed try with a combination Great Dane/Black Lab named Rasputin who liked to eat rugs and furniture and pick my two year old brother up by the sweatshirt hood and shake him back and forth.  I think after the dog totally exhausted my parents, they probably figured a cat was a better investment.  Much less work and much less people intensive.  Rasputin ended up on a farm (no, really, he did go to a farm), where he was then later killed by a moving vehicle.  I always pictured him happily chasing rabbits and carrying large chunks of wood around in his huge mouth, much like he used to pilfer from our woodpile from our backyard in Minnesota.

I've stuck with cats most of my adult life, although I always thought that to be "complete" as a family, we needed a dog.  We've made several forays into dog ownership before Jackson (the golden retriever we now call our newest family member).  There was the beagle named Sophie we had for three days when I got it into my head that we really did need a dog and went to the shelter and found this rather forlorn looking animal.  Then I brought her home and realized that dogs actually need love and attention.  As I was not in much of a mental position to provide that to my own children at the time, back to the shelter she went.  I called later and was told she was placed with a good family.  There was Holly, a rambunctious, energetic, totally spastic border collie who liked to leap over the sectional sofa to sit on Justin's lap.  I'm pretty sure she lasted about three weeks before I just couldn't take it anymore.  You need a certain amount of energy to own a border collie and I don't have it.  And then there was Kelsey, the greyhound rescue who came to us mostly housebroken, but fearful, a neurotic mess that became more so with her entrance into a house with three (loud) young children and a mom who had no idea what to do with a dog.  The more I walked her, the more she peed in the living room.  I finally gave up and found a nice couple with no children to take her.  I found out later they loved her so much, they adopted another greyhound.  Everybody has their breed.

So, this past year, when I was thinking again that we needed to get a dog (for the kids, of course), I started researching what breeds might be compatible to our family and settled on the quintessential family dog - the golden retriever.  The book that Justin got me for Christmas about goldens sums up the breed nicely with a description of personality traits as:

...outgoing, friendly, playful and even tempered; they get along with pretty much everyone.  These friendly dogs are great with children of all ages.  Exercise is key to keeping this dog happy, healthy and out of trouble.  These dogs are very easily trained.  They excel in obedience work, as a guide dog and in activities such as hunting, search and rescue, and assistance work.

Which is about what I had gleaned from my internet research.  In fact, I had discovered that the training facility that is working with dogs for children with autism is using exclusively golden retrievers and labs as their assistance dogs.  I wasn't too keen on the idea of labs, having read Marley and Me, and decided that a golden was just the thing.  I had a fenced in yard and a nest that was becoming somewhat empty.  I needed something else furry in the house.

I found the dog through, of all things, Facebook.  Someone I knew had a Facebook "friend" who was trying to sell their golden retriever puppy.  The description said that they had gotten the puppy a week earlier and then promptly discovered that their son was allergic (are any alarm bells going off in your head?), so they would unfortunately have to find him a new home.  I had, not five minutes earlier, been looking at a golden retriever breeder's site for puppies and could not believe the luck of finding a nine week old puppy, locally, pure bred, golden retriever for sale and for sale right away.

I forwarded the link to Justin, we went, we looked, we fell in love with this nine week old ball of fluff, and we brought him home.  At the time, he weighed all of fourteen pounds and I, not being a "dog" person, had absolutely no idea (even after my research) that goldens are actually considered in the large breed category.

We are, five months later, now the owners of an approximately 70 pound garbage disposal who has a split personality.  I mean, this dog has issues.  I have been baffled at the difference between the descriptions I had read online about this gentle, made for human, breed of dog and the dog that is now panting on the floor behind me.  I started to suspect that the previous dog's owner's son was not allergic at all.  What I suspect happened is that she got him home and discovered that even at the ten pounds he weighed in at when they got him, he was simply too much for her to handle.  When we visited, we were regaled with tales of the walks they had taken and how much he loved other dogs and people and how friendly he was.  False advertising, my friends.

What this dog is, in actuality, is a neurotic lovable mess.  We endured the puppy teething we had been warned about by the vet and even brought a personal trainer to the house to teach me how to deal with bad behaviors.  We were encouraged to begin "crate training," which we had been trying to do with little success.  What I finally realized was that Jack actually hates his crate.  It's a phobia.

As the dog grew, I knew that continuous training was needed.  Justin, being the tolerant dog person that he is, assumed many of the chores that go along with raising a puppy, including walking the dog.  When I would try to walk him, he would pull so hard at the leash that it would raise welts on my hands.  Then there came the day when he pulled me down the snowy yard, trying feverishly to get to our next door neighbors, and I slipped and fell on the ice.  Hard.  I realized that I could no longer walk this animal by myself safely.

It's lucky for Jack that I fell in love with him and that he's still cute, because I swear this dog has multiple personality disorder.  He is one dog in the house and a completely different dog the minute we step out that front door.  I was lucky enough to discover a harness at Petco and got the large breed size.  That helped immensely with my being able to walk him without him pulling me down the sidewalk, but he has now begun a whole new reign of terror. 

Being a dog, he believes that everything he sees is edible.  Trash.  Pine Cones.  The "leavings" of other dogs.  (Ewww.)  His latest thing is to pick up something I know won't be good for his intestines and, when I pry it out of his mouth, he turns, jumps on me, and grabs my arm between his now quite massive jaws.  Not hard enough to hurt me and obviously not meaning to be malicious.  He's trying to determine who's boss in this relationship.  But this is a dog that weighs at least 70 pounds now and I'm not a very large woman.  I feel lucky that it is winter and there is a coat sleeve between me and this dog's teeth.  After being jumped several times on our last couple of walks, I was finally convinced that I either needed to figure out a way to train this dog or stop walking him.  The harness was helping, but it wasn't enough to keep him from overpowering me in a revenge move for taking away a piece of plastic that would bind his intestines, requiring the need for surgery.  I now walk him with leash in one hand and a treat in the other on the off chance that we see, oh, a bird, a person, God forbid, another dog.  Then all bets are off.

This dog has major psychological issues.  He's freaked out by everything.  We have gotten lucky in that he is no longer chewing or destroying anything in the house and we can safely leave him out all night without worrying about coming down to a scene from Turner and Hooch, but if he sees any movement outside or hears any noise (a dog barking, fireworks, thunder), he will bark feverishly and loudly enough to wake the neighbors down the street.  From inside.  New Year's Eve was a nightmare.  The fireworks started in the neighborhood around 11:30 and continued for about an hour.  The dog was so freaked out, he was shaking as he barked frantically at each explosion.  I actually felt bad for him, when I realized that he wasn't doing it to irritate me.  He really was upset by the noise.

What we have, I believe, is the Sybil or Eve of golden retrievers.  On the one hand, he is smart and trainable and lovable.  He has learned sit, wait, down, treat, water, go lay down.  I've taught him to fetch (do you actually teach a golden to fetch or is it ingrained in his blood?) and to go find the toy.  I should put a sign around his neck saying "will work for food."  On the other hand, there is the dog that freaks out at the slightest movement outside of the house, lunges for the people and animals he encounters on our walks, and barks frantically at the birds in the backyard and the garbage bag that got caught in the upper limbs of our maple tree in the last wind storm.  When the Christmas tree came down, I had Justin make a run to Lowe's to replace the dining room curtains Jack had torn so that he would not be able to see out that window at night and freak out if something moved.  Yesterday, one of the cats was behind the curtains and it was as if Jack didn't know who Max was.  He ran back and forth on the dog side of the baby gate we put up, barking frantically at the movement of the curtains.

I placed a call to our vet on Monday morning, a very kind woman who has been coaching me through this experience, and she expressed what I already knew.  Our dog needs doggie prozac.  He's a dog with an anxiety disorder or a personality disorder or some kind of mental disorder.  I finally went back to the AKC papers today that came in the folder the previous owner gave us with the dog and discovered, much to my horror, that his father and mother were actually brother and sister.  Are you freaking kidding me????  That's illegal for humans.  Why would you do it with dogs?  If I could get my hands on whoever bred this dog, I would slap her.  There's no listing anywhere online for her, no phone number, no address.  I should have been a little more thorough in checking his pedigree while we were busy falling in love with the ball of fluff, because he's now our dog and I could in no way break the kids' hearts by turning him over to a rescue or even a shelter that might euthanize him.  The thought is too much for me to take.

So, for now, we are training, training, training, and waiting for the vet to arrive with a prescription that will hopefully assist Jack with his anxiety, phobia riddled brain, bringing him somewhat back to what could be described as a "normal" puppy.  Oh...and it's definitely time that this dog got fixed.  I hear that helps too.

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