Have you ever had a dog that you loved, but didn’t like? If you have, you’re not alone. Last week I asked readers what was on their mind and what they’d like to talk about. In response, loyal reader HFR wrote “Having a dog you love but not like.” That comment opened a flood gate of similar comments from people in the same situation.
It’s not something that we talk about often, is it? When it came up, I suspect it was a relief to many dog lovers. But truth be told, surely it’s impossible to be in love, and like, with every dog we have ever had. I wonder, though, if we all have the assumption that if we were good people, we would love or like all of our dogs equally. And if we don’t feel that way, we need to keep it quiet..
But we don’t have to. I will tell you right now that I don’t have the depth of feeling for Tootsie that I do for Maggie and Skip. There. I said it. I also love Tootsie very much, and feel fiercely protective of her after her seven years pumping out babies in puppy mill hell.
She is also exhausting us. She is at least sixteen now (beyond ancient for a Cavalier), deaf, going blind, and has lost all vestiges of house training. She needs to be taken outside often, where she’ll wander around in the yard for a long time and then trot into the garage and poop on the welcome mat. She is always underfoot now, and if we’re not always on alert we trip on her–and then feel horribly guilty. She barks like a elephant seal when she smells food or senses me leaving the room. She wails like an abandoned orphan when I’m preparing her dinner.
And yet, she has moments of what looks like ecstatic joy, when she runs around like some tiny, cocaine-infused Dumbo, with her ears flapping and her mouth open wide in a comical grin. This is always related to the anticipation of food, whether it be the Greenie she gets when we leave the house, or the potential of finding cat poop in the garden. But it’s so damn cute that I dare you not to break out laughing when you see it. Sometimes in the evening she lies in the crook of my arm while I stroke her belly. She closes her eyes and relaxes completely, and so do I.
But even when she was younger and healthy, I have always felt less connected to her. There’s a part of Tootsie–sweet, docile, baby-faced Tootsie–that is shut down. It’s not her breed–the other Cavalier that we considered adopting had a fire in her eye that melted my heart. But that one had serious health problems and I’d just spent the last two years of my life dealing with one critically ill dog after another. I was spent, physically, emotionally and financially. So we adopted Tootsie, who doesn’t have an aggressive bone in her body, and is sweet and cuddly and adorable as it is possible for a dog to be. But that “soul mate” connection, the one that I have with Maggie, and developed in five minutes with Skip? It was never there.
And, of course, there was Willie, the dog I write about in The Education of Will, whose behavioral problems set off many of my own, and who made my life hellish for several years. But connected? Oh my yes, if anything, Willie and I were too connected at one point, sharing each other’s demons and fears until I was able to break us out of them. I loved Willie as much as I could love any dog, ever, but there were times that I didn’t always like him.
Love, but not like? Like, but not love? Surely that’s a common place we find ourselves in. And most probably, it’s not either/or. We deeply love one dog, but don’t like them when they are growling at other dogs. We very much like another dog, but don’t feel that deep-seated love we talk about when our eyes get starry when we talk about “my forever dog.”
What do we do with all these complicated feelings, in a world where there seems to be increasing pressure to give our lives and our hearts over to every dog who has come our way? I don’t know “the answer.” I don’t know that there are any, but here are some thoughts that might be helpful.
First, speak your truth, at least to yourself. Acknowledge how you are feeling about any one dog at any particular time. It does not make you a bad person to be angry that Dog X has made your life difficult and less fun than it was. As long as you don’t take it out on the dog, it’s liberating to give yourself permission to say “I love Chipper, but I don’t like him right now.” Of course, it helps greatly to distinguish between the dog and the behavior, as in “I love Chipper but I hate his behavior to other dogs.”
Sort out your feelings. If I’ve learned anything from meditation and counseling, it’s the importance of examining one’s emotions.What is behind your feelings toward your dog? Am you frustrated? Scared you can’t fix it? Angry that your life with this dog isn’t what you wanted? Your feelings are your feelings, and the more you can fine tune your understanding of them, the easier they are to deal with. I remember the burden of guilt that left me when Drift, my first Border Collie, was dying. He had become impossible to live with in his old age, and I spent some horrible nights feeling guilty that I wanted him to die. It felt like a betrayal of my love for him, which had been immense. But then I realized that my feelings had nothing to do with how much I loved him. I loved him deeply. But, separate from that, it had become a nightmare living with him. My love for Drift was separate from my need to have a life that wasn’t a full-blown nightmare. That realization made my last days with him full of love and compassion, rather than fear and guilt.
Ask yourself what you can do about what’s going on. What can you help? What can you work on? What can you give up, accept? Be realistic. Some people can rearrange their lives around a dog with a lot of behavior problems. Some can’t. Often, we can at one phase in our lives, but not another. Ask yourself how long the issue might last? How realistic is it that things will change and get better? How realistic is it that you can say hello to anger, frustration or fear, and live comfortably with them? Right now Jim and I have fully accepted that this is our life with Tootsie, but I know that we are lucky, given what so many dog owners are dealing with right now. I too know what it is like to be not just exhausted by your dog, but fearful something horrible will happen because of your dog’s behavior, (perhaps again), burdened by constant monitoring, training, analyzing what to do next, or just plain disappointed that X dog isn’t who you thought she’d be, and wishing that she was Y.
Find the humor. Jim and I laugh a lot about Toots. When Toots goes from standing blank-eyed on shaky legs to full-out puppy zoomies, usually after a whiff of cat poop in the garden, we chant: “And, she’s off !” Several times I’ve thought, after a couple of days in which Tootsie has had trouble standing up, “Is it Tootsie’s time now?” And then she takes off running and flipping around in circles through the house while Jim and I bend over laughing. It’s easy to laugh around Tootsie, and I realize it would be much harder around other dogs. But you CAN add humor into any situation. Use silly terms to describe something your dog does that is driving you crazy. Become your own stand up comedian, no matter what’s going on. And if you can’t laugh about your own situation, watch as many comedies as you can–laughter really is good medicine.
What are you doing for you? Speaking of medicine, what are you doing for you? This isn’t necessarily relevant if you’re mildly disappointed because your dog isn’t the dog you thought he’d be. But it could be critical if you have a dog with serious behavior problems that are truly stressful. I had hundreds of clients (thousands?) whose lives were seriously compromised by their dogs. Perhaps they hadn’t had a vacation in years, or they no longer had visitors to their home. Some couples were on the verge of divorce over the dog, others owners were simply tired and depressed. Life is hard enough anyway in normal times, and things are so far away from normal right now it’s hard to know how to categorize them. Nobody knows what you need better than you, so dig deep and see what you can do, realistically, to take care of yourself.
Reach out. It helps to talk about it to others, but choose the ones you trust to have your back. I have a dear friend who also has a dog with a raft of health problems that is making her life especially difficult, and we don’t hesitate to say things to each other that we’d never say to others, because we know how deeply we love and care for our dogs. (See Brenee Brown for a list of of who not to talk to.) If you haven’t yet, reach out to a professional. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who told me that just talking was a huge relief, even in just a phone consultation. If you need perspective from someone who deals with dog behavior for a living, try the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Veterinary Behaviorist. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t but it’s worth a try.
One thing you can do is join this conversation. We’ve already had a raft of insightful comments in response to HFRs comment, from people who identified closely with having a dog that you love, but don’t like. (I love the comment about a dog you “wouldn’t want to be friends with if it was a human.”) What about you? Do you have a dog that isn’t the dog you wanted? Or that you dearly love, but don’t like? What about like, but don’t love, at least not as much as you want to?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Please, sir may I have some more? (Thunder treats, that is.) You gotta love it when it finally thunders during the day rather than at dark thirty in the morning so that it’s easy and fun to counter condition thunder. Skip thought it was the best game ever and is looking forward to the next storm. Maybe? I hope? Could be . . . We’ll see. (Tootsie can’t hear thunder any more, but she thought this was a great game too.)
As I write this it is hot and humid, lousy weather for me and the BCs. But there have been several gloriously perfect days, weather-wise, last week. We have savored every minute of them. I love this set of hills decorated with various shades of green.
What says summer better than fresh strawberries! We picked a huge flat of berries at Bure’s Berry Patch Saturday morning.
Of course, Strawberry shortcake for desert that night, what else?
You know, I love my dog, and fortunately I like her. But to be honest she is my first dog as and older woman, a pitty who I was told was a boxer/collie mix, highest weight 63 pounds, told max weight of 40 pounds, who had a ruptured ccl and torn patella, that was fixed, nixing the new deck that year. She is my best friend! But honestly I had no idea what I was doing, I can still recall thinking “what do I do with this dog”? when I first got her. Our relationship was built over time, training for both of us, diligence, a commitment from me to walk her every day unless temperatures less than 5 degrees, and following through with all that. She has her CGC, continues to not be trusted if a squirrel rears it tail or head, is loved by all my neighbors, most who are elderly, and failed pet therapy certification for too much exuberance. She is 8 and I have had her since approximately 6 months old (she had adult teeth when I rescued her). But last year after carrying her into the car for our entire life together I was no longer able to do this and maintain my back health, and I still am a full time worker and self supporting. I looked up a trainer, had her come out, paid her for her time, and allowed her to teach me how to work with my dog! Does she now jump in the car..NO..but I can prod her back end a bit (gently) and coral her to the back seat where she will finally jump in. Progress not perfection. I will add I am in a condo over 55 age bracket (70 if your a day, ha) and this training was a spectator sport for my neighbors; consequently my dog was applauded when she finally got in the car and was verbally stroked by many neighbors who yelled “good dog” and “I knew she could do it”. My dog is loved by all! But it took time and work! Love your blog and books, I have learned so much from both and have referred my sister to your website for her new puppy! Thank you!
Wonderfully written as always. I just love the photos of Tootsie. My youngest BC now 3 has been challenging to say the least, but we have learnt so much together. He has been the hardest dog I have had in my 30 years of dogs. I think seeing the humour in some of the really annoying things they do is so true. But I will not give up on training him to see the world in a more optimistic light, and to like the car!! And my dear old boy is 14 and wobbly and as you say about Tootsie will have the funniest puppyish moments I just want to treasure every one. Thanks for your wonderful writing and wisdom!!
I have had 3 Brittany’s all who have been supreme examples of what that breed can be sweet as sugar with people , polite with other dogs and crazy about all things hunting.. The first who I lost 2 years ago was my soulmate who looked at me when I visited when he was 4 months like where have you been all my life … This dog was never more that a foot away from me unless there was a bird around. My current Britt was the breeders fav but had had her 2 litters and it was time to retired the breeder cried but she cuddled in my lap for the hour drive home and that was that.. The third was a little Britt who happily greeted me as she happily greeted everyone else in her life.. and loved every stranger like she loved me.. I often wonder in a multidog household if the dogs know there is a favourite and somehow the bonding isn’t as strong with the other dog
I remember when D’Artagnan first came to live with us how much I didn’t really feel connected to him I liked him; he wouldn’t have come to live with us otherwise; but I didn’t love him. Ranger and Finna were herders and being attuned to me is what they lived for plus they were both canine geniuses. I’ll confess it, Finna was so attuned to me that any passing moment of irritation with my husband, sometimes so brief I barely noticed it myself, and she’d march into the other room and tell him off. D’Artagnan could not have cared less about establishing a connection or tuning in to what I wanted. And in comparison to Ranger and Finna D’Artagnan didn’t seem particularly bright. So it felt like having a dumb dog that didn’t care about me; not something that was bringing me joy.
But, I like a challenge and I had a career path picked out for my amiable giant, he was going to be my new Therapy Dog and to do that he was going to have to learn to pay attention to me. So I needed to figure out what motivated him and in figuring out what made him tick I began to like him more; I can relate to an independent spirit who wants to do things because there’s something in it for him. And once he figured out that the fastest way to get to do what he wanted (leaving the yard for a walk for example) was to do what I wanted him to do (wait at the gate until released) and that interesting things happen when he pays attention to me most of which he likes we started building the connection. And in building that connection I discovered that he is a smart dog just not a genius. Instead of a Ranger that I had to be at the very top of my game to be smarter than, or a Finna that required me to be at the very tippy top of my game and stretching for a little more to be smarter than I’m now dealing with a dog that just requires me to be awake and aware and one day I realized that’s actually a relief. I can get up in the morning and be smarter than my dog, I haven’t had that before and I love it and I love him. I’d always liked him, he’s a good guy but that deeper connection took time to build. And two days ago he gave me something I’d given up hoping to see, walking on a long line in the woods he checked in without being prompted; he voluntarily checked to make sure we were still together. Wow!! Talk about heart swelling.
So that’s my story of liking but not loving and how the love grew.
Jean Blanchard says
Thank you. Beautifully said.
Thank you, Trisha. This is so helpful. I thought of Willie when I was writing my comment but after reading your book I know how bonded you were with him so I know it wasn’t quite the same. You are right that you don’t always get the dog you want and humor and acceptance can definitely help. Especially when they are older. My 16 year old dog had CCD and wasn’t able to sleep at night. She paced and whined all night. Talk about hostile feelings — and then the guilt!
You’re photos are gorgeous. You make me want to move to Wisconsin and live on a farm. 😀
Sara Bishop says
Thanks for this. I have struggled with this over the past few years. I love all of my dogs, I have four of them. How we got there is another story, I didn’t set out to have more than two but we had a couple fall into our laps.
I have a lab mix who I adore. She is a great dog in most ways. But she can get very needy and bratty when someone else is getting or wants attention. I struggle with her in those moments. She has improved in that over time, hopefully she has become more secure and knows that we love her even if we aren’t actively rubbing her belly.
The CKC that I spoke about last week has had a serious turn of events. We knew that she had a luxating patella, but when she began refusing to move and started screaming when we tried to pick her up, we knew that it was time to get professional help. Our vet hospitalized her for a day so they could sedate her and take x-rays. The patella issue was re-confirmed, and after examining her and taking the x-rays, the suspicion is that she has Syringomyelia, or maybe a herniated disk in/near her neck. An MRI would give us an accurate diagnosis, but how do we justify $3000-$4000 to have the test run, when we’re on a fixed income? After a week on gabapentin, she’s a different dog. (She is also on Prilosec/Omeprazole, which has shown progress in lessening the amount of spinal fluid, which helps with pain.) She hasn’t had an episode of screeching (followed by a refusal to move) since she was hospitalized. My Non-Professional opinion is that it is not SM, but rather a disk issue in her neck. Hubby and I are taking turns sleeping with her on the FLOOR, so that she doesn’t jump off the bed. (No jumping up or down for at least 2 weeks…1 more week to go!) But we’ll continue to monitor her. She is still the one whom I love, but sometimes don’t like…but what is it about the adage that says, “The favorite is the one who needs you the most at the time?”
You covered all the bases. I can relate deeply. My first dog was my soul mate, second was my good buddy, third was love at first sight, and now the fourth one is slowly growing into one I like being around. He’s a rescue and the agency wasn’t fully honest about his issues. Had I been smarter, I would’ve asked more questions but I was on the rebound after losing #3. After more than a year, with multiple trainers and a vet behaviorist, I have finally gotten to the point of acceptance. He’s never going to be the perfect dog like #3 was. I tried so hard for the first 6 months and totally stressed myself out. We’re fortunate to have a large yard where he can chase squirrels and bunnies and roll around in the grass. I miss going on dog walks but he doesn’t because he was so fearful and reactive. My heart goes out to everyone whose dog (or cat) isn’t who they had hoped they would be. It helps to remember what I use with difficult people in my life–we can’t change them, only how we react to them.
This is a beautiful truth that applies to more than our relationship with our dogs. It can be applied to other “difficult” (or not) times in our lives and other (human) relationships. Thank you!
Melody Solace says
Thank you SO much for this post!! I have tears in my eyes because of the understanding that others feel the way I do. I have had one “heart” dog in my life, and I still miss her 10 years after her passing. I currently have 6 dogs, and I have a different relationship and love for each. I guess I have felt guilty that the feeling isn’t as strong with them, but to know I’m not alone helps so much!
Dumb Dumb is my nickname for our one-year-old, not very intelligent springer spaniel, when he’s really aggravating me.
Thank YOU HFR for starting this conversation. It has meant a lot already to so many people, and all because of you. I’m more grateful than I can say. (And I don’t know where you live, but land in Wisconsin is inexpensive compared to many areas! I keep encouraging a few friends who live out east to come out . . . But it is rather nice that much of the Midwest is off the radar of many who live on the coasts!)
Sara, all of us who are occasionally needy and bratty are grateful for your forebearance.
Oh Nana911, what a lucky lucky Cav to have you. I’m so glad that the pain has diminished, all paws crossed that she continues to do well.
Linda: Oh those perfect dogs who make it harder for the next dog who comes around. The closest I’ve ever had to a perfect dog was Lassie, the daughter of another darn near perfect dog, Cool Hand Luke. Willie was out of the same line, but we know how little that can mean. I love your wisdom about changing our reactions–the only thing we really have control over. And good for you for accepting who #4 is, and dropping the dog walks that were so stressful. I get missing dog walks though, sorry they are not in your life right now.
Kathy: Ah yes, the truly difficult species! Us.
Meloday: I’m so glad that this helps. It’s crazy, if you think about it, that we’d blame ourselves for not being gobsmacked in love with every single dog we’ve ever had the way we are with a “heart dog.” So I’m hopeful that you can drop the guilt and start laughing at your silly, crazy pack of 6.
Judy: Dumb Dumb is a nickname that comes to mind when I walk into a room forgetting why I entered it in the first place. I would definitely answer to it if I heard it being called.
I feel bad that I always talk about Dylan as my most difficult dog ever. I just wanted to add I would’nt swop him for anyone and he is so sweet and loving, and as someone else says the love does grow, and I feel that with him more and more.
Thanks again, and also to HFR
I also think when our dogs aren’t what we wish they were, we start saying, “Why did I choose this dog? Why didn’t I see this coming? Other people must think I’m an idiot for choosing this dog!” and on and on. We start doubting ourselves and our abilities as trainers and guardians. OK…you get where I’m coming from. LOL! We have a young dog who we adore and makes us smile and laugh, but her behavior’s also brought me to tears. It helps to ask myself what’s me and what’s her. When I can do that, my patience with her grows immensely and I find my heart exploding with positive feelings about her. Thanks to all for sharing the reality of parenting. Just like with children, it’s not all birthday parties and balloons!
Love this DEP! It is not always about us!
The dirty secret that many people won’t admit to: my dog is a jerk, an aggressive jerk. There are times when the thought of rehoming him doesn’t bother me as much as it should.
I have three Spinoni Italiani, a breed known for being sweet, gentle, goofy, and family-friendly, Except one of them is hard to live with. He was always difficult to handle, mostly fear-based, but it’s gotten worse. He’s 5 years old now and I’m on full alert at all times because of his behavior with other dogs. He’s lunged at me as well, redirecting from a situation in which he’s highly aroused, and I don’t doubt he would bite at those times. I keep him separated from the others which is exhausting. I would love to remove the gates and the crates and let them mingle but no joy there.
I tried reaching out to other Spinone owners but they can’t or won’t relate to what I’m experiencing. It’s like they don’t want to admit that this breed can be aggressive. It’s a small Spinone world so I run the risk of being judged harshly if I continue to talk about it in those circles.
For what it’s worth, he’s an intact male. That in itself does not automatically mean he’ll be naturally aggressive. Most Spinoni owners leave their dogs intact. I want to have him neutered but:
1) It may not change his behavior,
2) He has demonstrated fear-aggression at the animal clinic on a couple of occasions and a surgery experience may exacerbate the problem,
3) Covid-19 protocols do not allow owners into the clinics with their dogs and I don’t feel comfortable with that situation even with a muzzle on him. I worry that the staff will mishandle him (not knowingly, but still).
I am currently working with a dog behaviorist but I’m either not describing the situation accurately or the behaviorist is not interested in studying the nuances and helping me understand it. She has a couple of theories/assessments but I don’t agree with her main assessment: he’s suffering from ‘first-born syndrome’ wherein he’s resentful of the presence of the other dogs. Nope, he was a jerk even when it was just him & me.
So here we are. Stuck in a dysfunctional relationship. I haven’t given up. I’m reading blogs (thank you so much for yours), books (thanks again, for your books), and trying new approaches – slowly, carefully, and watching for subtle changes in attitude. I’m mindful of my own behavior – less stress, more being in the moment – and finding ways to keep all three dogs engaged, trained, and content. I’m identifying stressors so I can remove/reduce as much as possible – thank gawd for heavy curtains at the front window – and I recently started my problem love child on anti-anxiety meds. Fingers crossed.
I don’t really have a moral of this story. But I’m reminded of that saying “Everything works out okay in the end. If it’s not okay then it’s not the end yet.” I’m looking forward to the day when I can look back on this period and think “Whew! That was an interesting time.”
Thanks for listening.
KC Wilson says
I have had dogs my entire life (I’m 65), sometimes singles and more often multiple dogs. Some were dogs we got for the kids…but you know who takes care of them mostly! I loved them all and they lived long and healthy lives. Then I got a JRT rescue, “Olive”. She was adorable and she was going to be my flyball and agility dog. It wasn’t love at first sight, our personalities didn’t gel (I’d always had very willing and easy to train dogs) and I felt guilty for not having a love connection with her. I came to realize I had two choices, find her a loving home or decide I was going to love her and keep her. I decided to love her, and we started to make better progress after that. It was a conscious decision I never regretted for the 9 years I had her in my life. Sadly, she got out last summer and ran after a deer and was hit by a car. I miss her every single day.
ah, you mean when you have a dog that you joke will live forever- just to spite you? and then when they are gone you miss their insanity? 😉
Charlotte Kasner says
So true, and acknowledging this may help us to see dogs for who they are rather what we think all dogs should be. I worry a lot about the expectations that owners pile upon their dogs. The puppy in his first days away from his litter who is pronounced to be a “therapy dog”, there to fix the human’s emotional problems just by existing, the substitute child or partner. Then there are the untrained dogs pronounced stupid or the opposite – dogs expected to think and feel like humans.
At the end of the day, we co-evolved and we develop alongside our dogs absorbing a bit of each other along the way – good, bad and ugly and of course, the sublime too.
Heidi Jankowski says
This was a wonderful article — yours usually are! I’ve had a couple of Cairn Terriers who I loved deeply but didn’t like. My recent one was a singleton puppy, who I fell deeply in love with. She has a bent tail, so as a breeder who shows my dogs in conformation, I had to make the decision to send her to a home. She went through two homes before she came back to me. Each incident ended with the potential owners in tears, and me as well. But she came back, and I still deeply, deeply love her. She is definitely a handful and very frustrating. Since she is my first singleton puppy, I don’t know if that is the singleton puppy syndrome speaking or just her personality. She has a prey drive and killing instinct for vermin that is awe inspiring. She got her Jr. Earth Dog title in just one weekend. But then there is her fascination with the neighbor’s chickens that is making me nearly insane — growling, and chewing the fence literally apart. I am worried that she is going to break all of her teeth off. She has to be locked out of that part of the yard when the chickens are roaming. She makes me laugh several times a day, but then there was the day I took her to agility practice and almost literally lost her in a huge blackberry bush. I dove and caught her by the back leg just as she was disappearing into the huge briar patch. That was both her first and last day of agility training at that instructor’s house. I was cut, bruised and bloody from the brambles, but I still had my little terrier, who was barking and growling and definitely wanted that bird that flew into the bushes. She attacks every garden tool — hoe, wheel barrow, shovel with outrage and a ferocity of a soul possessed. Again, I have to lock her away if I want to do any gardening or yard work. Sometimes, the only way I can get her into one area of the yard is by spraying the garden hose so that she can attack the water. And then at the end of the day when she hops into my lap and snuggles in so tightly that it would take a crowbar to dislodge her, my heart melts, and I say over and over to her, “I love you my little jumping bean. I love you so much.” My love for her almost hurts my heart.
Thank you Trish for this and to HFR for starting the topic. Last year I had five dogs and it was a great pack. A far away friend needed to rehome their dog due to health issues (theirs, not the dogs) and I agreed to take him. That dog arrived in the morning of the afternoon when my best old boy suddenly earned his wings. Eighteen months later and I still haven’t dealt with that loss (that followed so many others), compounded by the new dog just not fitting in. He is perfectly happy here except that he’s not getting enough attention from me. He is the only one who gets aroused by whatever may be in the yard and then he turns to the others with a look that I just don’t like. So many quirks that the others don’t have and our pack isn’t running as seamlessly as it has always done. Adopting seniors, there have been a lot of dogs through here. If the new dog weren’t so different I might like him more. He’s a good dog! I know it’s me. It has been a comfort to read the others’ posts and to know that I’m not alone with these mixed feelings, so thank you for that.
Heidi, good grief, you made tears come to my eyes. My little jumping bean…. Oh.
Rebecca Bigelow says
I lost my last dog to a tragic sequence of events started by an out of control aggressive dog who had not been managed well. He attacked my dog causing four people to try to get him off of my dog resulting in a mess and eventual loss of the Leash releasing my dog who in a state of panic took off only to be hit by a car and killed. My dog was only 2 years old and not only my beloved pet but an unofficial therapy dog. Her loss under those circumstances sent me into a spiral I recognized from previous depression episodes and I knew only another puppy who made me laugh and required attention would help me. Enter Lindy. She is both extremely fearful and reactive. Despite my efforts she remains unable to function in the world outside my house and reactive to many normal inside noises. The real heartache, beside loosing my adored girl is that at my age (71) and Lindy’s nature, adding another dog seems ill advised. I agonize over my tremendous loss and the hollow that remains in my heart. Lindy is loved, trained, coddled and medicated to give her the best life possible but I feel deprived none the less. I miss long walks with her and the emotional bond I had with her predecessor.
Rebecca Rice says
Ah, yes. Emotions are so difficult! My first dog as an adult was a beautiful, sweet, greyhound with the most soulful eye and the sweetest disposition. I liked that dog…. she was pretty much bombproof, and. as I put it, “not well-trained but very well-behaved”. I don’t think that she knew what sit, down, or stay meant, but she didn’t need to because she walked beautifully on leash, stopped when I stopped, and if I stopped in some place for a while, would automatically just lie down. She was easy, sweet, and took my breath away when she ran. A running greyhound is grace on Earth. But I didn’t feel all that bonded with her. It was more of a roommate situation. As I said to a coworker once, people tend to talk about the cute or naughty things their dogs (and kids!) do, not the polite behavior that they do over and over. “Johnny made his bed this morning the same way he has done for the last 4 years” doesn’t make thrilling conversation.
Then came my second greyhound, Katie. She was meant to be a project dog. A terribly fearful, neophobic, shutdown dog. We bonded more, and I loved that dog. But I didn’t always like living with her. Her quirks made it much more difficult. Nothing like going out for a walk and doing well and then having your 56-pound dog decide to be scared and shut down so that you have to carry her back some distance in order to get her to walk again! And with her I always had the nagging question of “am I doing enough?” She got a lot better, but she never got to “normal”, and there was a point where I just decided that this is good enough and stopped trying to push her to get past some of her quirks. Could she have gotten further with someone else? Maybe? Hard to tell. But at some point the quality of my life matters too.
And then there’s Pixie. She was a dog that I never intended to get. A little stray rat terrier that I found on the street and had to adopt after never finding her owner. She came to me with very bad patellas, and a very snappish temper. After having surgeries to correct both patellas, her temper has gotten much sweeter. But she has some issues because of that. I think not being able to move easily has left her being more defensive, and it’s possible that she is still sore a little (arthritis at this point). Her temper is shorter than my other dogs, but she loves to snuggle and can be so happy. Watching her little nub of a tail wiggle is just heart-melting. I don’t love it when she decides to paw at my face, which is one of her favorite ways of requesting more attention! If it were just her and me, I think we would be fine. But she has heart issues as well as the knees, and I have gotten bit with the agility bug, and she will never be competition quality. So then there’s ….
Rigger. My most recent addition, and the dog who currently has my heart. He’s the dog who makes my heart smile, just by being around. He’s another rattie, since I found out once I had Pixie that their personality (and size) just fit better with me than the greyhounds do. And he was picked as an agility candidate, which has brought a whole host of new issues. He tears around the house, jumps off the sofa back and bed, and climbs halfway up the tree when he chases squirrels! While still a bit more cautious and aloof than I would like, he’s the closest to a “normal” dog I’ve had temperament-wise, and my heart just melts when I am around him. Which is hard on Pixie, because he is just so much more outgoing and THERE than she is. I can skip Pixie’s walk without bad things happening, but skipping Rigger’s means I have a dog bouncing off the walls and driving me crazy. Sometimes feel a bit guilty about that, especially since I have to spend a lot of time at work on top of things. I sort of think that once Pixie passes I may become a one-dog family, but that will probably change as I get older and when Rigger slows down. This is a personal problem I need to work on, because I tend to be very fond of and invested in whoever is most physically present. I have been deeply invested in emotional relationships with people, and yet, if they move away for a couple of weeks, I can’t even remember what life was like when they were in it. That’s a personal quirk of mine, and I don’t know that other people can even comprehend it, because the people I have mentioned it to look at me like I am very strange when I say it.
Your post today really struck a chord in my heart, Patricia. When my “heart and soul” BC mix, Maizie Grace passed away 3 years ago, my whole life changed. I changed. A piece of my heart had been ripped from me, and it hurt like nothing ever has before. She was sweet, calm, loving, smart, and so very easy to live with. She was THE PERFECT dog. I still grieve for her to this day.
When I picked up our new full bred BC puppy, Luna, 2 months after Maizie passed, I was thrilled and happy to have another furbaby in the house, and was looking forward to healing the void and sadness I felt. Needless to say, my mistake was choosing Luna from a picture and never meeting her beforehand. BIG mistake. Something I had never done before. I knew better. But, I was bound and determined to love her, and teach her all the things Maizie had known. I just needed a furbaby to love.
Since then, it’s been a constant struggle for me. Luna is a crazy busy-body, paranoid, overly sensitive, reactive to loud noises, barks at everything, and basically….is everything Maizie was not. At that time, I loved her, but just didn’t like her. I had sleepless nights bashing myself at my choice. I felt I didn’t know enough (even though I raised 5 dogs in the past) to help Luna develop into a well rounded BC. I never had a dog that was this neurotic, this challenging, this active. I found a superb trainer who, with a few lessons, helped me set structure and goals, calm myself down, and gradually learn to trust Luna.
Today, I still find my life totally centered around Luna. Trying to keep her happy, active, feeling loved and safe. With her, it seems to be work. It’s like living with a toddler on crack. Lol! With Maizie, it never was. She was so easy. Life was easy. I still don’t trust Luna outside off lead all the time because to her, whatever scent she follows means that she doesn’t hear the cues I’m giving her. Agh. But we have made strides with numerous cues and agility games. She is smart and loves brain work.
Recently, because of her athletic-ness, she’s torn a nail back from the quick (which took 3 weeks of down time to heal), and then gouged her tongue badly last week (which is still healing) on a stick. When things like this happen, it seems to set her back greatly with her confidence level. She’s back to being extremely anxious, timid, and paranoid. It breaks my heart. All we can do is to give her a lot of extra love and praise and quiet time. I fear it will take her many weeks to gain back her playfulness and confidence.
I know that God has placed Luna in my life for a reason, and I thank him for that. I have learned to think outside the box and confront the challenges head on with a lot of creativity. I DO love her and am amazed at her intelligence. I do love that she enjoys her agility games and playing fetch with her frisbee and ball. She is learning that “time out” means just that. Time to settle down and give us some quiet time. But I do miss the quiet ease of life with Maizie.
Thank you, Patricia, for giving us a platform and place to vent, share our deepest feelings, and connect with others about our love for our dogs — without judgement. This felt very healing for me to be able to dump my burdens onto this page, and I hope that my words and experiences will help others. Life is a journey, and I am just taking it one step at a time with Luna by my side….and praying all the way. 🙂
Judy K says
I certainly relate to Sara’s comment about the needy, bratty lab mix. I have one, too! She’s a boxer-lab-beagle who would also be much happier if I spent all my time rubbing her belly, and if everyone she meets would spend all their time….. etc. She’d love to be a lap dog, but I’m afraid that as soon as she attained the lap, she’d want to climb to the shoulders (having seen pictures of her sitting atop couch back leaning into someone’s face). I can’t go for that.
I’m her second adoptive home after the first one didn’t work out (hmm, wonder why).
She also has “housebreaking issues,” although I think it might have something to do with her being spayed at 12 weeks. My vet cleared her on kidney problems. I think she just can’t always “hold it” as long as I might need her to. But now that my brother/housemate and I are both mostly retired, she can go outside more often. Except that she sometimes forgets to take care of business while she’s out there. With the attention span of a gnat, she gets distracted easily.
My other two dogs, the boys, are my teacher’s pets. One is a Brittany, American Eskimo, Lab, German Sheppard mix and the “little guy” is min-pin, Chihuahua, rat terrier.
These three aren’t highly trained, but they all have potential. Until just a few years ago, I lived with Basenjis. Since 1977 I’ve had at least one at a time, but had other, non-Basenjis, along the way. I didn’t do much more than teach them “house rules” and we were all happy enough with that.
These three need some work, and they have personalities that will bloom with the right kind of work. Well, if I can get past the attention span of a gnat!
Mary Ellen Hagenauer says
Tricia, this column reinforced a belief that I’ve had for quite a few years. You are a gifted human therapist as well as an animal behavorist. A long time ago, I regularly listened to you on public radio in Madison, WI. I was always struck by the compassion you brought to bear in your responses to people and their animal related questions. Also, I was lucky enough to consult with you about Moose, the great dog love of my life, the one a dog trainer had told me I would never be able to handle (Moose weighed 125 lbs and I weighed 115 lbs). Moose and I went on together for 12 rewarding years due in large part to your advice.
Linda Lipinski says
Thank you. Thank you. I’ve been working on sorting out my feelings for Jax for the last 4 years(June marks 5 years together) & this blog really clarified things for me. Last year I was finally able to say “I’m sorry it took so long to love you”. When I was considering rehoming him a couple years ago, a friend told me about your blog & articles on rehoming which definitely helped. Thank you again for your words of wisdom & compassion.
Thank you so much for this! I just said good bye to a 17 YO cat that I provided a great home to, but just never connected with. The guilt was hard. It’s helpful to know others have the same experiences. My current dog followed my heart dog. The love was there instantly, but liking took some work for both of us!!
Elizabeth Handwerker says
This one hit close to home. My last dog was a BC/ English Setter mix that we adopted from a shelter when she was 12. So sweet, but such a pain in the butt. I did not have the connection with her that you speak so eloquently of. Now I have Captain, a very well bred 9month old Border Collie, What I feel for him matches or exceeds my love and deep connection to that which I had for my first soul mate or heart dog so many years ago. I dont know what *it* is that makes such a connection, or lack thereof, but I am truly grateful to have it once again!!!
This hits so close to home. I just lost Miles, my 11 year old rescue poodle after 8 years of companionship. We were two peas in a pod for most of that time – it took a few months for him to settle in, but I felt like I could read his mind shortly after. We really bonded on our daily walks and weekly hikes – those hours were some of our happiest.
In the last year he started loosing mobility, first we lost our hikes since I didn’t want to risk getting stuck in a ravine, then we lost our daily walks, because even going around the block was too much for him. In his last months, we just hung around the house together, my time with him was less about a fun outing and more about med schedules, vet appointments, and if he needed to be carried down the stairs that day. He started getting uncomfortable at night and insisting on going out at 2am, only to try napping in the garden for the next hour, while I tried to get him back inside so I could sleep too.
I’m at once thankful for all of the time I had with him (I’m sure he lasted longer because I was able basically run a dog-hospice during my time at home during our state’s shutdown) but it was hard to hold on to our bond when we replaced fun outings with intense medical care. Alongside the heart-wrenching loss, there’s a little bit of relief that’s it’s over.
Thank you for this. It’s not quite the same, but I’m having having similar feelings about the dog we just took in to foster. Which was my idea in the first place, so I’m feeling particularly…complicated about not getting the warm fuzzies for the poor guy.
Maybe it’s the stress of the pandemic, and/or having advocated for getting a second dog my expectations are unreasonable, and/or I forgotten how draining house-training can be. He’s a sweet boy. There’s nothing “wrong” with him and I want to make sure he gets all the love and attention he deserves. I’m just not sure I want that to be happening as part of our home long-term. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone.
I’ve thought a lot about my feelings for Phoebe in the intervening week. I like her and enjoy some of her quirks (and I will miss her terribly when she is no longer here), but I don’t have that deep love for her that I have/had for other dogs. Now that I said it (wrote it) out loud, I wanted to explore why. Like Toots, she is deaf, a bit wobbly, food crazy (although not lately, worry emotion inserted here), and a bit unaware of where she is in relation to other people in the room. She has an extraordinary habit of moving right in front of you as you are about to step forward (she’s ~50 pounds, so it will not be a pretty collision). She has always been a bit of a space cadet, our previous vet lovingly called her a cement head, which I didn’t like but did agree with 😉 I think her thought bubble would say: “Meh.”
She is sweet and kind and emotionally nonchalant. She isn’t clever or tricky or snarky or deliberate. As a very wise octogenarian said to me, “As we age, we just become more of who we really are.” And so she is.
German Shepherds are my favorite breed, and I have had a few of them. I currently have a Pug I’ve had for 12 years and a rescue Plott Hound I recently (2 months ago) adopted. I knew hounds were completely different than shepherds, but I wanted a dog that wouldn’t bond to me as strongly as shepherds do because I have health issues and don’t want to end up dying and leaving behind a dog who would grieve strongly. I love my Plott Hound, and I like him too, even though he’s so different than any dog I’ve had. But I get so frustrated an angry because he is a chronic fence jumper. I have put time, effort, and money into getting my 6 ft. wood fence jump proof and he still gets over it. I think I am more stressed than I’ve ever been. It has made it hard for me to develop a bond with him. Since I’ve only had him for two months, I expect our bond will grow. For right now, it’s difficult! I wasn’t told about this problem (maybe the rescue didn’t know about it, although he’s been returned to them three times before), but I feel guilty about not being able to manage this. The rescue person are coming to put an electric wire around my fence, which I hate but at this point I feel it’s better than the danger of having him jump fences. He has even jumped my fence, run down the street, and then jumped into another neighbor’s yard. I feel like a failure as an adopter, even though I’ve adopted other dogs that lived happily with me. I’m trying to be rational about it all, and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has these types of feelings!
Four months after losing my German Shepherd to cancer at 10yrs old, I heard about a half-grown German Shepherd puppy who needed a new home with experience dealing with behavior issues. Part broken heart, part bleeding heart, part loneliness, I brought home a mess of fearful anxious trouble. Outdoors, in reaction to every possible stimuli – wind, birds, scent of dog, voice of human – she was a nuclear warhead.
Those first six months, maybe longer, I would look at her often enough and say, “I don’t love you yet, but I’m trying.”
Two years and a lot of work later, she is a mere grenade launcher only towards other dogs, reasonably suspicious of strangers, and fully relaxed and comfortable around everything else. She is still difficult, and makes life more complicated, and I don’t always love that – but I do love her.
We are fostering an old dog with “toileting issues”. My husband says she has had a successful trip outside when she “Lawrence Welks” (Ah one and Ah two!)
Barb Stanek says
Thanks, Karol, for the reminder that everything comes to an end, one way or another. We decide the quality of the journey.
I’m so glad to have this discussion. I’m just glad to feel that I’m not alone. Thank you to all who are willing to say, “I know what you mean. I’ve been there too. You’re still a good person.”
Tracey Kent says
It’s a rare dog that I love-love 100 percent during their later developing hormonal period (post 9 months-4 years). I have had 1 or two of those rare dogs, however. During those hormonal stages I find most difficult is usually the time that behaviors I like to hate come out. I remind myself that it may be two or even 3 years before I can really like that dog fully again but I remember to give myself and the dog lots of grace. I feel that it is the time to always remember to have management strategy strongly available. Going through this right now with a BC/ACD cross. He’s nearing 2 years and I dearly love-dislike him!
So relieved to read that others have mixed feelings about their dogs. Five years ago I lost my best girl, a thirteen year old Golden who was the best in a long line of wonderful dogs. I knew I’d fine another friend someday but it wasn’t the right time to even consider a new dog. Then came the call from a breeder that had heard of my loss. She had a 12 wk. old labradoodle that had been returned who needed a good home. Alarm bells should have gone off in my head. They didn’t. Into my house came a brilliant, wild, defiant force of nature unlike any dog I’ve ever know. Over time we’ve come to a working agreement that is still rather weighted in her favor. I’ve learned a lot, rather more than she has, I think. She brought me to agility and a bit of dock diving as well as to a group of amazing human friends who have helped me learn to appreciate my quirky impulsive girl. Do I love her? Fiercely. Can I imagine life without her? Yup, but I wouldn’t trust her to/with anyone else. She’s in her forever home no matter what. It certainly hasn’t been easy but when she curls up with me at night all is forgiven (almost).
Ohh boy, it seems like every post lately is so relatable to Duncan. I didn’t dare reply to the thunder one or I would have been too weepy to go to work. Last week when the site was frozen on my phone for some reason and I couldn’t scroll through to read it, I actually had a nightmare that everyone was so sick of hearing about him that I’d been banned!
He had such a loving, generous, enthusiastically goofy personality, that he was basically Dug from the movie “Up”. And he needed every bit of that at first, because as soon as he came home, the gentle two year old I adopted busted out almost every puppy behavior issue there is! After years of well mannered adult dogs, my new peeing, pooping, chewing, door dashing, counter surfing fireball was a shock. He was my first dog with separation anxiety or thunder phobia, and by far the most destructive dog I’ve ever parented. I loved him dearly and was committed to him for life no matter what. But there were numerous times during the first couple of years that I had less than saintly thoughts about him. I had to learn to put the dogs outside while I cleaned his messes so they wouldn’t hear any, um, colorful language. A friend at work nicknamed him “the Duncanator” for all the things he demolished.
After several cycles of progress and setbacks, we went to school. He loved it, learned quickly, charmed his trainers and earned his CGC. He didn’t lose the thunder phobia, but in all other ways went from brat to gentleman.
He never lost his spirited side, however. Not long after getting his CGC, he was bitten on the shoulder by an aggressive dog. He put up with the cone of shame for two days, then chewed his way out of it. We switched to t-shirts until the stitches came out. I was reminded of that when he was in ICU during his last days. The vet said he perked up the second day, enjoyed his walk outside and his lunch, then chewed his catheter out about an hour before she was ready to take it out! She was surprised when I cheered at that and said “That’s my boy!” because sick as he was, my Duncanator still had his unsinkable spirit to the end.
Thank you for this! I have felt some guilt about one of my dogs. I have 3- one is a border collie mix I got as a puppy and she is pretty near perfect and very in tune with me. Another is a fluffy medium sized mix who was originally a hospice foster as a puppy. She survived and that experience bonded us very closely; she is quite quirky, but I love her just as deeply as my border collie. Then there is Vienna a field bred English Cocker. I adopted her when she was 11 years old thinking she’d be a relatively easy senior. Day after I adopted her we were out on a hike and I reached down to get a twig that was on her butt before it could get tangled. I hadn’t even touched her yet and she whipped around and bit my hand and up my arm. Thankfully she had hardly any teeth left or it would have been a serious bite. I decided at that point I was definitely keeping her as I can deal with that and didn’t want to risk her going to someone less experienced. She is also guardy with the other dogs and has anxiety. Since then we have built up trust and I can now groom and brush her butt without a muzzle. Her other behaviors have also improved. I still am cautious though. While I like Vienna I don’t have the same connection with her that I do with my other dogs. I feel guilty about that- while she has a home, large yard, plenty of food, and playtime- I worry she knows I don’t feel the same for her as her sisters. But I’ve started to realize that it is okay that I don’t feel the same way about her as long as she has a safe home and is happy.
As always, an amazing column. I treasure your books and insights. I have had dogs for all of my 71 years… usually more than one. I lloved them all and often didn’t like some. My perfect dog was an incredible Great Dane I still miss 20 years after she’s been gone. I have 3 rescues now, a big goofy Rottweiler/St. Bernard mix, Brody, who is my constant devoted companion; a Husky/Pitbull/?? mix, Jackson, (a foster failure) who was born feral and has taken a lot of work and patient training just to teach him he doesn’t need to hide from everyone but me; and then there is Dusty, another foster failure. Dusty’s DNA test shows her to be Rottweiler/Chow/Pitbull/GSD. She came to me as a long term foster needing knee surgery. I know nothing of her back story, though the orthopedic surgeon guessed she had likely been hit by a car at one time and never treated for the injuries. She has bad hips, one bad knee, and can be crabby. She adores me and has bonded with my two ‘boys’, who are both pretty easy-going and happy to let her be the boss bitch. When Dusty was made Dog of the Week by the shelter (no adoption fee for approved adopter) I was sure she would find a home. It knew I would miss her after seeing her thru surgery and rehab but I was prepared to hand her off to someone who would make her their pampered pet. Nobody wanted her and I was so hurt on her behalf that I adopted her myself. I love her.. but I often don’t like her. She is pushy, snaps at food, and has to be crated when my family brings their various dogs over. She is often a pain… But she loves me, follows me everywhere, and obeys any command I give. She will be with me until it’s her time.
Cathy that’s hysterical. I’ll tell Jim about it; a ridiculous amount of our conversations revolve around whether Toots has managed “a one and a two”.
Cindy, you are NOT a failure! Tulip, our Gr Pyr was a talented fence jumper too. She actually could climb a livestock fence like a fireman climbs a ladder. And she too could have been killed. You are doing what you need to do, which is as successful as you could be. Hang in there!
I had a rescue Golden that was extremely obedient and easy to care for but, just as you said about Tootsie, part of her was shut down. She was always afraid of the water and never liked retrieving. She learned to play fetch but she never wanted to do it, she just placed the ball at our feet and walked away, as if hoping we didn’t throw it again. She never liked playing anything with humans at all, but she enjoyed playing with our little poodle mix and cat. I did some basic agility work with her and she did well with it but there was no joy in it for her. She was clearly just being obedient and glad to get the food rewards. She never really seemed happy, she just seemed constantly worried and insecure. It didn’t even really seem like she liked us that much, she just needed us to feed her. I could kind of tell the dog she should have been if her life hadn’t started out so rough, and that was really heartbreaking. Being her family wasn’t really fun, but it was satisfying knowing that we gave her lots of love over the years and did everything we could for her. I still hope one day to have a Golden that will swim with me and play fetch with my son and just have that happy and loving energy that Golden’s often have.
Mary Ellen, you made my day!!!
Yes, it’s easy to feel guilty.
Dog #1 – Loved Deeply but not always liked – he wasn’t the dog we wanted, in fact he was completely unsuited to first time owners. Within a week he had crawled (on his belly) into my heart, but as time went in his issues ended up controlling all of our lives. For a long time I Admitted to myself that I didn’t like him, yet he was my alter ego, perhaps I identified with him too strongly because of my own past mental health issues. In his old age he got much easier to manage – much more likeable – not least because as he got deaf he became much less reactive. When he died I had such mixed feelings. I missed him very much but It was blissful not having to manage him all the time. What I always loved most about him was his joy in being trained. The clicker was his favourite thing ever. Doing Dog activities with him (with a series of awesome trainers who accommodated his foibles) was like dancing with your best partner.
Dog #2 – Liked and loved, but not so strongly – she’s a sweetie, she loves everyone and everyone loves her, but I’ve never felt that bond I had with dog #1. Perhaps she feels too much like everyone’s dog, not mine. She was also much harder to train than dog #1 – so although I was proud when she achieved something it felt more like hard work. When we go to training classes now that she is older and calmer my son works with her and I train with #1 or now #3 – so that bond has built up more with him than with me. But when she is seriously ill (she does that quite often) I am beside myself with worry. I do love her really!
Dog #3 – much loved and liked, but we have only had him a few months. He adores me like #1 and again is my little shadow, but his dependency is due to separation anxiety rather than the behavioural disaster that was #1. Dog #3 loves everyone but he is still definitely my dog. He has very similar training challenges as #2 but it doesn’t get to me in the same way. Partly because I know that we will get there in the end as we did with #2, but also because we have bonded so strongly. And I am surprised by that bond because he was rehomed to me by a friend, and I feared that he would always seem like *her* dog not mine.
Three dogs, all very similar in appearance and breed type, all rescues, but so different from each other.
How I love this.
I thought my previous boy who, at 16, could almost read my mind was the one I’d never be able to replace. I love and like my 4 year old boy so much but he wasn’t Mackie. And then a little guy, a foster, wormed his way into our home. And this boy, now 2, this boy made it obvious over those first few months that anyone and connection I’ve had with other dogs was just a pale shadow. He’s fairly rotten as far as chewing anything and everything (literally) but otherwise he’s a joy and has taught me to laugh and to remember that one day I’ll wish he were still capable of destroying the mattress topper and pillows.
Trisha, I live in Westchester NY, so, yes, Wisconsin would def save me some money. My problem is inertia (another word for lazy). I’m glad I was able to start this discussion, but if it wasn’t for your wonderful platform and the sensitive, thoughtful people who visit it, we’d all feel much more alone. Love this place!
I absolutely meant to write a reply to empathize with HFR in the original post but was busy with my asshole dog. I really am heartened by everyone’s stories. Ok, Joe is absolutely not the dog I envisioned when I adopted. I researched the type of breed, I grew up with dogs of all types and personalities, but I was not ready for the amount of training and patience required for Joe. I’ve had reputable pure breds who were well trained but awful towards people and/or other animals. I adopted Joe because he reminded me of my previous dog who was also a beagle mix – loving, relatively responsive (ha, thanks Beagles) and absolutely fine with other dogs. So many of Joe’s issues are mine though. Although, Joe’s foster parents warned me about Joe’s response to other dogs, I pushed on. Two years and a lot of tears later, we’ve made progress. For us it took time and building trust. Now Joe reacts less impulsively towards other dogs but it takes my timing and reaction to keep him from acting out. He does now, when he feels safe, let dogs walk by, although he shakes and whimpers. At one point, I felt like I was failing him. Now, he is not the dog I wanted but he’s mine and I have grown to not only love but like him. But…he’s still an asshole sometimes.
Oh, Linda, how I can relate. Dog number two was a severe epileptic, who at the end of his life was seizing frequently and nearly uncontrollably. How we loved him, but nearly 2 months after his death, I am only now starting to grieve- at first, just an overwhelming sense of relief that the management nightmare was over. The dog that’s left? Reactive, anxious, skittish. Much better after anxiety supplements. I have finally given myself permission to accept his limitations and not see it as a reflection of either my lack of skill as a trainer or my lack of commitment as an owner. We’re doing much better now. No walks for us, either, for a variety of reasons. That was the hardest thing to let go. I do my best to focus on his good qualities, and after nearly 5 years, feel I am finally learning to love him. It’s tough. I don’t know that I’ll ever get another dog after these last two have dragged me through the emotional wringer.
Jenny Haskins says
All a bit like husbands 🙂
Sometime we love them, but don’t like them. Other times we like them but don’t love them very much.
I was in a similar situation with the 3rd dog I had as an adult. She was a 3 year old puppy mill breeder and had never experienced the outside world. I saw a behaviorist and took my duties as her new mom seriously. I was rooting for her all the time, seeing her play for the first time was amazing, but I didn’t love her. So I attempted to re-home her after a few months (with the help of a breed specific rescue) but no one wanted a cute dog with issues. I resigned myself that she would just be my roommate for the rest of her life. It was tough, my previous dogs were the loves of my life, I would have done anything and everything for them (and I did).
After a year, she was doing pretty well (with meds and strict routine), it was almost as if she had never faced any trauma in her life. But I still didn’t love her. Then I had a job change, and it changed her world, a lot. She was not adjusting and I started looking for another home. It was heartbreaking and I felt like the worst person in the world. It took a while but I found a home for her, a big family with lots of animals, kids and stability. It almost seemed too good to be true, but it was. Now, almost a year later she’s doing absolutely amazing. She’s off meds, loves her family and they love her. Her behavior issues are pretty much non-existent. As it turns out, she wasn’t right for me, but I also wasn’t right for her. She needed more, things I couldn’t give her. But I was able to help her on that journey, and I’m grateful for that.
Couldn’t agree more about the “sensitive, thoughtful people” who comment here. What a village.
David Egger says
Beautiful photos, Trisha! Your writing is fine!
I enjoy reading your column but this one in particular has been so timely, as I am reading it on a day when I have shed a few tears thinking about life with our present dog. He is the fifth dog we’ve owned and as we are in our sixties will be our last. None of our previous dogs gave us the challenges we are experiencing at present. He is highly reactive to people and dogs. As other writers have mentioned, many of the joys of owning a dog are not possible. For the first year of his life he would barely let us touch him. He is 22 months now and that has thankfully changed. We have given up walks, as they were so stressful for him and my husband and me. Friends are no longer invited to our home, as it’s impossible to visit, as he constantly barks at them. Family gatherings have to be carefully managed, as we have a young grandson. We have been to several classes and trainers but have been mostly unsuccessful in changing behaviour. Despite everything we have grown to love him and desperately want to build his confidence and trust and take away the fear and stress that causes his behaviour. He may never change completely but any progress at all gives us some hope. Thank you again Trisha, as well as all the people who have shared their stories. It makes me feel so much better to know that we are not alone in our struggle.
I vividly remember our Shepard mix vaulting an eight foot fence to get to me when I was pushed over by a bully. I was on the ground and seeing him fly over was awesome and scary too. He pushed the bully away and stood over me. The only reason he wasn’t labeled a dangerous dog and killed was that the school bus driver saw the whole thing. So I get the fence jumping thing. They can be very determined.
Dog #1 was my first dog as an adult. I may never love another dog the way I loved her. The sweetest Sheltie you ever met. I got her just after my husband died and she was the only reason I got up some mornings. She brought me into the world of dog sports and changed my life.
Dog #2 I loved not as a companion, but someone I was responsible for. We had our moments but at times, I didn’t like him much. He taught me a lot about shy, reactive dogs and I hope I made his life better than it would have been.
Dog #3 was a great dog and I probably didn’t bond with her as much as I could have at first because I got her when dog #2 was still alive and there was a lot of management that had to be done. Our relationship got a lot deeper when it was just us. I have been ping ponging back and forth between grief at her death and relief she’s gone and that I have some if my life back and guilt about feeling that way.
Dog #4 is a potential right now. On the list for a litter. I’m optimistic.
On the one year anniversary of putting the dog of a lifetime to sleep, your article is a godsend. I’m still mourning and still second guessing my decision. Milo was so smart! I could tell you countless stories of him managing to communicate complex concepts. He loved attention and everyone loved him. He outshone my other dog, Bear, who preferred me over anyone else. Being protective of the underdog I made sure Bear got my love and attention while Milo got everyone else. But Bear is too formal to be cuddly even with me. Milo would snuggle in, just melt into love. He was the one who comforted me through many sleepless nights.
I found out Milo had an inoperable tumor pressing his heart and lung. His quality of life was definitely declining. He had to go out at all hours of the night. I had to lift him onto the bed because he would hurt himself trying to jump up, which hurt my back and prevented it from healing. He always was alpha and a bully to Bear. I thought to end everyone’s suffering by putting him to sleep. I thought doing it at home would be more peaceful and allow Bear to better understanding that Milo was gone.
Things went horribly wrong. Milo welcomed the vet and assistant until they gave him the first shot. He always behaved perfectly at the vet because he understood that this is what happened at the vet’s office. But he was outraged at this treatment in his own home. The first shot failed to calm him so he had to be muzzled for a second shot.
My heart broke and there was nothing I wanted more than to turn back time. But we completed the process and he was gone, leaving my back seriously injured and Bear upset, and distrustful. He always got what Milo got, and probably thought he was next.
Over the past year I’ve rebuilt my relationship with Bear trying to teach him how to be first. He’s an old guy too. I’m devoting my time to making the most of his last years. I still miss Milo though. I’m still working through the complicated emotions of the bond we had and my grief over how things ended. I’ve never had the heart to lay it out so completely until now so thank you for listening.
Oh Sheila, I am so sorry. I too had one of those awful experiences, with my first pet as an adult, Chat the cat. The vet and I literally ended up chasing him around the exam room, him growling and attacking us, us trying to catch him to kill him. He had a bladder condition that I had already spent far more than I could afford on; a second surgery was unlikely to help and I had maxed out my two credit cards. After we finally put him down the vet took a breath and said “I have a bottle of Scotch in my office. Want some?” Keep repeating to yourself that although we like to live in the fantasy that we can control everything, we can’t. Shit happens. It sounds like you did everything you could to give him the best life possible, and it’s okay that his death was perfect. Here’s to memories of Milo, and to Bear (and your back!).
Wow Janey, that is one hell of a story! And good luck with #4, paws crossed.
Sorry I can’t relate at all. Including family pets as a child, I have had 6 dogs in my life and my partner had 2 while I was with him until he passed away.
I have loved and liked all the dogs although the degree has varied – I can’t say I have ever not liked the dog but I have disliked certain circumstances which have arisen due a particular dog’s behaviour but even then, I (or we) have managed to work around particular “quirks” and realised that often the problem arises due to no fault of the dog but in the interpretation of the cause of the behaviour.
My current dog is a working line GSD acquired through a rescue group when she was 2 1/2 years old – she is the best dog I have ever had wrt temperament although her energy levels need an extra level of attention but, knowing that I need to provide an outlet to meet her needs, this has not become an issue other than ensuring I am allocating the time needed.
I have always had the mindset that I chose to get the dog so I need to do the work. It probably helps that I am more dog oriented than human centric so putting the dog’s needs above other activities guides what I can or chose to do daily.
I realise not everyone has the same agenda or ability but it has paid off for me with my (our) dogs.
Best wishes to those in different circumstances.
Kate Coffee says
I got my first dog, Rascal, about 4 years ago. He is a Havanese, and was 9 years old. It couldn’t have been a better match. We instantly bonded and while it has been an expensive relationship (3 surgeries in the first 2 1/2 years) I couldn’t have imagined any dog for me as a better first dog in my early 60’s.
Now enter Tito as my final refuge dog. He is so hesitant and resistant to receiving love and attention. Where my first dog is a Velcro dog, I call Tito my Teflon dog! I enter a room and he leaves. We are 6 months in and yes he and I are finding our way and he lets my pet him but really I think he’s a loner. His brightest moment of the day is when I say go outside (big backyard to explore) and go for walk when he spins and vocalizes and looks so happy.
I have a love for him that comes from wanting his life to be a warm and caring place so work towards that. But I don’t always like him and think, if he had been my first dog I would likely never want to have another. Tito deserves the best life I can give him and so we carry on. Some day maybe he will sit at my feet or next to me on the couch or maybe…even sit on my lap.
Cathy Withall says
A wonderful reminder, especially at this difficult time that we need to be kinder to ourselves.
My story: Dog #1, Gypsy, a black lab cross. Came to us too young at less than six weeks old, disliked almost all other dogs and later developed severe separation anxiety (although back then we didn’t even know that was a thing, and just accepted she was destructive when she chewed a six inch hole in the middle of the kitchen wall… amongst many other things!). But other than that she was perfection, my heart dog and I cried every day for a year when we lost her to cancer a month short of 14 years old.
Ten days later, realising I couldn’t cope without a dog in the house, arrived puppy #2. Storm, a husky cross (I’d wanted a husky for years). Love at first sight, both for me and my husband. She loves us, but we soon realised that didn’t mean she needed us, and living in a rural farming area the struggle to keep her from chasing livestock whilst not crushing her fiercely independent spirit became a nightmare at times. We really discovered our bond in agility, which she turned out to be unexpectedly amazing at, taking me from complete novice to half way up the grades in two years before a messy degenerative cruciate shattered my dreams of competing at Crufts with her. She’s just recovering from cruciate number two, and I’m working on rebuilding that bond in a different way.
Dog #3 was an impulse rescue, Lunar, a five year old Northern Inuit bought from a breeder. I loved him, but he was not what we were told he was – for anxious read terrified of the world, for undersocialised read completely shut down. I spent weeks sitting on the kitchen floor spoon feeding him as he was underweight, and on days the rubbish was collected he would run from the lorry and sit at the other end of the house shaking. After a year in which he was diagnosed with severe hip displaysia, gained confidence with people, became the most loving dog at home and really started to enjoy life, he bit the young son of a friend. He had started to try and attack any dog he saw, and at 42kg he could have done a lot of damage. We finally accepted that we simply didn’t have the skills to manage him, especially as his dislike of anywhere busy was impacting both on us and on Storm. We made the heartbreaking decision to rehome him, which was actually the best move for him – although hearing him howl as we walked away broke me. We kept in touch with his new owner until he passed away last year, and he was obviously very happy with a much quieter and more experienced home. But he taught us so much about anxiety, trigger stacking and so much more and we will always be so grateful to him for that.
Dog #4 – back to a puppy and another husky cross, Morgana. I was hoping for another agility star, but she turned into a bundle of nerves the day we brought her home, and had the co-ordination of a baby giraffe! We thanked Lunar for what he had taught us, as we needed all that knowledge and more to stop her turning into a nightmare. Nearly four now, she still isn’t competing properly in agility, she’s a funny moody cow, although much better than she was – and she is definitely my love but don’t always like dog! So hard to train, so unpredictable – and all is forgiven when she drags me towards her with her claws and licks my hand whilst gazing adoringly at me.
Finally, dog #5 – a currently nine month old kelpie, Rune. For the first time we went to a recommended breeder, met both parents, waited anxiously for the mating and litter, and relied on the breeder to match us with a puppy. He is a perfect boy in so many ways (apart from the trademark kelpie shouting!), easy to train and showing great promise for agility. I both like and love him, but sometimes I don’t feel like I have the connection with him that he obviously does with me… hopefully that will come in time.
And if you made it to the end of that essay – give yourself an extra cookie!
Oh Sheila, your story made me cry. I am so sorry for you, and I know exactly how you feel. Our dog, Grace, was aloof, proud, dedicated to watching over all of us, extremely loyal, and deeply bonded to a few people and one other dog. It was all she needed. She would never take a biscuit from a stranger and did not like many other dogs. She had a high prey drive and could transport herself on walks (we would think she was behind us and she’d pop up way in front). She lived to be almost 15 (we think) when her back legs finally gave out.
We always had the vet come to the house for our other dogs, and we prepared a spot to put her to rest. The vet gave her the first injection and it seemed to have the exact opposite effect. Grace rose up and fought the pre-anesthesia with all her might. Three injections later, and she was still fighting. It took an hour, and it was the most terrible, horrible, awful hour of my life.
When I think of that experience now (this happened almost 10 years ago), it still feels awful but it is mixed with admiration for her warrior persona. She would have much preferred to die in her sleep or chasing something fuzzy, and she was present when the vet put down her best and only doggie friend a few years prior, and I wonder if that had something to do with her whole-being resistance. She was a noble beast who didn’t get to go out on her terms. That I couldn’t help, but I so admire and truly miss that fierce spirit.
I hope someday your memory of Milo’s death will be mixed with memories of his life spirit, too.
Tamara Danner says
Thanks for this. I have this issue. I am racked with guilt. This was very helpful.
Aura L Carmi says
I have three Samoyeds, all three rejects! I backpack the Sierra and my dogs carry packs and in winter, we mush.
My oldest, Nanuq has the worst temperament, grouchy, aggressive to other dogs and sometimes people and will only work if it fits his agenda. Since he was so awful, three trainers gave up on him but one told me to read Patricia McConnell and maybe I could find something useful there. Trisha, you saved our life!!! He is a decent, liveable citizen who can go anywhere. Not the dog I love, but a good citizen.
Next is my Sunshine. The perfect dog ever! She is pack leader, backpacking and mushing dog supreme. When she came into our Household, Nanuq was immediately a better dog! Everything I ever wanted in a dog… and the most unhealthy animal ever. Two years ago, she developed pemphigus, but after 6 mo of hell, we got it under control. She is young, in the prime of life, and 10 months ago, she got uncontrollable epilepsy. We have been through the worst nightmare ever with trial and error of meds. If she gets too much of her extraordinary brain back, she goes into cluster seizures. I fear I will never see the mountains I love again. Sunshine certainly never will. She will probably live another 4- 5 years and I am not getting any younger.
Finally, I have my 18 month old pup. She is a good working dog and a very good trail dog. She is too self centered to ever be the girl Sunshine was, but she would be an excellent working girl. Why would be? Epilepsy has stolen so much of my time and strength, the poor girl has had half the training and experience I would usually give a dog. Sunshine would have been perfect, had her puppyhood been like Jasmine’s…But no one will ever be Sunshine again.
Aura L Carmi says
P.S. While we are being open, I may as well mention how many happy days I sacrificed because I had Nanuq with me to aggravate me and wreck the day with his ill temper and behavior.
Now, with the thought that I have gone from Backpacker and Musher to epileptic caregiver, I cannot help but cry and feel a lot of resentment most days. I try to drag myself out of mourning for the dog I loved and our life together, but my release from hardship had always been a hard, butt burning hike or run in the wilderness I love. That stupid song “They are Playing Songs of Love but Not For Me” is always in my head.
Ah this hits home in so many ways, as do the comments. My dog Maki was one of those where the shelter lies/doesn’t know the dog and encourages you to take the “sweet family dog”. I was under the belief that she was an Aussie or BC mix. And her behavior was so high energy that it seemed plausible, but the temperament was all wrong. Not sensitive at all, no focus, she didn’t seem to want to bond with me at all! And then I did a DNA test and learned she is a GSD and Great Pyrenees mix with other breeds thrown in. And it clicked. It improved our relationship so much, as I no longer was trying to get that Aussie to show up. I knew that I had a dog that would love to watch her environment, and blow off any sort of correction. And now she and I are very bonded! I do think part of it as well was her growing up a bit. She had serious teenage brain going on. (Also have experienced this with cats. My husbands and I had the perfect cat that we loved to the moon and back…and he passed traumatically 10 months after we got him. We have a new cat and while Guppy is a delight and we love her, she’s not Bean. )
I get this, I really do!
I do love my terrier Mabel, but I hate the way she has impacted on my life and I don’t consider her a nice dog to be around a lot of the time. She was tied up on a nearby beach, seeing off anyone who came near and it was my job to get her and take her to the council kennels. However, she seemed so traumatised that I was persuaded by a colleague to foster her and I eventually adopted her as it was clear no rescue would take her.
She initially seemed okay with my dogs and cats which was a plus but she was reactive and aggressive towards me and pretty much anything outside the house, dogs, people, plastic bags, litter bins, cars…….. I naively thought my calm dogs would help her settle and be calm but here we are, over eight years later and she is pretty much the same as she was then. Better, but still the same issues to a lesser degree and with others thrown in for good measure.
The good thing is that she is less aggressive towards people in the home and I can bring calm dogs into the house now, but outside anything goes and if she kicks off at the beginning of the walk then it just gets worse and worse. Even that would be just about acceptable, but her anxiety and bullying of the other dogs makes for a stressful home. The others are fabulous with her, as if they know she can’t help it, but they must be stressed by her and that saddens me.
If I really think about it we have overcome so much together, she doesn’t pee herself or snarl at me when I look at her now and I haven’t had to keep her away from me when she tries to attack for many many years. She rarely has accidents indoors, she doesn’t hide away behind furniture or under bushes all the time like she did those first years, although she still likes her own space. She is SO much better with people, although I don’t allow anyone to touch her on walks. A lot of the truly bizarre behaviours have gone (although not all, she still likes to headbutt cars) and she doesn’t seem as profoundly abnormal as she did.
However, I am bored with the hassle of even just getting her to go outside for a wee, or getting her to move from somewhere so I can clean without her snarling and digging her heels in, I am stressed by her stress pacing, tired by the extra walks I have to do because the rest of us need peaceful time away from her, annoyed by her screaming at every.little.thing she hears or sees……or thinks she hears or sees. I am frustrated that even such a small thing as giving her an after meal treat can take so much damned effort, depending on her mood. Just the sheer effort of day to day dealing with her exhausts me!
But then she sneaks onto my lap rather than sleeping in another room as she mostly does, or she plays a bit with one of the other dogs, or when I pick her up to move her she grumbles a bit but then relaxes and lets me kiss her muzzle, or we pass a dog on the other side of the road without her shrieking, or she lets a new visitor touch her without growling and I think, “okay, we can do this!”
However a tiny part of me thinks….please, please don’t live too long, I cannot cope with you for another eight years!
Margo Harris says
Oh! I should be out gardening, but have been sitting here reading everything… laughed, and cried and nodded with understanding. How I love your blog, Trish, and how I love dog people with all of our wonderful beautiful awful rotten impossible dogs. I know the feeling of “I love (or at least care about/feel protective towards) you, but HOW many years did you say you’ll live??!!” It’s like, you really want to do right by them, and give them the best life possible, but sometimes the impact on our lives can be soooo overwhelming. My heart goes out to everyone who is struggling with their feelings towards their dogs. My 4 are gone now, but my only tiny bit of advice (2 were easy, 2 were not) is that it helped me a lot when I decided to really try to just accept my difficult 2 for who they were, and learn to manage them the best I could, and enjoy every good moment. Not easy, though, and I confess I was quite tired by the “end” of my 4 dogs, although I miss them terribly. I’m taking a little break now, but will be back in the fray pretty soon I hope!
Too hot to garden anyway, so a glass of wine on the deck instead, sounds much more sensible.
Love all these comments, and so relate to many here, as well as this post. My last GSD was my heart dog, soul mate, and we were like an old married couple. He was ‘naughty’, in a way that showed sense of humor and wit. My constant companion service dog for 11.5 years til cancer ripped him from me. Hew was so chill, but drivey enough to be training wheels in sport.
After half a year, I brought another GSD pup home, that was chosen from description and pics, and kind of chosen for me. I wanted higher drive, but still able to be my service dog. I’m still not quite experienced enough to have seen red flags, and certainly not enough to know how to deal with how he has been. What looked like timid as a young pup the first weeks, turned into environmentally reactive, and very high arousal when overstimulated, which was a lot of the time. But despite wanting to throw in the towel, I feared judgment, and forged ahead, learning how to manage him. There were/are a lot of qualities I like, but also some I don’t, and makes life difficult. One in particular is very hard to talk about with anyone, because the judgement and blame. He has had some very odd handler aggression, that spontaneously started as an adolescent, and triggered by conflict, anxiety and arousal mixed in with emotions. He would circle and growl in my face (I’m seated in a wheelchair), snarling and threatening. One trigger was being left alone for awhile and my coming home- which made me feel he didn’t possibly love me back. Sometimes it was just out of the blue, and he would quiver, dilated pupils, and it escalated if you fed into it in any way…but also diffuse immediately if you “changed the channel” and said something like “hey where’s that toy?” Very very weird, and I still don’t understand it.
Fortunately, since adding a very happy, cheerful Border Terrier pup to the mix has helped a lot, and I also neutered him at 7 yrs old. Don’t notice any difference other than the conflict has lessened. That helps my feelings towards him. But it still can happen when we are in conflict. I’d give anything to discuss with a behaviorist, if I could find a way for them to see it, but that’s the challenge. It is a dangerous thing, but since I know how to switch it off, I don’t feel like it would get to actual bloodshed lol. He’s a quirky boy, and kind of OCD the way many high drive working line dogs can be. Less thoughtful, more reactive to whatever stimuli. It’s taught me a lot! But I also feel guilty that I kept him, as maybe a different handler would’ve served him better. I love him and like him, but it is not as deep as my last dog, or my young BT that I’m now training as my service dog. That was love at first sight, and he has every quality that I adore in a dog. My first small dog, too! And terrier! And fortunately the two adore each other, and get along very well. It’s so much more relaxing to walk the pup alone. Very exhausting dealing with a dog that is constantly stimulated by the environment, and in arousal. I’ve worked so hard with it, too. But ultimately I guess it just is who he is, and I can manage it, and hope he mellows as he ages more haha.
Here here to the glass of wine Margo!
Melanie Hawkes says
This is great group therapy! I’m currently away from my dog on holidays, left him in the capable hands of my parents with pages of detailed instructions 😉
I remember when my last service dog Happy retired and moved to the country to live with my uncle. I’d spent the better part of 5 years complaining about several of his annoying behaviours, that I decided to make a video about all the good things he had learnt to do for me. You can see it here: https://youtu.be/TvRpA8i7GiY (just don’t tell Pharrell Williams that I used his song please!)
I wrote about my current dog Upton last week, and all his issues. One thing that has helped me with my emotions is writing. When I write about what’s going on (good and bad), I don’t have to keep it in my head. It is a relief. When I heard Tim Minchin’s song ‘Not Perfect’ at a concert about 4 years ago (when I was deciding to keep him or not), it touched my heart. So I used it to write about Upton:
He is my dog,
And I live with him,
He is my arms and legs,
He does lots for me,
Like pick things up off the floor and take off my shoes, and open the door,
But the weirdest thing of all is he is everything I want in a dog,
Except his barking, at everything that moves, from dogs and cars to ducks and flies.
He is my dog,
And he’s fine,
He’s with whom I spend the vast majority of my time,
He’s not perfect,
But he’s mine.
I hope everyone can find something to like about their dog, even though they drive you crazy! It’s taken me almost 5 years, and although I look forward to the day he moves on, I can’t imagine life without him. Doesn’t mean I love him with all my heart though!
Not been here for a while. Hello Trisha – hope you and the community are all well.
I lost Lily two years ago and have not welcomed a dog into our family since. However, I have spent some time volunteering with dogs – training and fostering – but it’s all temporary. I’ve been asking myself why I haven’t adopted another dog recently, and part of me is wary in case they turn out to be behaviourally challenged.
I loved Lily fiercely – but her reactivity and downright aggression to other types of dogs made her hard to like. It was like living with an anxious hot mess in the first few years and I remember in the early days being in bed wide awake in the middle of the night thinking about how I could legitimately give her up and making up excuses for it.
Instead, I learned how to help her and am grateful to have had the opportunity to share my life with her – she relaxed as she aged and we smile when we look at the photos chronologically as she looked p****d off permanently in the early years with a tightly closed muzzle, but transitioned into a happy, relaxed and smiling girl. I learned a lot about myself in the process – indeed, I can also be an anxious hot mess and I’ve got some help since: Trisha your book about Will was brave and I had a very similar experience in my dog helping me face up to personal traumas and face them.
So, thank heavens for those dogs who are a little bit of hard work sometimes. But I must admit I will be very wary when ready to adopt if the person mentions “they’re a bit grumpy with other dogs” 😬
Christine Durbin says
I’m 70 and we’ve had dogs since I was 5, so I have a long history of dogs whom I have loved/liked/ etc. But, and this is true of the horses in my life as well, my duty in taking in/adopting animals is to take care of them, which means when they get old and suffer from the things that old animals get. Right now, however, I have a problem with a lab who we adopted from the Humane Society. They took custody of 70 animals at a breeding facility. Rosie was being used for that purpose. She came home to our family 6 months ago. She has adapted to the other dogs, my grandkids, my kids, the swimming pool, the television, walks, but not my husband. She fiercely barks at him when he comes home as if he is the Taliban. She seems to “protect” the second floor of the house (she sleeps in a bedroom there) and races past him to go outside or move away from him. He has never laid a hand on her. Sooo, she is reacting to him as someone in her past. She does not exhibit this behavior with any other men in the family. I’ve ordered the book, but this is behavior that I have little confidence in amending or modifying with food. Thoughts? Thanks, ChrisD
A tricky one Christine. It does sound like there is trigger that relates to your husband and not other men. IF (IF IF IF IF)
you have ample evidence to suggest that she would not hurt your husband in any way, I’ve had success when clients in similar situations sent the two (husband and dog) on a field trip for a couple of days. Of course, this is far more complicated now because of Covid, but the idea is that your husband is the only one around, and your dog begins to think of him as familiar and safe. I would do what you could to work with a behaviorist who help try to sort out what is the trigger? Hair? Beard? Way of moving? Scent? Keep us posted.
So good to hear from you Nic1! I’m sorry about Lily (in so many ways) and so happy to hear how much she improved. (Sorry too about the shared history re Ed of Will. Ah, life.) Best of luck if that new dog comes along and is just the right dog. (I too was wary about a new dog. I actually tried out two dogs before I got Skip. Skip is not perfect… he is obsessed with the cats and plays too rough with Maggie, but he has none of the exhausting reactivity that take so much energy to deal with. I wanted a happy, stable dog, and that is exactly what he is. Hang in there.
Wonderful, wonderful advice Melanie!
All these stories has got me thinking if there is such a thing as true mental illness in dogs (or animals in general). I’m sure there are papers out there about this. Would love to hear your thoughts sometime.
Rebecca Rice says
@Tamandra: If you have a good idea of when your dog is going to have one of his episodes, you could try being prepared to record it on cell phone. Then, you could show the recording to the behaviorist.
@HFR – I often hear that “today’s dogs aren’t like they used to be” and also that 3rd world countries have a lot less issues with their dogs. Which makes me wonder if the issue is with the dogs, or with our current society. I remember back before the internet, when you actually had to go to the library and use their phone books to look up a number in a different city, and life seemed slower, more compartmentalized, and, to a degree, simpler back then. Simpler because it was slower. If you wanted to do something with friends on the weekend, you started planning by Wednesday, because that was how long it took to coordinate things. And I most especially remember working at work, and not working at home. I wonder how much of the issues we see now with dogs is a result of our constantly connected, always on, go-go-go society. They say that’s part of the reason that we are seeing so many more problems in kids today, because their brains are used to (and thus demand) constant stimulation, and they don’t know how to handle it when there isn’t that constant input. I have no idea how you would test for this, or what you would do if we found out that yes, that was a large part of the issue.
For me it was a cat. All my other animals came to me as babies, and I find babies tend to bring love and liking with them, once you get past the sleep deprivation and “OMG what have I DONE?!” moments. But Rosie was an adult, with considerable baggage, and I was rather rushed into taking her on without sufficient consideration. She had been hand reared, adored human contact, hated my other cat, and was a really bad fit for a single working female – she wanted a family of children, or a lap at home all day to snuggle on. I worked at it – weaned her off her frantic need for constant petting, built up her confidence that she could go outside without being locked out forever (her previous family had a child who developed allergies, so the cats were well cared for but were no longer allowed in the house), dealt with her neurotically licking herself bald when she found herself an only cat, and made her life as full and happy as I could, but I never felt the deep bond I have with all my other animals. I know now I should not have taken her on, and that having done so I should have worked with a rescue to find her perfect home, where she would have been liked and loved for the very things that I struggled with.
The experience made me wary of adopting an adult cat or dog – I now probably have the experience to cope better with working through any problems, but, perhaps selfishly, I find I yearn for the nearly-blank-canvas of a puppy or kitten. The end years are still hard – there are many compensations, but constant anxiety, waiting on test results from the vet, balancing drugs, knowing time is running out, are emotionally draining – but for my animals and me they come after many, many years of relaxed and happy companionship, and grief is the price I know I must eventually pay for all the love.
I am a first time dog owner that already loves your work. I’ve read “the other end of the leash” twice (in preparation for adopting a dog) and I am trying to use “family friendly dog training” to my fullest advantage. I adopted a husky/german shepherd mix recently (from a shelter – she’s almost 7 months old). I’ve had her for 2.5 weeks. The good news – she’s very friendly both with people and with dogs. The difficult news – she wants to meet EVERYONE. And she barks, whines, and does doggie parkour when she can’t. I live in a condo, and my neighborhood has LOTS of dog owners, so exposure is high, and I feel so guilty having her bark when I’m taking her out for the first time at 6 AM (or anytime, frankly). Some dog owners interpret her behavior as aggressive – she’s barking loudly and pulling toward their dog, after all. BUT, she’s met several dogs on leash and a few other dogs that were off leash (I will NOT let her off leash) and she’s done fantastically well. I’ve been unsuccessful getting her attention during these situations, even with high value treats (like hot dog or turkey bits). I’ve basically been trying to kindly keep her moving by saying “Let’s go!” in a nice voice and “good” as soon as she turns her head away to walk with me and more “good” as soon as she starts to quiet down (she’s still too excited to take treats at this point – I’ve tried). I know I should be grateful that she’s friendly and not afraid of other people and dogs, but the fact is that she is VERY noisy and disruptive. She will continue to whine and jump, sometimes for blocks, until the object of her affection is out of sight. Sometimes even after she no longer sees the person/dog, she’ll still jump and whine as if to communicate “are you sure we can’t go back and meet them???”. I want to like my dog, as well as love her. I’m an outdoorsy person, and enjoying time with a dog outdoors is a huge reason I wanted to adopt in the first place. I feel like I’m running the gauntlet every time I take her out. Any advice is most welcome!
Wow, in reading all of these comments, I am so grateful that my problems with one particular dog were mild compared to some of the stories related here. I can really only speak from the perspective of a service dog handler, and what it was like to have a dog I loved, but didn’t always like. Ah… Torpedo. He was so weird. He was an excellent guide dog, working safely for me for six years, but he had odd fears about things. Once, when we were inside a grocery store, he growled at a display of, either balloons, or giant rubber balls, I’m not sure which. He’d rise at 7 or 8 in the evening, no matter what any of us were otherwise doing, walk over, and stand before us and bark. We offered him toys, took him outside, offered him water and he didn’t want any of it. Did he want to talk? I don’t know. Like I said, he was weird from the get-go, but in his younger years, he seemed to be able to hold his quirks and his working life together. Then, one stormy summer night, when he was about 6, he barked and barked to be let out of his crate. Normally, he loved his crate, and would often put himself to bed there, but with the storm, all he wanted was to be out of there, and on me. He crawled up into my bed, and tried to crawl behind my pillow, and into the wall. The next day, he had stressed induced tummy problems. I spoke with my instructor, who thought that it might be stress from the job, and suggested I consider retirement. I wanted to give it a little more time, and perhaps try different things first, and she completely supported it. But over the next two years things just got worse. Torpy was now anxious about the wind rattling a window shade, storms of course, and sometimes, things I didn’t understand. There were many sleepless nights I’d sit up with him as he draped over my lap, panting and shaking. I was frustrated, sad and felt helpless. All of these feelings began to bleed over into our working relationship. I began using him less and less, and looking back on it now, I think I might have begun to trust him less on some level, because if he was frightened of something I couldn’t see, perhaps there really was something there to be frightened of? This, I think is the hardest part of my interdependence on my dogs. I trust them to see for me, and if I can’t trust that, it can’t be an effective partnership. It got to the point where I was just managing him, and not really working with him at all. I retired him, and after that, most of his anxiety issues cleared up. I firmly believe that he was afraid of making a mistake when working, and that anxiety spilled over into other aspects of his life. I always loved him, and even though he died four years ago, I still miss him very much, but man, there were times I just wanted to pull my own hair out. I think the main thing I learned from this experience is, to be aware of what is motivating me to continue the relationship with my dog. Torpedo’s work kept us together for at least a year or more, and because his work was so good, I kept him trapped in a position he hated, but did for me, hence, building on his anxiety. I’ve learned, that it is always about both of our needs as a working team, and not just one or the other. Though I’ve always known this, i’ll always keep it in the forefront of my mind with any dog I have. These animals are not machines. These animals are living beings, and they have needs too.
I’m having very hard and messy feelings about our new dog for several months now. I can’t say I love or even like him much at all, and this is not a feeling I’ve experienced with an animal before. I almost always liked or loved the animals around me. I had for a long time learned how to train and work with numerous horses and feel confident in my ability to communicate with animals – one could say it became foundational to my own identity, i.e. being someone who is good with animals and who prefers being around animals. There are a myriad of things going on here that complicate my feelings this go round and am thankful to come across these resources and help.
1. I lost my soulmate just under a year before my partner wanted to rescue a 5 month old mixed puppy. I didn’t really believe in soulmates until I met my dog when I was only 12 and she was only 1. She was the most supportive and precious friend I ever had. She got me through some of my hardest times, and I now feel guilty I was going through the messy coming of age years with her and didn’t always know how lucky I was to have her and how perfect she was in almost every way. I want to spoil my girl and it feels weird trying to connect with a different dog instead. Grieving is hard and I never grieved this much till losing her. I felt it was just too soon to get another dog, but I also felt my partner had a connection with this puppy and didn’t want to get in the way of someone having a special bond with a dog. Problem is I have to live with this dog too.
2. The dog turned out to be a bad fit for me. Not my partner at least. But I am suddenly feeling incapable of working through my feelings and in turn training with the sort of care I usually have. I didn’t know we were a bad fit at first. I thought I would come around eventually and that through training, we would be able to bond. Unfortunately, my grief and in turn incompatibility has made me feel all out of sorts. Like I suddenly don’t even like dogs, which is quite a stretch given my history. All because of one dog…
3. Turns out, you really can just be incompatible. Sometimes a connection doesn’t form. Sometimes there’s other things going on in life that are challenging and create messier feelings (grief). Sometimes you don’t realize you mesh better with certain dogs over other dogs. This is the first time I’ve been around a dog with hunting genetics. This is the first time I’ve been around a dog that is very loud and insensitive. This is the first time I’ve been around a dog that wants to over-enthusiastically meet every person and dog around them. I honestly just don’t know what to do with this sort of dog at times, and I also never realized that I’ve never even had to try to train a dog like this anyway. Unfortunately I am more often triggered by his presence than soothed by it and that gets in the way of training and bonding.
4. I really miss my friend. But I also miss being around animals I actually like. I am forgetting how significant they’ve been in my life and how healing they’ve been for my neurodivergencies. I am living in a city now and don’t have access to other animals right now and it is suffocating to be around an animal you don’t get along with without the reassurance from animals you do actually get a long with. In the past, my soulmate was always with me regardless of the messy relationships I may have had with other animals. Now I don’t know where to look for that solace and connection with animals. It seems too stressful to look for a dog or cat that I would connect with, especially since I am around our new dog 24/7 and its very grating.
Kate: Take all this with a grain of salt because I”m sure not a psychologist, but it sounds to me like you are still deep in grief. Surely than can make forming new relationships, especially with individuals who just don’t feel right, extremely hard. What can you do to lighten your load and take care of yourself? Do less with this new dog? Find ways to work into/through the grief? I wish I was wiser, but I’m hoping you can take as step back, take the pressure off yourself to be anything, anyone except who you are at this moment, and find ways to make your life a little bit easier. And.. are there other ways to connect with other animals? Shelters? Rescues? Friends? Stuffed animals? (I am not being cute, I took a stuffed animal with me everywhere when I traveled around the country speaking about my memoir. It helped, I swear.)