Monday, January 7, 2013

The Thing with Feathers

. . .in the immortal words of Emily Dickinson.

What never ceases to amaze me is the cheering power of setting a plan in motion. And then, perhaps even greater, the reassurance and comfort when another person has a calm response to what one inwardly believes is a tragedy of massive proportion.

That calm and solid "here's what you need to do" manner may go along with the territory for dog trainers. It is an excellent thing, is what I am saying.

You may have guessed that I have news. I called Stacey Ayub of Good Dog! Dog Training on a recommendation from a fellow who had also adopted a rescue dog.

I told Stacey everything about My Bad Dog: about her checkered past, that she had been labeled "incorrigible" by a trainer, that she had bitten her previous owners AND the trainer who maligned her (though I did ask Stacey to consider that the trainer used a fog horn, and who wouldn't bite under that provocation?). I told her about how My Bad Dog bit that one kindly stranger, seemingly for no reason, and I told her about how My Bad Dog responded to both the man in the blue truck and to the hoodie-sporting teen-ager. I told her about what happens when a mail carrier comes into view.

It was a relief to say it all out loud to someone who listened carefully. In the immortal words of Sir Gilbert Parker, "In all secrets there is a kind of guilt, however beautiful or joyful they may be, or for what good end they are set to serve. Secrecy means evasion, and evasion is a problem to the moral mind."

Rather than focus on what many might believe is the misfortune of Sophie's breeding, Stacey instead explained what was happening exactly what I've been doing wrong and what I should be doing:

1. Ixnay on the inchpay ollarcay. Why was My Bad Dog wheeling around and snapping at me? To stop me from hurting her. Stacey pointed out that Sophie snapped at me, but never bit me hard enough to hurt me. If a stranger had been using a pinch (prong, training, mean metal) collar on My Bad Dog, that stranger would have ended up in the emergency room.
2. Get a HOLT collar. (Done.)Introduce it gradually, with lots of steak or another special treat, over the course of several days before trying it on My Bad Dog. (We had several sessions today of bringing out the HOLT and then giving My Bad Dog a piece of hot dog every time she looked at it or smelled it. Then we put it all away again.)
3. All those cute behaviors, like the leaning on me? Stop those right now. Don't let My Bad Dog lean against me, put her head on my leg, paw at me, or stand in front of me. Nudge her out of the way.
4. Insist that My Bad Dog defer to me always in the matter of right-of-way (when entering or exiting) and that she walk next to me, never in front of me.
5. Never allow My Bad Dog on the furniture.
6. Wait until after April. Stacey is very busy at the moment training service dogs. Also, Stacey is going to Iowa in April to take a class on dealing with demon devil Cujo Satanic dogs like My Bad Dog from Robin MacFarlane of That's My Dog! and will come back ready to apply everything she has learned.

Poor My Bad Dog. Stacey explained that our intersection troubles came about because I've given Sophie to believe that she must protect me, and so she is doing that to the best of her ability. Aggravating the situation is the use of the prong collar, which corrections keep My Bad Dog in check until she can't contain herself any longer, and so the situation is escalated before it has even begun.

We had a family meeting, during which I told my daughters everything Stacey had told me, and we are all in agreement to reform ourselves.

How long will it take? About eight months.

How did My Bad Dog act on our walk this morning? With perfect composure. But it was a shorter than usual walk. And also? No mail carriers.

Speaking of which, how did My Bad Dog greet our mail carrier today? As she usually does. But she obeyed me when I required her to go and lie down on her bed until her madness passed.

Let's see how it goes.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all - 
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
                       Emily Dickinson

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