I Love My Dogs (In a Totally Non-Creepy Way)

It’s probably more stressful for me to take my dogs to the Vet than it is for them to go.  Clara doesn’t even notice when she gets shots.  Lilo can be fidgety but usually isn’t too weird about it as long as I hold her head against my chest so she can’t get snippy.  Both of the girls (Sheena is on a different schedule than the other two) were as good as dogs can be last night.

Granted both Clara and Lilo are edging up into “senior” territory which is a difficult reality for me to get through my head.  Clara is 9, Lilo is 8, almost 9.  I have had dogs live almost 16 years- Kayla would probably have lived even longer had we not decided to put her down when her DM (Degenerative Myelopathy) got so bad she was having trouble controlling her bowels and bladder.  That really sucked, especially for a dog whose healthy weight was about 90#.  I couldn’t carry her out, and eventually it got to the point where she didn’t know when she needed to go and then she’d  just let fly which was humiliating to her and difficult for us.  Kayla was otherwise healthy- except for the damned DM keeping her from being able to control her bathroom functions and use her rear legs.  Unfortunately dogs don’t die from DM- but if they are left to die a “natural death,” they die from the pneumonia and heart failure brought on by inactivity.

Because Clara and Lilo both are crossbreeds and not purebred GSDs, it’s unlikely they will get DM like Kayla and Heidi both did.  I am generally not a believer in “hybrid vigor,” but the likelihood of genetic disease is lower in mixed breed dogs.  Heidi had other issues besides DM, though nine years of very poor care before we got her didn’t help.  I doubt if I will ever have another purebred GSD for that reason- the American bloodlines are repositories for every wicked genetic disease under the sun- but who knows.  I love the protection breeds.

In this pic, Clara (top) was a thin and lanky two year old- Kayla (bottom) was a healthy and active 14 year old.   Kayla did wonders developing Clara’s confidence.

Lilo I know has hip dysplasia, but hers is mild, which is a workable condition for most dogs.  Lilo and Clara both have allergies that seem to get worse as they age. Lilo has seborrhea,  and Clara is prone to lick granulomas which are generally not life-threatening but are aesthetically unpleasant.    Sheena has severe hip dysplasia and she has completely destroyed her canine teeth and incisors from cage biting.  Both of these conditions  will probably cause issues as she ages.

Sheena does have issues, but she’s a sweet dog.

The sad truth of having dogs is that they age a lot faster than we do.  I love senior dogs as they are usually a lot more laid back than their younger counterparts and they are confident in their routines.  I was thrilled to take Heidi in at the age of 9- partially because we had just lost Kayla, but also because I enjoy senior dogs and their mellowness.  I was thankful that Heidi had a good three years with us, but it broke my heart to see her go at the relatively young age of  12.

Heidi was always grateful for everything.

I can take Clara anywhere.  She and I have an understanding which is hard to describe, but I know I have a deeper appreciation for her and her gentle, intuitive nature, especially after she was hit by a truck and almost killed two and a half years ago.

When Clara had the stitches- and the seroma- after she was hit by a truck, she had to wear t-shirts to keep from messing with it.  She was not amused.

Lilo is also very mellow and easy to handle, especially for a dreaded “Chow mix,” but that mellowness has taken years to cultivate.  Sheena (about 4 years old now) is not as confident or as obedient as the other two are now.  But Clara had a lot of “puppiness” to her when I got her as a thin and somewhat spooked two year old, and Lilo had her special little “Chowtude” and didn’t want to trust anyone when she first came to us.  Kayla scared her, and Clara just wanted to kick her ass.

Lilo is strange in one regard- she actually enjoys wearing clothes.

Perhaps it’s a bit twisted that I hold my dogs in higher esteem than most people, but at the end of the day- there they are.

The Intellectual Superiority of Dogs, Ban Stupid People, and Other Utopian Impossibilities

I had to take a picture of this yesterday when I saw it, as it mirrors my sentiments regarding both the dispatch of the stupid and those misdirected souls who would ban certain dog breeds.

Banning dog breeds or labeling particular breeds as “vicious” because some humans misuse them follows the same flawed logic and makes as little sense as banning the responsible ownership of firearms because some people misuse firearms.  I am particularly sensitive to such nonsense because I own dogs that have the potential to inflict grave injury if they are mishandled.   ALL dogs have some potential to be dangerous to humans if mishandled, though usually the larger and more assertive the breed there is little margin for error in handling the dog, and the potential for the dog to inflict harm, is greater.

Much has been said in the popular media condemning the Pit Bull breed (which is in reality a robust variant of the American Staffordshire Terrier.)  Irresponsible humans have done unspeakable cruelty to Pit Bulls by conditioning them to fight and training them to intentionally attack other dogs.  When properly conditioned and socialized, pitties (or as some owners prefer to refer to them- AmStaffs-) are some of the sweetest, most gentle and lovable dogs on Earth.  The difference between the lovable pittie who plays with children and lounges in the TV room and the deadly fighter who tears and rips other dogs to death is the human factor: are the humans responsible for the dog caring for it, socializing it, and handling it correctly?

I remember well that other breeds have been demonized in the media as being inherently “vicious” also- Dobermans, GSDs, Rottweilers, Chows, and Akitas to name a few.  However, in the rush to condemn a particular breed for being inherently prone to aggressive acts, the human factor was ignored.  Certain breeds do possess personality traits that can lead to aggressive acts if the human handler does not know how to deal with those traits.  A good example is our GSD/Chow mix, Lilo.

Lilo is a very territorial dog (typical of both Chows and GSDs) and always stands ready to defend what she believes is hers.  This personality trait can lead to aggression- and someone getting his/her face ripped off- if Lilo is improperly handled.  We understand that Lilo must be carefully introduced to both new people and other dogs so she doesn’t see the “interloper” as a threat.  We reward her when she is polite to new people and other dogs so she will associate being sociable with getting an extra something.   Lilo is heavily food motivated, so we encourage new visitors to pay tribute to Miss Lilo with a piece of cheese or meat.

Clara (Belgian Malinois/GSD) is every bit as territorial as Lilo, (pity be on any fool who would turn up in our house without proper introductions) but Clara is not nearly as demanding or headstrong as Lilo can be.  Clara is easier for me to handle than Lilo because she has an endearing and typically Malinois trait- her primary motivator is affection rather than food.  She won’t turn down food, but she lives for positive reinforcement.  She is very much a pleaser, but with one condition.  She will do virtually anything if she knows that’s what I want her to do.  If I am handling her she can be the gentlest and most docile dog imaginable no matter where we are.  She was a most welcome and sweet visitor to the nursing home my Grandma was in.   However, I am sure that the kids who tried to climb the fence saw a very different Clara- one with hair raised and teeth bared, charging at them full bore and ready to take a healthy chunk or two out of some miscreant butts should they land on the wrong side of the fence.  I am thankful that they made a wise choice when they saw her coming at them- they dropped and ran before they got over the fence and into Clara range.

Sheena (Husky/GSD) is rather harmless to people and could care less who walks in the house as long as they pay attention to her- she is not territorial at all, but she can be dog aggressive if she thinks she is not getting as much food or attention as the other two dogs.   She is a special case because we have only had her for about eight weeks and that’s the only socialization she has ever had.  She has gotten puppy obedience down and can obey simple commands.  Sheena is extremely food motivated and we are still struggling with some of her bad habits such as trash-digging and food-stealing.  She has that bullheadedness that is peculiar to Huskies- she makes Lilo’s “Chowtude” seem mild in comparison, and she is by far the most difficult of the three dogs to handle, at least right now.  She has made a great deal of improvement but needs to make a great deal more.  Especially when she gets the bright idea that uncoordinated large dogs can table dance.

For most people, Clara would be the more difficult of the three to handle simply because she is extremely perceptive and sensitive.   I can handle her with ease because her goal in life is to please me.  As long as I have had her (hard to believe it’s almost been six years) we sort of read each other’s minds, and she usually knows what I want before I give the command.   Now I know why the police and military love the Malinois breed.  As far as Clara obeying anyone else…well that’s a crap shoot.  Jerry can handle her to a degree.   I have to be with her for veterinary treatments.  If I am with her she will comply with any necessary procedure, but she freaks out if they take her in the back where she can’t see me.  Yelling at her only causes her to cower and hide, so any training method with her requires a lot of redirection and positive reinforcement as well as no loud commands or physical corrections.  I am glad Clara is an intuitive and quick learner.  Sheena is the exact opposite.  She’s not stupid, but extremely stubborn. She seems to do better when I’m brandishing the water bottle and she understands the threat of punishment should she fail to comply.   Lilo is a happy medium by comparison.  She’s not a pleaser but she will do what the humans want to get what she wants (food, and to a far lesser degree, attention.)

The bottom line is that it’s not about breed but in how the individual dog is socialized and handled.  Knowing that all three of my girls have very different learning styles as well as vastly different strengths and weaknesses gives me a guideline of how to help them be successful and well-adjusted.  I would not try to take Lilo to a dog park or to visit a nursing home.  She does not make (human or dog) friends easily.  Sheena would be wonderful in a meet-and-greet situation with humans (when her obedience skills are a bit more refined, she would be wonderful at the nursing home) but not so much with other dogs.  Other dogs have to be addressed with caution with both Sheena and Lilo.  (Oddly enough, Sheena and Lilo get along well- most of Sheena’s conflicts have been over being jealous of Clara.)  Clara is probably the most versatile of the three as in the proper context she gets along well with dogs and humans.

I get really disgusted with people who claim that dogs are not situational creatures, that they simply react on instinct or out of fear of punishment. I know this is NOT true.   Some dogs are more rational and sentient than a great deal of humanity is.  Dogs are situational creatures and can adapt their behavior accordingly.  They read human behavior better than other humans do.  It’s what they do to survive and thrive.

In some ways I get tired of people who continue to believe in spite of boat loads of evidence to the contrary that it is possible to create utopia on earth.  I think we can (sort of) create the dystopia we like the best, but there’s no getting back to the Garden, folks- not on human effort, anyway.