Fear

Total honesty time- I am afraid of Rottweilers. Not Pit Bulls, Great Danes, Boxers, nope. Rottweilers. I started pet sitting just a couple weeks ago and I have only seen a couple “clients” and already it has shown me how far I have come, and how far I have yet to go.

I think (it’s a dangerous practice) that because I focus so much on the science and psychology of dog it gets me in trouble. My brain automatically goes into research mode and like a mental file cabinet pulls up everything I can remember about the breed in front of me (the main breed, if mixed). Then I throw in what I know about the dog itself- it’s personality, history, training, etc. Then I narrow down to the owner; training principles, follow through, leadership. In about five seconds I am making snap decisions about whether or not I am comfortable with the situation in front of me, and I have never been 100% comfortable with a Rottweiler. I don’t know that I will ever allow Reggie around a Rottweiler.

I realize my Rottweiler issues are due in large part to when Reggie was attacked. It has been almost three years now and I’m sure he’s over it but I’m not. At one particular moment, the image of that dog’s head, mouth open, lunging at Reggie is burned in my brain and I will never forget it. That dog’s head was so big and Reggie is so lean and I was so aware in that moment that it was no contest- Reggie would be gone. I had those kind of super-powers you hear about on the news when mothers lift cars off of their children and at that moment- I punched the dog in the side and yelled, “NO!”. Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done…but it stunned the dog enough that we could walk away quickly and get help.

My fear is also the science/thinking part. Rottweilers are strong, protective dogs with one of the strongest bites. They are also loyal, wonderful, and great family dogs- that require training, socialization, and an experienced owner. Every dog is an individual and can be a little different- but many breed characteristics ring true. So when I see a Rottweiler on a walk, I steer clear. Why? Because I am looking at the owner. How are they handling the dog? With a breed like that, the owner’s demeanor tells me all I need to know.

How this came to the forefront recently is with pet sitting. Not with a Rottweiler, but with other large dogs. I don’t fear any breeds when I’m by myself it’s when I’m with Reggie that it’s genuine fear, but I noticed internally my confidence and my reactions were a little different. With small breeds I have no hesitation, no difference in reaction. My amateur training kicks in and I do what I do. With large breeds I have a moment of hesitation, a moment where my confidence wavers, then I settle in and it’s fine. This bothered me, and I realized my threshold was Reggie, or rather Reggie-sized dogs. Reggie-sized and smaller is no confidence shaker. Larger than Reggie, I hesitate.

I believe it all ties to the attack. I used to be a lot less over-protective of Reggie before the attack (acknowledging I am over-protective anyway). I had a realization of bite force/bite ability that I just didn’t know before. Is ignorance better? Or am I better off knowing? Does that make me more aware of an impending dangerous situation in the long run? Or, like right now, just more fearful of what could happen (and likely won’t)?

One day, I hope I will see an owner in control of their calm, trained Rottweiler that will give me enough of a sense of comfort that I will take Reggie to greet the dog. That will be progress (for me)!

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When to say goodbye

This past week saw two losses. A close friend made the decision to put her senior dog down, and the other was the loss of a puppy by a fellow blogger. My heart is broken for both of them; I can’t imagine what the loss feels like not having gone through it yet myself.

Reggie will be seven next month and I would be lying if I said I haven’t thought about his end of life decisions. He is not a senior dog yet, but he is definitely middle-aged and graying around the muzzle. Every person that has a pet soulmate, a pet family member, will agonize over the decision of is this the right time? I will, oh how I will. What if I wait just a few more weeks and he gets better…

So for the science minded but emotionally pet tortured among us here is a way to make end of life decisions for our pets a little less painful.

Ask Why

Why do you think now is the right time? What are you afraid of about euthanizing? I am afraid Reggie will actually hurt or suffer in the actual process. For some reason I think the process is like suffocation. Discuss it with your vet. If you believe that it is the right time, what are the thoughts/concerns of the people around you and how can they be addressed? Are you taking their concerns into account? Above all are you making the decision that is best for your pet? Sometimes actually writing everything down helps.

Five Good Things

List the top five things that your dog loves to do and list them. When they can no longer do three or more of them, their quality of life has been impacted to a degree that warrants review. I could list “playing catch with tennis ball” as all top five. Maybe four, and “cuddling on the couch” as number five.

HHHHHMM

From vetstreet.com, the HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale is a tool to measure, as it indicates, quality of life. It stands for Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Happiness, Hygiene (the ability to keep the pet clean from bodily waste), Mobility, and More (more good days than bad). Each category gets graded on a scale of 1-10. If the majority of categories are 5 or above, supportive care is acceptable.

Journal

If you received a diagnosis of an illness it would help to keep a pet journal to chart progress (or not) of your dog’s condition. This way you can make rational comparisons over time and not feel forced into a quick decision.

It’s About Your Dog

It’s not about you. Dogs live in the moment and aren’t thinking about that totally awesome day three years ago when you took them to the park and played catch for like two hours and then gave them tons of treats and let them sleep on the couch…and then played again…and went in the pool…and more treats! It’s not about your grief, or your guilt, or your inability to let go. What matters is your dog and what’s best for her. And that might be letting go now, a few months from now, or not now because continuing care and treatment is the right option.

Making the decision to euthanize a pet is possibly the worst decision you’ll ever have to make as a pet parent. There’s nothing anyone can say to make the grief not as heartbreaking, the guilt not as traumatic, or the decision not as heavy. But with a few concrete ways to look at it, maybe the decision can be a little easier.

Are you an over protective pet parent?

I saw this post recently on Dogster and it got me thinking, do I do this? The answer was, without hesitation, yes.

The topic was “Are you overly protective when your dog plays rough?” Umm…well…yes. Reggie is a bit of “mama’s boy” as they say and a couple of other factors play into my over-protectiveness: 1) he has been attacked before; 2) he’s still a dog and you never know what works and what doesn’t between dogs. Sometimes he’s cool as a cucumber and sometimes he’s peckish and doesn’t want to be bothered.

With my research of dog emotions and depletion of emotional energy stores (see this blog post), I can see this in Reggie and I understand on certain days, certain walks, that it will not be appropriate to meet other dogs. In other words, he is not in the mood. But what about in a play situation, not a walk?

He gets together with several dogs for play every once in a while. He knows these dogs well; there is a certain comfort level there. However, when Reggie has tired out and the younger, larger dog still play bites and pokes Reggie to play because he still has energy, Reggie will growl and snap to let him know that he’s had enough and he needs to back off. I know this is normal dog conversation but yet it sends ripples of fear through me. I have been known to jump in and correct Reggie for growling and snapping. I try really hard not to do that and give him (and the situation) mixed signals. It is appropriate for Reggie to given warning growls to the other dog, just as it is appropriate for the young dog to learn when to back off.

Taking some tips from Dogster and other training sources, here’s the best approach for learning dog conversation and lessening the fear.

Your Dog

Study your dog’s ears, tail, eyes and mouth. Different breeds inherently have different genetic communication styles (curly tails versus low curled down tails), so it’s not always appropriate to say that a high tail means a high energy, edge-of-your-seat kind of dog, or a low tail means anxiety. Ear position can mean anything from scent tracking, to listening, to anxiety. A cold dog stare means trouble- from any dog regardless of breed. That sounds anthropomorphic, and it kind of is, but before a dog is actually going to bite or lunge there will be a kind of dead cold stare before an attack. Of course, if you find yourself in this situation you don’t EVER want to look this type of dog in the eye because that is seen as aggressive on your part and actually an affront, i.e. an invitation for an attack. It is kind of a vicious circle, no? Baring teeth does not mean a bite. The lip curl, slightly more than a snarl, I start to pay attention.

These things are usually happening so fast that the average person can’t see them. I am not a dog trainer- I know what I’m supposed to look for and I can recognize them only in my dog. However, in a game of play you need to recognize them not as they are happening but in that split second before they happen.

Dog Play

Dogster had a great tip- go to a dog park without your dog. This affords you the opportunity to view dog-dog interaction without the fear or stress of watching your dog. You can use the skills you are honing to see what is good dog conversation (and owner interaction) and bad dog conversation (and owner interaction).

While you are watching other dogs, get good at learning the above dog signals in other dogs too. Why? That split second can prevent a fight with your dog.

You

Do a body check on yourself. How is your heart rate, your breathing? Your energy radiates and transfers to your dog. This is one of my hardest obstacles. I have to constantly check myself, take a deep breath and remember that Reggie knows more than I do.

Being an over protective pet parent is hard. It’s probably even harder for your pet! Learn to loosen up a little, take a deep breath and trust that your pet knows how to have conversations. If your pet truly doesn’t know how, get some training and rehabilitate your dog. Happy playing for you and your dog!