Doggie Rehab — Part 8 — Whirling Dervish

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The next day, I took Cricket to a nearby park. The park is mostly grassy fields, so I figured that would help her anxiety, and it did. She wasn’t concerned a bit, and really enjoyed being there. I was getting a bit stressed out, though, as geese also love those grassy fields, so there was goose crap everywhere. Cricket was chowing down on it at every step, and I couldn’t possibly stop her. Great…was she going to get salmonella?

Damn geese.

Since trying to walk a dog while they are obsessively eating and scanning for goose poop isn’t any fun, I walked over to a nearby building. I figured there’d be less goose crap there, and sure enough, things were clear. There was some kind of machinery behind the building. Maybe a pump of some sort? Anyway, it was making a steady, low hum, so I decided that hanging out near that for a little while might help her get used to the sounds of the big city.

She lay down on a strip of grass next to the sidewalk, and I sat with her. Two workers left the building, on their way to lunch, and I felt a little awkward to be sitting there on the ground with my dog. It wasn’t an obvious place for someone to be hanging out…would they think I was up to something? So I proactively addressed them and said hello, and that I was working on training my dog.

“Looks like she’s doing really well!” one of them commented. At that moment, Cricket launched straight from the ground and into the air, attempting to jump on the woman. Fortunately, I’d already discovered Cricket had this problem and had a short hold on the leash. “OFF!” I said firmly, as she hit the end of the leash without reaching her target.

Yup, we were going to have to work on this little jumping problem. Cricket might be small at thirty-something pounds, but that didn’t excuse her leaping on people. She needed to be taught the boundaries, and it was a high-priority item. I was sick of being jumped on, and even though she was small, she could still shove me with a leap. And what if a small child or elderly person approached? She could easily knock them over and harm them with exuberance. I wanted a dog that anyone could come up and pet, if they wished.

The visit to that park went so well that I took her to Como Park the next day. Since it was a weekday, I knew things wouldn’t be crowded. However, I also knew that I could count on people rolling around baby strollers if I hung out near the zoo and Conservatory. I didn’t want to get too close–didn’t want any repeats of the growling incident. But that was the beauty of the park. Over near the Conservatory there are wide grassy areas in between the sidewalks. So I could be well away from people passing with small children, while still exposing her to the sights and sounds of rattling baby carriages.

I brought along her stuffed skunk, and parked a block away from the Conservatory. I hadn’t realized that every single tree on our way there would have ample mulch spread under it, and it was kicked up onto the sidewalks as well, so we had the same problem we’d had the day before with the goose crap. Cricket compulsively ate mulch, and I essentially had to drag her for most of the block. So we started out a training session with some frustration on my part, and that’s never a good thing. Next time, I’d park elsewhere. One battle at a time, right?

We reached the perfect spot to hang out while people came by. Close enough that she could observe everything. Far enough away that nobody was tempted to wander over to pet her. Things went really well at first. We played with her skunk, and she didn’t react at all as adults, toddlers, and strollers went past. There was even a group of developmentally delayed adults leaving the Conservatory, and one of them called out to me, wanting to know Cricket’s name.

“Cricket,” I yelled.

“What?”

“Cricket!”

“What?”

The person behind her helpfully said, “Cricket!”

I guess she didn’t like that name, because she started yelling “Hi Tigger! Hi Tigger! Hi Tigger!” over and over again at Cricket. Cricket held her ground. She was alert, but not freaking out, thank goodness. The whole thing amused me. Given Cricket’s bounciness, I thought the woman had come up with a great name for her.

Not long after that, Cricket started losing interest in the skunk. So I sat on the grass with her, and thought we’d simply enjoy some nice companionship. BIG mistake.

Things were ok at first, then all of a sudden, she exploded with frenetic energy. This girl wanted to RUN! Except she hit the end of the leash. And when that happened, she went even wilder with abandon. She rolled to the ground, tangling the leash around her, and then started twisting and kicking all four of her legs. That managed to take up all the slack left in the leash–it was now fully wrapped around her body.

It all happened so fast, and I was scared that I’d lose ahold of the leash and she’d run off. I’d lose my dog just as I got her, and what if I never found her again? What if she got hit by a car? So I reached for her to try to untangle the leash. And that’s when she started insanely mouthing me. Now, when I say mouthing, I mean she was biting–just not hard enough to break the skin. But it was still painful, especially as she was repeatedly piranha-chomping me and wouldn’t stop.

Cricket had turned into a whirling dervish, and every horrible thing I’d ever heard about pit bulls attacking people came to mind. Why was she biting me? Was this the start of an attack? I’d already noted she was mouthy–it was another thing we had to work on–but this was entirely out of control. And worse, we were in a public area. If I injected some discipline here, were people going to look over and assume I was abusing my dog? Suddenly, I felt bad for every parent I’d ever seen walking away from a toddler having a public meltdown.

Except ignoring her meltdown wasn’t an option, or she’d break loose and possibly run off.

“CRICKET! CUT IT OUT! THAT’S ENOUGH!”

But yelling just egged her on. That pit bull intensity is real, and Cricket has it in spades. Once it’s run off with her, you’ve got to work to get her channeled back into the direction you want her to go.

A physical intervention was up next, and if anyone called the cops on me, I was just gonna have to cope with that. Somehow, in spite of being repeatedly kicked and mouthed, I managed to get ahold of her collar in both hands. I pulled her upright into a sitting position and gave her collar a firm shake.

“I SAID KNOCK IT OFF!”

That got her attention, so I switched to a quiet, calm voice. “Just calm down, please. That’s it. Let’s just calm down.” I saw her relax and her eyes half close. Thank goodness.

My dog back under control, I untangled the leash and decided to call it a day. I was so upset at that point. I felt angry and provoked by her biting at me. Embarrassed by her public meltdown. Scared about what it might mean, and whether I could ever civilize this beast. Frustrated that this dog had problems at every turn.

Everything scared her. She had no obedience training and hauled on the leash. I couldn’t let her out of the kitchen, because she had no manners in the house. She compulsively ate mulch and everything else on the ground. She mouthed me–not just in this instance, but constantly. Every time I tried to put on her collar, or clip her lead on or off. When we were playing with her toys, she’d leap and mouth on me, trying to grab the toy out of my hand. If I tried to have a quiet moment with her we couldn’t snuggle–she’d turn it into a wrestling match, trying climb all over me while, you guessed it, constantly mouthing me.

I was at my wit’s end after less than a week with her. Although I’d managed to talk to her calmly once I had her attention, and I’d used the minimal amount of physical correction necessary to stop the whirling dervish, I felt like drop kicking her. Raw anger seethed in me as we walked back to the car, and behind that anger was fear.

This wasn’t a small puppy with these problems. Nope, she was just over a year old. Start with a puppy, and if you’re smart, you gently train these boundaries from square one so you don’t end up with these problems. The older a dog gets, the harder it is to correct things and extinguish the undesirable behaviors that have become habit. Was it too late for Cricket already? Did I have the skill to cope with all of this? She was a pit mix, after all, and I was starting to think I never should have adopted one.

Never train a dog when you’re upset, frustrated, or angry. Just don’t. It’s impossible to be fair, and you will overcorrect. And maybe I’m some horrible person that I felt such anger towards my poor little Cricket-dog, who was only acting out because she’d never learned otherwise, but anger is what I felt in that moment of fear. And I think that’s ok, because what I did with that wasn’t to abuse my dog. It was to remove her from the situation and head for home, where I intended to crate her for a while so I could cope with my emotions and think about what went wrong and what to do next.

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About Amy Hunter

Amy Hunter is an avid gardener and occasional photographer.
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