When I got home from the shelter, I immediately called my friend Alicia. Alicia knows dogs. Alicia also knows bully breeds, having owned an American Staffordshire Terrier named Joxer, and now two Staffordshire Bull Terriers (affectionately called The Adorabulls). I wanted her take on Cricket, and I knew she’d give me her honest opinion.
On of my big reasons for wanting to avoid Pit Bulls was wanting to avoid terriers in general. They aren’t the easiest dogs to train or live with. Intense and high energy, they can be quite willful, as well as easily bored. Alicia talked about watching a training class once where the terrier in the class would beautifully perform a command twice in a row, then totally blow off its handler on the third repetition. It had already shown it could do what it was asked the first two times–it didn’t feel obligated to endlessly repeat.
That’s a terrier. You’ve got to keep these dogs engaged, and you also have to be a solid leader, or they’ll walk all over you. (More on leadership in future posts.) They also need a lot of exercise, and here I am with health problems. Well-managed health problems these days, but still…I’m not out jogging. At the same time, I really admire the terrier group their drive.
(As I type this, I sigh. After I got home tonight, I played with Cricket in the back yard to get some of the yayas out. When she was more interested in eating mulch than in running after toys, we came in for dinner. After dinner, we took a nice half hour walk. Then we did some training in the house. So I’ve spent most of the evening with the dog, and what is the dog doing now? Coming up to pester me, then running off to play with her toys when I don’t respond, interspersed with occasional bursts of whining as she considers lying down. We could have taken an hour walk and it would still be like this. You can bet a good lab mix would be snoozing by now!)
Anyway, Alicia didn’t have any reservations about my ability to train a terrier. What she brought up mainly was that, compared to my last dog Ray, any dog was going to seem easy. And that was all the reassurance I needed. Alicia is an experienced dog handler, and I knew she’d tell me if she had any hesitation about my abilities, even though I’m not nearly as experienced as she is.
As far as the high energy goes…well, only I can decide what I’m willing to live with. I’d been thinking it would be fun to try agility, anyway, and there can be some really fun aspects to owning a high drive dog, as long as you’re willing to make the lifestyle adjustments so their needs are met. I kept my fingers crossed that Cricket would, at the very least, be interested in fetch so I’d have some means to exercise her, even if I wasn’t running with her.
In spite of some nerves, I felt overwhelming excitement about Cricket, and that was key to my decision to adopt her. I did worry a bit that my excitement might cloud my assessment of her the next day, though, so Alicia agreed to meet me at the shelter. Other than the brief interaction with Cricket, I really hadn’t gotten to know her at all, and I wanted to see her in an adoption room before committing.
By the time I reached the shelter, Alicia had already been waiting for a while. Had she seen Cricket? Yes, she had. “Oh, I see what’s going on here,” she said with a knowing grin. If there’s one thing Cricket excels at, it’s being adorable and wrapping people around her little paw. She might have been a bit over a year old, but she still acted like a puppy, and I have a feeling people will still be seeing Cricket as a puppy when she’s ten. Her ears prick up, her tail wags, and her whole body smiles like she’s a lab puppy. In fact, two people with black labs have assumed just that and began telling me all about when their dogs were puppies, and wanted to bubble all over mine and reminisce. Cricket is perpetually cute.
We found a shelter employee, and I asked to see Cricket in an adoption room. During our time with her there, Alicia noted that she seemed physically hard (i.e. she played rough) but emotionally soft. She was a little scared and hesitant when she first arrived in the room–not of us, but her surroundings. However, when she was scared, she sought us out. Good sign that she seeks out people when she’s unsure, was Alicia’s pronouncement. Once she warmed up, though, she was happy to play, and incredibly adorable:
Incidentally, one of the things I understood in hindsight with Ray is that I actually saw his separation anxiety and other problems when I visited with him in the shelter. I simply didn’t understand what I was looking at. The shelter staff tell you it’s impossible to say what a dog will be like until they’re settled into a new home. Being in the shelter stresses them out and alters their behavior. I’ve come to disagree with that somewhat. No, you will not see the fullness of that dog in the few minutes you spend with them in the shelter. But with both dogs I’ve adopted, I’ve seen traces of their problems–as well as the good things about them–represented pretty well in what I’ve noted during my visit with them. The trick is recognizing what it means.
Remember this picture. It’s important:
As I drove away with Cricket, I felt a bit sad. I was positive I’d just adopted an awesome dog, and one I was very fortunate to have found. But she wasn’t going to live forever. I vowed to remember that, and to enjoy our time together to the fullest.