“Trust, but verify.”

Phoebe at Prospect Park photo by Dennis Riley

The new year has been full of ups and downs and we’re only a month into it! On New Years day I got an interesting email from the dog Phoebe’s (who I’ve talked about frequently) owners. After having a baby and some behavior backsliding (mainly guarding her people like a bone she wants no one to take) they decided to re-home her, and asked me if I would like to take her. I, of course, wanted to say yes but I had to clear it with Dennis and the cats first. We began by doing a few visits to see how the cats (and Dennis) would do with a dog in the home. Surprisingly, the cats were less offended by the dog than they were by each other. When the cats met there was  a lot more hissing growling and chasing around than when they met the dog. Phoebe tried to chase them a few times, but got a time-out in her crate each time, and has since stopped.

The two most valuable things to Phoebe are her people’s attention and her food. If we immediately cut off her attention when she’s practicing rude behavior and only give her attention for polite behavior she will practice the polite behavior more and the rude behavior less. She’s guards us a bit in the house when the cats or visitors want to interact with her so as soon as there’s a growl, bark, nipping, anything- into the crate she goes and can only come out when she can behave herself. We give visitors treats to introduce themselves to her and when she calms down we give her a food toy to keep her busy or a rawhide, she’s too busy working on that to worry much about visitors. She’s a work in progress, but hey, aren’t we all? We’re feeding her exclusively through KONG’s and other food toys where she has to work to get the food out which helps drain some of that terrier energy. She loves it, its far more stimulating than just eating out of a bowl. Its like getting to play with her food- a game and dinner all in one! We’re going to start an agility class soon also to give her an outlet for her high intelligence and energy.

People ask me what it is about Phoebe that makes me love her so, after all the years that I’ve worked with dogs and managed to keep a boundary of not actually taking any home. I think its getting to see the transition with time, training, love, and trust from growling shaking mess, to happy, loving dog. I never take aggressive behavior personally, its just behavior, growling, barking, and nipping has worked for her to keep people away and keep herself safe. We’ve had to teach her that people are safe and good to be around. I actually respect her self control, she’s been scared to death at times and never bitten anyone Like me, it takes her a while to trust people but once she does she’s a real love. It just takes some patience. We both adhere to the Reagan era saying “Trust, but verify.”

In other news, I’ve been having loads of problems with my feet and ankles from years of dog walking abuse. Apparently, walking for 5-6 hours a day, running up and down stairs, and getting yanked around by dogs is taking its toll. I’m seeing doctors but basically if I keep it under 3 hours I don’t have as much pain so I have to have more employees to take care of the dogs. I’ve had a hard time with employees, I’ve had a few amazing ones, and a few really not good ones that I had to let go. Its tough because I care about all of the animals as if they were my own and finding employees that take this business that seriously isn’t easy. People think its just a leisurely job but its serious, hard work, and a lot of responsibility. Plus you have to know or be willing to learn about dog behavior and training when you’re putting dogs that don’t know each other together or you could have a dog fight on your hands. Not to mention working outside is great when its nice outside, this winter I’ve felt like we were on an episode of Deadliest Catch, that show where they are crab fishing in the arctic ocean, except instead of crabs we have dogs. The weather has been the worst I’ve seen it in 10 years. Loads of freezing rain and blizzards. Thankfully, the weather will always change but there have been days this winter where I’ve been in pain walking in a blizzard and cursing my career decisions but obviously God has me here for a reason. I try not to question, just show up, and pay attention so I don’t miss the lessons and have to keep learning them over and over again.

Both Phoebe and I have been forced to trust others for our survival, if we can just let go it can be great, but we’re both in the “verify” state so we hang on trusting a little bit at a time.

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