My Dog Molly: The Paradox

A girl's discovery about her dog and herself.


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it hurts me more than it hurts you

One of the pieces of advice Molly’s behaviourist, C., gave me was to kennel train Molly. I didn’t admit to her that when I got M she was familiar with the kennel and we used is for several of her first evenings and days she was with me. But she hated it. I had to pull and push her into the hard plastic container. So the idea of putting her through that didn’t appeal to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the need to kennel train a dog. I often see M. crawling in behind the sofa or into a dark tight corner to nap. The den concept rings true. But I’m a sucker for puppy eyes and the look she used to give me when I put her in that cage would break my heart.

Putting my own issues aside I went to my favourite pet store in the city and plunked down some cold hard cash for a new large cage-like kennel. Molly came to me with a kennel but it is one of those hard plastic-one-entrance-difficult-to-see-out-of contraptions. That wasn’t going to happen. I got M. a huge cage-like structure with two entrances. Then I bought a memory foam bed to lay at the bottom with several blankets. If I had to kennel her it was going to be in the lap of luxury.

Molly avoided the structure the first day it went up. Well, that’s not quite right. She sniffed around it and then turned to me with a skeptical look on her face and then turned and walked away. Then I started to only give her treats in the kennel. Leaving the gate open I’d tell her to “Go to your room”, have her lay down and then give her the threat. All to convince her it was a good place.

The “room” has been up for a week now and I’ve placed a blanket on the top of it so it’s more ‘den-like’. I haven’t been forcing her in, or locking the gate, but letting her explore it on her own. Then, last night, she walked into the room on her own, fluffed up the bed and blankets and lay down for a nap. I almost let out a ‘yelp’ of joy I was so proud but I’m trying not to make a big deal of it. This strategy seems to be working because she’s in there now sound asleep in her room on this rainy Sunday evening while I watch a special on Holyroodhouse, sipping tea, and sitting next to a cozy fire.

All is happy in my heart right now.

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A Walk In The Park

Today me and Molly took a walk in the park with her behavourist, C. Words can’t describe how nice it is to have someone see the potential in your reactive pup so much that she is willing to come for a walk with you once a week to assess your progress and give tips.

We talked a lot about the aggressive methods I was taught and why those haven’t worked with Molly–which helped me understand why we are where we are. And then there was much discussion about me setting more boundaries for her. This one is going to be interesting and tough. First up is getting her kennel trained. I can do it over several weeks but I have to create a safe place for Molly to retreat to when I need her to (i.e. when company comes over). I do have a big plastic kennel but I think I’m going to buy a cage one so she can at least see out easily.

Next, I’m to reduce the amount of space she has access to when I’m not home. Right now Molly has full range of the house when I’m gone. She claimed the sofa in the front early on as it provided a great view of the world out front. I am supposed to reclaim that space–she’s only allowed up when I let her. We’ve got that down pat throughout the rest of the house but that sofa…this one is going to be tricky.

Then, there are her toys. We normally keep her toys in one basket that she has access to. I’m supposed to move that basket up high. She’s only allowed access to her toys as a treat, not when she feels like playing.

This will be hard for me…I mean…how do you say no to this face?

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It’s all for the good though. And I feel good about this process.

Starting next week, we introduce Molly to one of C.’s boxers and begin socialization. Exciting! 


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Embracing Your True Self

When I first started going through training with Molly it was focused mostly on being the alpha, being the leader of her pack. The theory made sense to a point but what I struggled with was being blamed for my emotions…it was my emotions that were driving Molly to behave the way she does. And while I completely understand how emotions impact others I wasn’t convinced that’s all it was. Plus, my response to her misbehaviours was supposed to be aggressive. Hmmm…aggressive behaviour met with aggressive response…something seems wrong with that, at least for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen it work well for other dogs. Which is great. But maybe that’s because their human works that way. But when I look at my leadership style, at least with people, aggression doesn’t work–it just makes them negatively reactive, almost abused; so why should that work with dogs?

This isn’t going to be an easy process because I’ve now taught my reactive dog to be even more reactive. Which is not fair to her. I should have trusted my instincts more and sought out other behaviour-altering methods. My hope is that I’m not too late.

Later this week we are going for a walk with her behaviourist so she can see how Molly reacts and how I respond. There must be a balance.

On another note, there’s a chance that I may be moving to another province in the coming months and for M’s sake I hope I do. The area we’d be moving to is very dog friendly and open to alternative behaviour-modifying methods. Molly is trained, she is bright, and wise, and goofy…she can do tricks, she can walk beside me, she can heel. But her behaviour needs to shift. And the resources I have available to me here in the valley just won’t cut it.
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For both our sakes I hope this move happens.


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Shifting Behaviours

Last weekend Molly and I met with an animal behaviourist. Well, we’ve actually met her before but in the role of a groomer. It was only through conversations with her groomer, C., that I came to realize that she loves animals so much that she sought training in many animal therapy solutions. So, not only do I have someone who is already familiar with some of M.’s challenges and insecurities but she really wants to help. You have no idea how happy that makes me.

For our first season C. came to the house with one of her dogs to see how M. would respond. The intent was to leave her dog out on the front porch (sheltered and secure with lots of water) so Molly knew he was there but he wasn’t in her space…yet. This was all to see how M. responds. C. then came in and given that M. knew her she was all wiggly and happy. But then, as usual, gets so overwhelmed that she started to growl and snap. C. expected this and showed me how to correct her. This one may take some time though…tell her ‘no’ or ‘tsst’ sharply (sometimes with a small jab to collar bone area) then make her do something to obey me…like sit or lay down. It was the next part of the season that intrigued me most…when C. pulled out some jars.

We were going to try aromatherapy on my little girl. If you think about it, it makes sense. A dog’s sense of smell is so much greater than ours that they would be more susceptible to scent than we would–and just think of how some smells make you feel, like lavender or vanilla. C. then pulled out several viles and let M. sniff them in turn. Whichever ones she licked or tried to eat the air around them she marked down on a piece of paper; this was the selection process. Molly selected three in total: peppermint, yarrow, and nelori. Each of these are great for calming dogs and encouraging relaxation. For the peppermint I’m to put a drop in her water once a day. This will help the oil get into her system a little more directly plus help with digestion and doggie breath. 🙂 The other two I’m supposed to let her sniff which one she prefers at that moment, rub someone into my hands and let her sniff or lick (they’ve be diluted with 100% organic vegetable oil). We do this two or three times a day. Oh, and there’s a bottle of lavender oil…for me. 😀

Finally, I’m taking her off the correction/chain collar. Molly is fully trained and doesn’t need that anymore and we feel it may have been a negative reinforcement. There’s a chance she began to associate skateboards, motorcycles, bicycles, etc. with pain which just aggravates her more. So I bought her a Halti collar instead–one that gently pulls her head to the side when she lunges forward. We tried it today. She hates it and successfully pulled the harness off her nose. That’s when I found out the one I have is too big. But, after I got it back on her and took her for a walk she got used to…as long as I kept her focused.

I so enjoyed our little stroll with the halti so much that I called the vet right away when we got home and ordered the right size.

I’m excited by the shifting methods and hopes this modifies her/our behaviour. I feel more confident and secure with this approach. It has to work.

oes, oldenglishsheepdog, animal aromatherapy, halti

The tools to help me and Molly laid out for use while M takes a nap.