My Dog Molly: The Paradox

A girl's discovery about her dog and herself.


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friends and favours

I haven’t written much at all in the last few months; nothing in fact. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been working on Molly’s behaviour, it just means it’s been slow and, thankfully, uneventful.

Back in November we met with a new trainer who got to observe Molly’s actions. It wasn’t an easy afternoon and I’ll be honest and say there were a few tears on my part. But there was hope and guidance. Unfortunately, I live an hour and a half from this trainer and with winter it meant regular training sessions with her would be limited. She is available via email though and that, in itself, is helpful.

For many reasons some of the trainer’s recommendations weren’t working for us…it’s tough to schedule friends to come over to expose Molly safely to new people around Christmas time, and I’m afraid to admit I was nervous inviting just anyone over. It was a combination of fear of what she’d do and my issue of being judged as a ‘bad owner’. I’ve read too many newspaper articles about dogs attacking people and the comments about how it’s the ‘bad owners’. I know I shouldn’t let others opinions impact me but sometimes they do and that’s an unfortunate reality. But, in order for Molly to learn proper manners, and me to learn to be more assertive, I had to get over that fear.

So for the last few months we’ve focused on the leash. I stopped running so we could do the proper training; ensuring Molly stays by my side and not ahead of me. She hasn’t pulled for well over a year now but she is challenged by the idea of walking beside or behind me. Our walks take longer and can get frustrating (every time she gets ahead of me I quietly change directions…this can lead to a lot of back and forth given her stubbornness) but she’s gotten so much better.

Then, this weekend, was the big test. Two of my very dear friends were coming out for a visit. Part of me was tempted to put Molly in the kennel as I knew she’d be a challenge but I couldn’t do that, I knew I shouldn’t do that. So I emailed our trainer and asked her advice–she gave me lots of tips on how to handle the whole situation, and how to help my friends handle Molly…and that’s the thing, Molly has to learn to work for others, not just me.

It began as I expected, Molly barking, growling, and lunging at both of them. They were careful not to make eye contact with her or try to pet her. They listened to all my instructions and ignored her completely. It was awkward at first but Molly quickly calmed down. When she would quietly approach them and sniff then walk away they would respond with “good girl.” Soon, she was comfortable with them both. In fact, she would approach one of them often and lay her head on her lap for a pet–my friend would then ask for Molly’s paw, or ask her to sit before petting

Molly had a more challenging time with my other friend but that will come. I had this friend make Molly work a bit more for any rewards. I cut up some carrots and she would ask Molly to sit and then throw them away so she’d have to come back and ask for more. This seemed to go well and Molly calmed towards her but still wouldn’t let any petting happen. That’s okay though. It will come. We just need to keep working.

OES, dog behavior, aggressive, fear aggression

Molly getting a scratch from my friend, J. We were all pretty happy.

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work it, girl

The number one rule Molly and I live by is she has to work for everything.

You want a scratch behind the ear? Sit pretty.

Expecting a belly rub? Roll over.

Want me to throw that ball to continue our game of fetch? Give paw.
Well, you asked for it, you got it. This is Molly giving paw with cold like eyes like no other dog gave paw before…

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Progress on everything else has slowed though. We just can’t seem to get past that hurdle of her aggression to other dogs and the occasional person. Her behaviourist has actually recommended that perhaps Molly would benefit from meeting her mentor. So, we made the appointment and will make the trip to the big city in a week and a bit. I’m kind of excited…I wonder if Molly will be too?

In the meantime, I need to get my girl in to the vet for her annual visit. I’m a little nervous about how she’ll react as the last visit wasn’t so great (a bit of snapping happened). As a preventative measure I bought a cloth muzzle. I never, ever thought I’d put one on my puppy but I have to just to be safe. Over the last couple weeks we’ve been practicing putting it on and leaving it on for longer periods of time. She doesn’t like but she doesn’t fight it. A bit of a necessary evil I guess.

Hopefully, all will go well with this new trainer we might be able to ease away from some having to use tools like the muzzle.

Hopefully.


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hope and expectations

Today was a reminder that sometimes things don’t go as well as you’d hoped. Sadly, things went as I expected. Perhaps I set myself (and Molly) up for failure just by ‘expecting’ but that doesn’t mean I stopped hoping.

I asked a couple of friends if they would mind swinging by the house one night next week to take Molly for a little walk as I have to zip out of town for a few hours after work. They immediately agreed as they had puppy-sat for me last year and love her. Now, because I’d made some changes to the tools with which I walk Molly (using a Halti now instead of the chain collar) and there have been a few shifts in her behaviour, I asked them to drop by so I could run through a few things. They did and she didn’t like it.

At first she was wiggles and happiness but then her demeanor shifted and she growled and snapped. I asked them to give her a command (make her work for everything) and she listened but when they would try to pet her again…growl and snap. This happened a couple of times. My friends were very understanding but did appear saddened by her behavior…and I couldn’t help but feel responsible.

What am I doing? What have I done wrong? She listens to me. She follows me beautifully. I just can’t get her to feel the same with people she knows…let alone people she’s never met. Am I missing something? I wish I knew what was going on in her pretty little head. I feel like I’m letting her down but I don’t know what to do.

My friends are still going to come by next week to take her for a walk. There’s a part of me that wonders if I’m a contributing factor and she might be fine when I’m not here. But I’m nervous and I feel horrible.

To calm us both down we went for a walk and she was lovely but..and here we go again…am I the right person for Miss Molly?

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all wiggles and happiness

Autumn is here and that makes me happy. It is, perhaps, my favourite time of year. I get to pull out sweaters, and scarves, and mitts, and hats. There’s a wonderful crispness to the air which always makes my step a little lighter and faster. And I think my happiness with the change of seasons is reflecting on Molly. She’s been doing well, really well.

When I first got Molly she was all wiggles and happiness when she met my friend Warren. He’s the type of guy who will get down on the ground and wrestle with a dog…all obedience training goes out the window with him and she loved it. Then about three months ago she and I were out for a walk when we came upon Warren but instead of her normal joy she growled and snapped. He and I were both confused and taken-a-back. It made me sad to be honest. So when Warren was coming around to the house today to help me with some yard work I was a little nervous–how would she react? Would she snap? Would she growl?

To be safe, I had a plan. When W arrived I would ask Molly to go to her room (kennel) and lock her in. He knew I was working on her behaviour and would understand. In the end, the plan worked. She was a little pouty when he left I let her out of her room but she got over it. What I didn’t realize was that W forgot something and came back to the house . And when he came to the door, M bounded right over and cuddled into him. Even when W bent down to wrestle a little with her she just wiggled and smiled…tail wagging like mad. He then grabbed the Chuck-It and they played fetch in the backyard for 15 minutes. No growls. No snapping. I couldn’t have been happier and neither could she.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still some struggles and bumps. But I’m seeing progress. Inch-by-inch there’s progress.

Yes, I really do love autumn and I think someone else does too.

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it’s all in the hands

I haven’t done an update in a couple of weeks about Molly’s progress as things have been kind of hectic. Good hectic but still hectic.

So how is Molly doing? She’s doing okay. I bought a new cage crate for her as I felt the other one was too small. Yes, it was for a 70 lbs dog and M is only 50 lbs but she couldn’t stretch out or stand up straight with tucking her head down. Thus, I got her a new one. And, she seems to like it. In fact, last night, on her own accord, she trotted on in, fluffed up the bed, then lay down and fell asleep. It was perfect.

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This last weekend I spent a bit of time with a good friend and her family which included a mini boxer named Sammie. While Sammie is a lovely little dog she’s hyper…wiggly hyper. And I began to notice things that Molly does exceptionally well–she’s never had an accident in the house, she doesn’t snatch food from your hand, and she listens when you tell her to stop. But what intrigued me with Sammie were the hand gestures they used to train her. I’ve always known about using hand gestures for dogs but I never even thought about it with Molly, until now

I have a smart dog. She’s very smart. Perhaps too smart. Oh, and she’s stubborn…painfully stubborn. But she loves to learn so tonight we started training with hand gestures and treats. While the treats pushed her in hyper mode at first, she did okay. I had to remember to keep it simple in the beginning and progress slowly but I was happy with our baby steps. So we’ll continue with the hand gestures and treats as a means of getting her to keep her attention on me…something she struggles with.

It’s all part of the leadership training.


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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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