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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the girl is alright

Eek. It’s been a few weeks. If it helps matters I thought about what my blog entry would be every day for the last week. 🙂

Anyway, as you can tell by the title of this entry “the girl is alright.” Molly is doing pretty well. I’m actually a little in awe about the change in her in just a few months versus what we’ve been challenged with the last two years. More progress has been made since July than I could have ever imagined. While I’m sure some of it is age and maturity for my Molly-girl but there are some behavioural shifts.

There’s a path I always liked to take Molly on out in the badlands where I could let her romp through the tall grass and over the hills. But there was always a part of me that was afraid to take her out there. Other people take their dogs there occasionally and it is a known hangout for coyotes and deer–but only at certain times of day. And given that Molly would often ignore my calls for her return I was hesitant to take her there too often. This afternoon, however, I thought I’d give it a try.

For the first half of the trail I kept her on leash and things were pretty good. We did come across a puppy and Molly only did a little prance until the puppy started barking at her…then she barked back. But that’s a step forward. Once we reached a more isolated part of the trail (and when I knew for certain no one was around) I let her off leash and held my breath.

What was fabulous about the next 40 minutes was that Molly stayed within 20 feet of me at all times; she came the moment I called, and even sat on command when ahead of me on the trail. She was almost like a different dog. The last time I took her on this trail she was running so far ahead she would ignore my calls, lop over hills and disappear out of site. It made me nervous. Tonight, however, was a break through. Of course there were no other four legged distractions to tempt fate but that’s okay…it was nice to have some success.

So here’s my girl after her romp through the badlands…a little muddy but so happy…

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This evening we sit back and watch some tele by the fire.

Happy day indeed.


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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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10 things I love about you

Having a reactive dog can be a lot of work. It can be exhausting, frustrating, and heart breaking.

Knowing that exercise is critical for these dogs I walk Molly at least an hour and a half a day (often more) along with lots of play and training time. But while most people find walking their dogs relaxing I always have to remain aware of everything around me…aware but not ‘on guard’ as I don’t want her to feel that energy. And while most times she’s okay there is the occasional moment where all the training flies out the window and she’s regresses completely. It’s at those times I feel overwhelmed, scared, and…I hate this one…like I can’t do it anymore.

There have been a few moments where I’ve considered re-homing Molly, thinking there must be someone else better for her. But then she does something; something small and simple but it makes me love her even more. And while she’s been great lately I figured I need to keep those little things she does top of mind so I don’t feel like giving up again.

So here are 10 things I love about my girl Molly:

10. When she wants me to do something she will stand in front of me and stare with furrowed brow and ‘humph’…not bark, not whine, but ‘humph’.
9. How she nearly bounces out of her fur the moment I pick up the “chuck-it” and head toward the backyard.

8. Every time I give her a piece of cheese she performs every trick I taught her in such quick succession that she exhausts herself…and I haven’t even asked her to do anything yet.

7. Whenever we play soccer she always has to have a deflated ball in her mouth.

6. The way she latches on to my arm like a sloth holding a branch when I’m scratching her belly.

5. The sheer exuberance she shows when rolling around on a freshly mowed lawn.

4. When I come home and she’s laying on the floor with her bum and tail wiggling like mad.

3. The fact that she tolerates me ‘decorating’ her for special holidays.

2. How she loves to cuddle first thing in the morning or when she’s sleepy.

1. Her shiny black noes and loving eyes.

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i am rubber and you are glue…

For the last two weeks I got to enjoy family, friends, the ocean, seafood, hiking, and camping. The only thing missing was M. Because I had to fly for nine hours it was best that she stay at the kennel with people she knew and care about her. I try to tell myself she has fun there but she always comes back exhausted and longing for peace. This time she came back with kennel cough, or rather, Bordetella.

Yes, she was vaccinated but like the human flu vaccine it doesn’t protect against all strains. The owner of the kennel was upfront about the whole thing and already had the vet up to visit her and start antibiotics. She’s already on the mend but I can sense it is tiring her out a little. To sweeten the healing a little I’m also giving her some unpasteurized local honey to sooth the throat. She seems to like it.

We start back with the socialization training this week but instead of involving another dog and risking it getting infected we are just going to do a few walks and see how she interacts with the world. It’s a little less controlled but so too are our walks. And after last night’s walk I’m learning that sometimes people are more vicious than dogs.

Everything started out perfect. Molly was by my side the whole way just enjoying the world around her. Because of the heat I decided to take her on a lower pathway that was well sheltered by trees. I tend to avoid this path as it can make for some tight quarters should another dog come along and I don’t want to set M up for failure. But it was a quiet day and I thought I’d take my chances.

We were almost through the trail when I noticed a lovely little Boarder Collie coming towards us off leash…note…this is NOT an off leash area, I avoid those for M’s sake. I saw the owner and yelled out calmly, “my dog can be reactive, please call your dog back to you.” He didn’t respond so I yelled out again. Finally, he called his dog but she didn’t respond and kept coming towards us. It wasn’t until the dog was about five feet in front of us did M react, and not pleasantly. I proceeded to pull her into the shrubs and put myself between her and the approaching dog. Finally, the owner grabbed his dog’s collar and muttered something unintelligible. Frustrated I said to him, “You realize this is not an off leash park.”

Well, that set him off on a nasty, rude tangent calling me a variety of names and trying to insult me. Then he proceeded to say he was going to call the police because my dog should be muzzled. Now this confused me because I now had control over her and she was calmly sitting behind me as he continued to berate me with insults. I tried to engage him in an adult conversation but he seemed to only want to rant, yell, and scream obscenities. It was horrible. Even his dog was cowering…which concerned me especially if that interaction was indicative of his day-to-day temperament.

I did respond back to him and I’m not overly proud of it. Ideally I should have just moved on but I didn’t. I kept trying to get him to calm down and understand what I was trying to say but he would have none of it. Eventually, I did move on…shaken and upset that someone would behave that way. His words directed at me really didn’t hurt, I kept remembering that childhood rhyme “I am rubber and you are glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” What bothered me most was what he was saying about my dog–she handled herself extremely well in this scenario…better than he did!

All I can do is wonder what possesses a grown person to behave in such an awful manner. Perhaps I’m naive but maybe he was having a terrible time of things and I was his trigger and he now regrets his behaviour. One can only hope right?

In the meantime, my little girl is healing and playing quietly with her squirrels. 🙂

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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!