This September Cliff and I will celebrate 42 years of marriage. We have been blessed with a wonderfully happy marriage and for that I am extremely grateful. For 31 of those blissful years we have owned at least one dog. This has not been Cliff’s preference, but he’s an easy going man and though he doesn’t “love” dogs, like I do, he has “liked” most of them well enough.
I believe the Lord has blessed Cliff for his many years of dog tolerance. First, the dog he liked the best, Stinky Stella, the chihuahua, lived the longest, 17 years! About 6 years ago, after my big beluga white boxer, Haven, passed away; I told Cliff I felt like I had at least one more dog in me. In fact, I promised that this dog would be my last dog. (Disclaimer: As horribly morbid as this may sound, I made this promise with the idea that if Cliff dies before me, since he is 6 years older, I would get another dog. I told Cliff my plan and he’s okay with it, so it’s not completely horribly morbid. Right?) You may have heard some of what I’m about to share before, but hang in there. There’s a light at the end of this tunnel!
Anyway, we now own Phoebe. She is a Yellow Lab/Walker Coonhound mix. I picked her because she is pretty and low maintenance and as an adult she would be about 60 lbs. (I like big dogs and I cannot lie.) But the Lord, knowing Cliff’s preference in dog size is less than 45 lbs., again blessed him. We soon discovered that Phoebe is a runt and at a full grown 5 years old is only 43 lbs. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t sad either because there were some other things that the Lord knew about Phoebe that we did not.
First, Phoebe has a weird morning ritual. She gets up and goes outside to take care of her necessities, no weirdness there. It’s what she does next that makes us wonder. In the past and when our kids were all home, our dogs were never allowed on the furniture. Then we had Stinky Stella, who was little and felt safer on the couch and away from the threat of being trampled. I let her because, being a smaller person, I know how it feels to sometimes be surrounded by giants. So, I covered the couch with an old blanket and allowed Stella her little bit of self-preservation.
When Phoebe joined us, Stella was still around and the couch was still covered and Phoebe decided she was also allowed. But, Phoebe doesn’t just lay on the blanket on the couch. Phoebe goes under the blanket on the couch and “hides”. She burrows underneath and, if she hears anyone close by, she sits very still, like some kind of dwarfed ghost, thinking we can’t see her. If I tell her I see her, she cries until I walk away. It’s pathetic. Eventually, she lies down under the blanket and goes to sleep. If the blanket for some reason is not on the couch as it should be, she comes and finds me and sits in front of me beckoning me with her oh so sad eyes to fix her blanket so she can burrow.
There’s something else about Phoebe that the Lord knew and we did not. Phoebe is reactive. Yeah, I didn’t know what that meant either. Reactive means that when we take Phoebe for a walk and she sees another dog, she goes full on berserk. She pulls, she jumps, she lunges, she twirls, she whines, and she howls like a banshee. She is bad. In all of our 31 years of dog ownership, we have NEVER encountered this in one of our dogs. May I say, I am grateful that the Lord in His perfect wisdom, did not give me my 60 lbs. dog? I can manage her 43 lbs. of berserk, but just barely. So, what to do?
We walk very early in the morning and pray that the coast is clear. We hide behind cars and distract her with garbage can smells and treats. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Recently, I decided enough was enough and googled how to train reactive dogs. Head gear was the answer.
It’s called a Gentle Leader Head Collar. Although it doesn’t look like it, she can breathe, she can eat, she can pant, she can drink, and she can even play. What she can’t do is pull, jump, lunge, and twirl. She can still whine and howl, but we’re hoping that will be minimized without the connection of the rest. We initially thought we could put it on her and go, but that didn’t work. She shook her head like little Miss Crazy Pants and when we still tried to walk, she planted all of her 43 lbs. firmly on the sidewalk and couldn’t be budged.
I once again turned to that leader of all wisdom, Google, and found a YouTube video of how to get Phoebe used to her new head collar. We’ve been working with her indoors for almost a week. At first, I was doubtful that this would work. It seems along with everything else, Phoebe, though a medium sized dog has a large sized stubborn streak. I contemplated giving up the whole thing and walking her at 4:00 a.m., but I’m kind of afraid of the dark. So, armed with lots of treats and a really cute treat pouch I found on Amazon, we pushed through and hoped for the best. After a few days, and to my amazement, it started working! She is pawing at it less and will actually walk with me through the house while she’s being led by the nose, literally. She still looks kind of pitiful. In a few days, we try her out in the backyard. Once she conquers that, we take her to the streets and pray, really really hard. I think it will work. I hope it will work. We’ll soon find out. Whether it works or not, I still love my Phoebe, and I’ll try convincing myself that it’s really not that big a deal.