Wild Dog vs. Sleepy Puppy and Fuzzy Blue Slipper!
Stuffed animals and house shoes were harmed during the making of this film
Sunday morning was unusual! At 6:45 AM we got up to walk Opie. I offered to walk Opie alone if Greg would clean the bathroom. Greg agreed, but Opie didn’t. Opie stood on Greg’s side of the bed, wagging his tail expectantly. He nosed Greg’s hand, licked him. It was clear that he was not happy with Greg staying at home for the walk. Okay now we’re both going. That was okay, except that I usually return from these walks completely exhausted. I need good quality time with my coffee and the cross word before I can bestir myself to do any significant work. Unfortunately, I was not going to get any leisure time this Sunday Morning. We had an early morning appointment with our trainer/animal behaviorist Larry B.
Weirdly, since we’ve gotten Opie our house has been a lot tidier than normal. The boys have kept up their end of the doggy deal. Their laundry does not migrate far from the hamper and little toys and things are no longer likely to show up on the floor. Fear of Opie choking on it or Opie destroying the toy seems to have created an obstacle free floor. Everything within Opie’s reach is in pretty decent shape. How many more reasons to love this dog can there be?!!!!
However, there are still some things that have to be done in preparation for our guest. Dishes must be washed, the floor vacuumed the furniture dusted, the clear coffee table cleaned. Oddly, there are little doggy footprints on the end nearest the window. I wonder how that happened?
I roust the boys! They vacuum and dust while I close myself up in the bathroom with the windows open and create my usual toxic cleaning cloud. Why is it that when it’s my turn to clean the bathroom, I’m wearing black? Yes, I am using a product that has bleach in it. The tub is clean, the sink, mirrors and toilet bowl are spotless! We finish tidying with an hour to spare. We have our coffee and breakfast and I jump in the shower and clean up minutes before he arrives.
We are eager to see Larry. He costs about $90 an hour, but as far as I am concerned he’s already earned the money on his 2 hour session with us. You may recall in a previous blog post Turning a Corner — Opie Loves Daddy! that we had some trouble with Opie in those first weeks. Larry is the one who gave us the advice that really turned the situation around. His phone advice turned Opie into a family dog and not just my devoted dog slave. I was happy and eager to find out what great advice and choice information he would impart to us.
Opie still has a problem with men. We’ve definitely got to get him over that. But first we’d like to keep him from barking incessantly and suspiciously people who come to visit us. Larry is going to help us with that and a few other things which will be chronicled at a later date.
Opie acted predictably and growled and lunged at Larry when we let him into the house. Opie was clearly outraged. The translation of his barks was pretty clear.
” Who the *&%# are you? Get out! Get out! Get out! Get out!”
Larry was very calm and knelt down and let Opie smell his hand.
Opie: ” Yes, I smell you hand, you smell likes treats and one old dog and one younger dog and some other dogs that are not so close by. Yes, you smell good, but I’m not that easy, buster. I got my eyes on you!”
Opie quieted for a bit and finally contented himself with sitting under Greg’s leg and looking menacingly back at Larry. We offered Larry a chair and he sat down and pulled treat out of his pouch. Opie was quiet and came forward cautiously. He took the treat and let Larry pet him.
I should say that intermittently this treating continued throughout our conversation, but only when Opie was quiet and not growling.
Opie’s self talk:” This guy has some tasty treats. He hasn’t tried anything yet. Hmm those treats sure are good. As long as he doesn’t try anything, I guess he can sit far away from my mom and dad. He better not move. Gee those treats were yummy. Mental growl, I wish I could just have the treats and he would disappear. I’m sleepy.”
Larry asked us lots of questions. He asked about Opie, about our family. He talked to the boys individually. I have to say I was impressed. So far Larry’s advice had been sound. He seemed to have gotten Opie’s number pretty quick and he was doing his homework with us to see what our family was like and how good we’d be to work with and maybe also what Opie’s relationship was with all of us.
We talked about leashes and walking and collars and food and treats. We talked about dog parks and dog behavior and Opie’s behavior and where it probably was coming from. We talked about Larry’s work at the South L.A. Shelter, the sad situation with rescue dogs in general and the need for more people to be better and more committed owners. He talked about his dogs. He would take them to the dog park after he left us.
Opie fell asleep almost under Larry’s feet during our conversation. He’d worn himself out being alert. He’d rooted around in Larry’s bag and found himself a big chew bone. Larry had taken it from him and given it back to him several times, until he’d finally been allowed to eat it in peace. He’d sampled a few more Larry’s treats during his good behavior.
Larry gave us our homework and a couple of things to work on. Opie already sits when asked 95% of the time. However, he does not stay at all. So we will be working on Sit and Stay for a few weeks before we have another appointment with Larry again. He taught us how to go about it. and clearly does not subscribe to the Cesar Milan dominance theories of training.
However, he’s not a full on positive dog trainer either. He seems to take a middle of the road approach, pulling what seems like the best advice from both streams.
We are to work with Opie inside the house where there are no distractions. He is to be on leash at this time. We will work on the sit command and treat for that. Then we will work on the stay command and treat for that.
How do we do the stay command? First, we ask him to sit. Then we tell him to stay and then we wait about 20 seconds before we give him a treat. We keep increasing the time that we wait and eventually we step back from him a little bit. If he gets up before we are ready we start all over again. We’ll have to do this for some period of the time every day. Since I started writing this particular posting ( yes, I take a few days to write them!), he’s can wait about a minute well for his treat. Essentially, that’s it. As he gets better at these commands we’ll move out to the backyard which is full of distractions! So far we are still in side. He’ is fascinated with the backyard!
I have a tendency to repeat myself and say the command more than once. This is really hard. You know how counter intuitive it is to say something once and WAIT for the creature or person to perform the command. My boys have trained me to say a command about 20 times before I see some action. Now I have to expect Opie to do it after I say it once. YIKES! That’s hard. I didn’t realize how well the boys had me trained. Maybe they might be interested in some sort of behavior modification profession. I didn’t even know I’d been trained!
We’ll see if I can learn this new trick!
The boys are really ready to get to work with Opie!
At the conclusion of our visit with Larry, Opie woke up. He didn’t bark at him, but let him give him a goodbye pet without incident. Opie probably isn’t Larry’s greatest fan yet, but that’s okay. We’re in this for the long haul! Wish us luck!
In the first days, Opie wasn’t too keen on my husband. Whenever Daddy entered the house or even entered a room, Opie would growl and bark at him. Ears and tail angled down, he’d hide under my chair whenever Greg walked around the house. These were clear indications that he was frightened. Now, those of you who know us personally, know how ridiculous this is. Greg may be a sharply intelligent fellow, but he is not scary. A gentler and sweeter man never walked the earth! Greg was not happy with this situation, and the kids were not happy either. My eldest son was irritated by Opie’s attitude. There were quiet late night conversations about giving Opie back to the rescue people if things didn’t turn around — and not just among the grown-ups in the house. In our application, there had only been one thing we’d noted that would make us return a dog — viciousness. I don’t think anyone really believed Opie to be vicious. He was too sweet to the boys and to me. However, nobody wanted Greg to be left out of the puppy love fest. Opie could ignore him, but he couldn’t growl and snap at him. That was completely unacceptable. Opie was supposed to be a family dog. He had to like everyone in the family!
We tried outright bribery! Greg would give Opie treats if he came to him when called. This worked a little bit, but just when we thought it was really working, Greg would go to the bathroom and come out and get growled at. Tail down, head down , teeth bared and growling — this was not some sort of puppy game. The bribery didn’t work. It was time to consult an expert.
I put out a somewhat frantic emergency email to the Culver City Friends of Animals. Their response was immediate and the organisation’s head referred us to an animal behavior/dog trainer. We called other trainers while waiting to hear back from him. That’s when we learned exactly how expensive training Opie out of this behavior might be. Not only was it a big money committment but a huge time commitment as well for the entire family. I was beginning to feel as if I had bitten off more than I could chew.
Luckily, our first choice returned our call. He was of course booked solid until mid August. Luckily, that didn’t stop him from giving us some “homework” that he felt would make an immediate difference. Here was our assignment:
I can’t tell you how hard the number 1 task was. I could only look on longingly as Opie was petted and “loved up” by others. I had to ignore him.
I did tag along on the walks. Opie’s walk is the best exercise of my day! I worried that my tagging along on the walk might interfere with the bonding. Opie kept looking back at me on the walk. However, my tortoise like progress allowed my husband to practice Opie’s “Sit” command several times during the walk. Opie got lots of praise and treats from him whenever he complied. This had to help the bonding process.
A firm “Off” command over a couple of days and Opie understood that he was limited to the floor. He was also banned from Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Dad took over the evening walk exclusively. Opie learned to “Heel’ and got to cover a lot more territory with my husbands ground eating strides. He was good and exhausted after these walks. He got lots of praise and treats on his walk for “heeling” and “sitting” when asked. He reveled in his obedience!
Opie was rather cagey about the food issue, though. We finally saw a complete turn around when we increased Opie’s meal times from two meals a day to three under vet’s orders. Dad’s hand feeding three times a day seemed to really do the trick.
Opie loved the dog park! The break from the human pack was like the prize at the end of a good week of long walks.
We continue to see improvement in Opie’s attitude everyday. Our behaviorist gave us concrete things that are really turning him around.
I can safely say that the problem between Opie and Dad is solved.
Opie is slavishly devoted to Greg. He no longer barks at him. Opie comes when called with ears and tail up, visits him in his office and sits at Dad’s feet adoringly. He spontaneously rolls over in front of him for a belly rub. He greets him happily at the door when he comes back from an errand or work. When Greg pulls out the leash Opie is ready to go! He sits patiently but happily at the front door and waits for his leash.
One thing Greg discovered while learning to deal with Opie that surprised us all!
Greg has a deep voice. When he said “Good boy,” he had a tendency to drop his baritone even deeper. Opie’s tail would and ears would immediately drop. I noticed that our deep voiced male veterarian talked to Opie in falsetto. I suggested this to Greg and once again we saw another improvement. Maybe Greg’s baritone rumble sounded like a growl.
I can’t wait for Opie to show off to the trainer. Maybe we can work start working on his AKC good citizenship certificate! He already knows how to sit, and he comes when called. We just need to work on the requirements for that good citizenship certificate. We all want Opie to get a good report card. Now that he understands that everyone in the house loves him maybe he’ll be more relaxed about our friends and neighbors, and dare to dream….the mail carrier! I think he’s on his way!
Opie’s not too fond of men. We are not sure why this is, but we are working on it.
We don’t know much about Opie’s past. We only have a copy of his Kennel Card and what the Rescue people told us.
Near the first of June, his original owners surrendered 8 month old Opie to a shelter. We don’t know why. The Lhasa Happy Home Rescue picked him up from the shelter about a week later. He was with them for a bit, and then they placed him with a foster family. About a week later, we adopted him. From June to now, he’s been in five different locations — His original owners, the shelter, the rescue home, the foster parents and finally us. We don’t know what kind of movement he had with his original owners. They probably got him from somewhere. With so many placements you’d think he would have been a nervous wreck when we first met him. However, he was great. That’s why his misanthropy was such a surprise.
As you know we found Opie through Petfinders.com. We met Opie at the home of the organization’s founder and owner. Randi had decided to take him on little walk before we arrived. We were early and met Opie on the sidewalk in front of her home. He behaved well. No barking or growling. Randi picked him up and all of us held him including my husband. I stuck my face in his fur and inhaled deeply to determine if he was truly hypoallergenic. If I started sneezing, we might as well have gotten back into the car and saved everyone some time. But, there was no sneezing or itchiness or anything. He was quiet and affectionate as all of us took turns holding him.
Then, we went inside of Randi’s home. She had several Lhasa type dogs running around her living room. Opie was the biggest guy in the room. He was totally calm and placid. He wasn’t nippy or demanding of attention. My husband approved and so did I. The boys wanted him. Unfortunately, I had no idea that we would actually get Opie that day. My check book was sitting at home in a cupboard. My husband had a meeting so we went home and got the check book and he went to his meeting. The boys and I picked up Opie and took him to the pet store and loaded up on his supplies.
Later, that same evening, my husband came home. Opie barked and growled at him. We didn’t know quite what to do. We figured it had something to do with him entering the house. Perhaps Opie viewed hubby as an intruder or a non pack member. We surfed the web, read Cesar Milan’s book in one night and sought advice. We finally got some that seems to have helped a great deal.
Part of Opies problem seems to be that he’s turned himself into my devoted body-guard/furry son. He has a bit of an Oedipal complex regarding my husband. The behaviorist suggested that my husband take a much more active role in Opies care. Opie is already devoted and well bonded with me and the boys. He needs to build a bond with my husband. What does that look like? Well, hubby walks Opie twice a day, prepares his breakfast, lunch and dinner and hand feeds him a portion of it. He’s opened his home office door so that Opie can wander in and get petted. Is it working? I’d say yes. Opie now sleeps on a pillow on the floor on my husbands side of the room. Daddy is the first person he sees awake in the morning and the last person he sees at night time.
The other part of his treatment is a weekly visit to the dog park. Opie’s been twice now — Saturday and Sunday. He’ll probably go again this weekend. However, I am a little suspicious of the park. Opie developed his second bout of tummy troubles after visiting the park. I think I’ll bring him his own water bowl and not let him share the communal bowl. I suspect some creepy parasite is reeking havoc with his guts.
We’ve had two male visitors since we started his behavior training. Opie barked and growled crazily at both of them, but eventually settled down. Last night our good friend Peter visited. Peter has a huge Ridgeback of his own named Fergus. Fergus stayed home, but his lingering essence was probably all over Peter. Opie of course growled and barked, but eventually settled down enough to fall asleep during Peter’s visit.
Clearly, this will be a slow process. Opie gets along wonderfully with every human in the dog park – male and female. It must have something to do with his natural territorial nature. We’ll know more soon. We have an appointment this weekend with the behavior guy. He’ll probably give us some more homework and more insight into our little misanthrope.