June 4, 2011 by Leah
I’ve been increasingly frustrated with Duke, lately. It all started when he was acting aggressively towards my parents in March (barring them from the kitchen and our bedroom with a low growl), and I wanted to take him to school. Aaron’s take was that we are both intelligent adults and we should be able to find what we needed from books. So, I checked out and read a couple of Cesar Millan (aka the Dog Whisperer) books and, while Duke stopped growling at my parents and subsequent houseguests, I can’t really say my life has improved.
Ever since reading that Cesar mandates an hour-long walk (or shorter run) for your dog, first thing in the morning, every day, I have been feeling guilty. I’m anti-running at the moment. I don’t do anything well (except cook breakfast) first thing in the morning. Sometimes I have other things I want to do. So, Duke gets walked 5-6 times a week (sometimes in the afternoon, the horror), for at least 40 minutes. This, of course, is not good enough, and I agonize about it. (Aaron says this is not the case and just because I read something in a book doesn’t mean I need to feel guilty all the time. Hah.)
Add to this punishing schedule the problem with walking the dog, himself. He has a very streamlined head so I can’t just walk him on a regular collar or he gets right out of it. We had him in a harness, but he pulled so much I couldn’t handle him (and he’s only 50 pounds). His vet suggested a Martingale collar, which seemed to be a dream (and, indeed, when we tried the harness again the other day, we realized that it’s definitely a better option). Yet Duke still pulls like crazy against his collar, and he’s losing a spot of hair on his neck, and he doesn’t seem to care if he’s ruining his tender soft tissues by pulling so hard he’s half off the ground, nor does he care that I feel like a horrible dog parent when he is constantly trying to strangle himself.
Getting his collar on is something of an epic battle. He knows how to “come” and “sit,” and he will actually do so when I tell him to come and sit while I’m holding his leash. Then, if I make a move to put his collar over his head, he does this funky twisting leap backwards and ends up lying on his belly with all his legs bent, primed to leap up and run away again. He seems to think this is a game. Aaron and I think it is infuriating and either sit quietly until he comes to us or pretend to leave the house until he comes and sits. This is why our walks are not always an hour. Sometimes it takes us 20 minutes to leave the house.
Also per Cesar, Duke is supposed to walk at my heel or behind me, but because he is so single-minded, I have to hold him at my side or behind my back with his leash wrapped around my hand a bunch of times. About half the time this works. The other half the time my hands get crushed or I step on Duke’s feet or get our legs tangled because Duke is trying to hare off after a bird, a squirrel, a feral cat, or a sprinkler. (He also shows an interest in other dogs and humans, but tends to let me take the lead in those situations.)
He’s really pretty creepy when he spies one of these small animals. He doesn’t bark, he just starts hyperventilating and pulling for all his might on his leash. If I try to walk by the distraction, sometimes he’ll let up on the pulling and pretend he’s being good, and then leap back towards the squirrel/bird/sprinkler. He hasn’t managed to pull the leash out of my hands yet (probably because our walks haven’t managed to cripple my hands yet, although after 40 minutes with Mad Dog on the end of the leash, I feel is it only a matter of time).
I’ve tried stopping every time he pulls his chain tight (the Martingale collar has a pull chain that will tighten it to a certain point, at which the dog is supposed to realize he needs to calm down, hah) in order to teach him to walk beside me with his collar pleasantly loose. It works for a few minutes, and then he’ll spy something. Sometimes he’ll calm down for almost the last half of the walk.
Yesterday, I paid $5 for the privilege of taking Duke to the biggest park in the area for what I mistakenly thought would be a fun adventure. I figured he’d pull to start but calm down after a while. I was wrong. By the time we got back to the car after walking a little over two miles, I was almost in tears because his relentless pulling made my hands hurt so badly. I told Aaron I never want to get another dog. (Not true, but I was really in a state.)
This sucks. What should be a fun experience where both the dog and I get some fresh air and exercise is a complete nightmare about 50% of the time. I’m angry at Cesar Millan. I should be really happy about how much Duke has improved his behavior when we are at home or in our yard – he will actually obey commands most of the time and act nicely with visitors. He will cuddle our feet if we’re in bed or on the couch, and he likes to play toss ‘n’ chase. He’s protective of me (even from Aaron) and of Aaron (even from his mom), but there’s not nearly as much aggression behind that protection as there was when we first got him. (He used to leap on Aaron if Aaron so much as tried to hug me.) He’s not overly affectionate (he only licks me if I spill something on my toes) but he’s a valued member of the family all the same.
I want to be excited about all these things. I don’t want to be dreading the hour a day where Duke and I are supposed to be enjoying ourselves, but I feel like I have to walk him or he’ll just have too much energy and start acting worse at home. I’m so frustrated. I’m sick of feeling guilty. I worry that my guilt and frustration over this issue with the dog mean I’ll be a terrible mother, so then I think I should probably punish myself by not having kids and going on death marches with Duke every day for the rest of our natural lives. Gaaaaaah. Maybe I need to read some different books about dogs. Or hire a walking service a couple of days a week. I just don’t know.