Shortly after his 1 year gotcha-versary, something clicked.
Guess who’s now wagging his tail – AT ME!
I should clarify: Mulder loves people. Guests coming into our home is cause for utmost celebration.
Lindsay coming home? Meh.
He used to look at me as if saying “Oh, the warden’s back”. While he would listen, and tried so very hard to do anything I asked, the bonding just wasn’t there. He didn’t seem to care if I was around. Two months ago I could’ve dropped dead and the only one upset would have been Khoshekh.
Now, however, I have a wiggle worm who popcorns around the kitchen, bouncing off of everything, talking and whipping his little tail around like a propeller. He’s so far up my ass his new nickname is Mulderoid.
I spent a whole year boosting his confidence and working to get him to open up. Now, it’s time to dial it back to manageable levels.
He’s learning “Watch Me” and we use it when coming across stressful situations. I use it mostly at the canal where we pass strangers and other dogs in close proximity. He used to be hyper-focused on other dogs, barking and straining on the leash to get to them. Just this past weekend we passed a property that had a setter harassing us as we walked. Mulder tried so hard to focus on me and never even offered a whimper. We still have a long way to go but I am incredibly proud of how well he is learning to handle such situations.
We work hard on this to reduce to stigma that pit bulls are untrustworthy, vicious dogs. I do my best to ensure Mulder is an advocate for his breed.
He’s so scary, in fact, that he hides from the rain under my truck.
Ben and I hiked Musconetcong Gorge over the weekend. The late start on Saturday left us with only an hour before dark, so we finished the entire loop Sunday morning. It’s a lovely hike with a moderate section of switchback trails to the summit.
Twice on Sunday we ran into unleashed dogs – rather, they ran into us. There are a few larger boulders down at the creek crossing, and I was taking advantage of the photo op with Mulder. I heard Ben mumble something and grab Honey, and when I turned around we were face to face with an unknown black dog of mixed breeding. He/She had locked eyes with Mulder, hackles up, growling and creeping closer. Mulder, still up on the boulder at this time, started reacting – also growing and growing anxious.
With no owner in sight and no idea of the strange dog’s reactivity, I blocked Mulder behind me and bellowed up the gorge: “YO, GET YOUR FUCKING DOG ON A LEASH! I’VE GOT A REACTIVE PIT BULL!” Way up on the top trail a young golden retriever crest the hill followed a moment later by an old man, maybe late 50’s or early 60’s, trailing behind. I yelled “Leash your fucking dog!” one more time before the owner started down the hill and called off his (still growing) dog. He leashed them and made a mad dash up the trail past us. No apology, no words – not even eye contact.
We encountered him later on the trail and he scampered down to the train tracks, dragging the grumbling black dog and young retriever with him.
Two hours later, as we approached the trail head, I noticed a mess of vehicles, people, and dogs. A loose dog, looking like an unshaven poodle or labradoodle of sorts, spotted us and bounded over. I yelled “Leash your dog! We have dogs!” Ahead of me, Ben had Honey and the dog thankfully went to them first.
The lady walks over, casually saying “Oh he’s friendy”.
I snap “I don’t care, your dog is supposed to be leashed – especially at the trail head!”
She stares and says “It’s fine”.
Me: “No, it isn’t. I have a reactive dog and I have no idea if yours is friendly.”
Her: “He is.”
Me: “But you have no idea if mine is or not. He has leash reactivity, he’s a rescue and he’s in training.”
Her: *blankly staring* “So. . . ?”
Me: “HE. HAS. FEAR. AGGRESSION.”
Her: “Oh. . . so you want me to move?”
Me: “That’d be great, yeah.”
Mulder this whole time is sitting at my feet, albeit whimpering anxiously. Managing to get by her and the rest of her party without incident, I praised the holy fuck out of him and turned in time to see the entire group head out on the trail without leashed dogs.
To be honest, I fibbed a little. Mulder doesn’t have fear aggression toward people or other dogs. He does, however, have leash reactivity and expresses a mild level of frustration when greeting other dogs on a leash. For this reason, I am training him to ignore other dogs and do not want him to greet other dogs while leashed. Meeting new dogs on leashes is stressful, and the straight on approach can be aggressive to some dogs. Energy levels do not always match, and there are very few people who are able to successfully read dog body language.
Now, let me making this clear: I don’t have a single issue with incredibly well trained dogs off leash. I used to run my family’s GSD’s off leash constantly. Willow and Grissom are exceptionally well trained, responding to verbal and nonverbal cues despite any amount of distraction. And yet, I still leash them when we encounter other dogs.
It’s what you do as a responsible, knowledgeable dog owner.
Other dog owners do not know my dog. They do not know I’m training a rescue with a sketchy background. They don’t know if he’s neutered, has a bite history, or has reactivity. And yet, even when I tell people to back off, they reply “Oh, it’s fine.” and continue to approach with their straining, whining mess of a dog.
No, it’s not.
My dog does not have to meet everyone to socialize. This includes people, dogs, children, etc. It is my number one priority to keep my dog safe. To keep him safe, I need to control his experiences. Why do other dog owners so willing to put their dogs at risk by greeting someone who does not want to interact with them?
This is why dog fights occur.
Furthermore, this is how bites happen. I place myself in between Mulder and strange dogs to keep him safe. What happens when your “friendly” dog tries to go after mine and bites me instead?
Well Lindsay, you might say, how ’boutcha don’t walk your dog where you’ll encounter other people?
Well you ignorant bag of dicks, I’ll say, why should I have to change my behavior when I’m the one following the rules? My dog is always leashed, always under control, and is not a danger to society. I am actively training him and use my hikes to further our training. I should be able to walk down the street (or trail…) with Mulder without harassment or molestation. I do not hike to be social with other dogs – I hike for physical activity, training, and to strengthen the relationship I have with my dog. I should not have to ask for common courtesy or basic boundaries.
If you’re a dog owner with a dog that “just wants to say hi” – You. Are. An. Inconsiderate. Asshole.
Case in point: we hiked Glen Onoko on Friday. It’s an almost 2 mile loop that goes straight up and straight down. We opted to take the exterior trail first and come back down via the falls trails. In total, we climbed over 800 feet in elevation and finished the loop in under 2 1/2 hours.
The falls trail is notoriously dangerous; people are injured (and some killed) each year. The trail’s technical footing and tendency to washout made this not only a physical workout but also a mental one.
As for Mulder, you ask?
He handled it perfectly. He’s learning “wait” and was still bouncing off the wall when we finished… so much that when we returned home I took him for another 3 mile walk. I’m not going to trust him off leash until recall is 100% and he gets better at ignoring distraction. Even with the 25 and 50 foot leashes, running on them is not a viable option due to the dense undergrowth and pricker bushes that is Southeastern Pennsylvania. I don’t know if Mulder has ever gotten the chance to really run (puppy play dates don’t count, IMO). I need to increase his physical exercise and brainstormed the best way to do it.
With the rail trail nearby, I loaded up Mulder and Ben’s mountain bike to see how he would handle it. He shows no interest in bicyclists while we walk, but trotting and loping next to one is a whole ‘nother adventure.
As seems to be the usual, I unnecessarily worried. Mulder gobbled up the high value treats as we walked with the bike. I couldn’t resist and popped on. Immediately he settled into a trot as if he’s biked a thousand times before. I pushed a bit and he offered a quick sprint with me. No pulling and no desire to cut out in front or lag behind.
We only did 3/4 of a mile before calling it quits. Mulder’s covered hundreds of miles hiking, but we haven’t worked on wind and I wanted to keep this a positive experience.
When I first got Mulder, he resembled a freight train on leash. He would pull strongly in all directions, scrambling wildly to get to where he wanted. For some semblance of control, I opted to introduce him to a prong collar. Prong collars are not for everyone, but they are not as scary as they look. They are safer than choke collars and are essentially self correcting collars. They can only tighten to a certain point (which is why you must size them correctly), and when a dog pulls on the leash the collar tightens. It’s a meaner looking martingale.
For those who think they’re painful: I encourage you to try one on yourself. Go to a pet store that sells them, put one on (I’ve done this) and check it out. With that being said, prong collars are not meant to be used as an everyday collar. Do not leave it on your dog unsupervised. It is not a magical fix and will not stop your dog from pulling. It is a training tool. As such, it requires – you know – training. They are not a long term solution.
Fast forward a few months and Mulder walks beautifully with the prong and I am transitioning him over to the flat collar. He no longer pulls and and is learning to heel. Our transitional collar is a flat nylon martingale. He used to have some reactivity on leash in regards to other dogs, and the nylon martingale is a gentle reminder. He’s improved in leaps and bounds: a few months ago he would strain on the leash, whimpers escalating to full blown barking if he was not able to immediately greet another dog in the vicinity. Now, he’ll walk by, interested but calm, and is progressing well with the cue “leave it”. We are slowly refining our skills, and he’s taking baby steps to heel and wait via voice command only.
Last Saturday, Jeff Daniel’s Jeeps hosted a fundraiser event that highlighted a few local rescues. Ben and I drove down with the dogs to check out the raffles. People brought all sorts of dogs (and then some – somebody brought goats) and it was the perfect socializing event for Mulder. For an hour he politely sniffed and tried to play with everyone. He listened well despite the distractions, and at one point he had a Great Dane sneak up on him. I’m not sure he knew what to do with a dog that big!
It’s hard to convey that Mulder is a friendly and happy little dog who is also very reserved. He’s like that coworker who will greet you warmly and chat about the weather – but two years later you realize that you don’t actually know who they are. People see the excited, affectionate side of him at home and ask “sooo how are you not bonded to him yet??”
What they don’t see are the shifty eyes that are softening but not totally soft yet. They don’t see the internal struggle of him wanting to be close to you but not really wanting to be pet. The tightening of his face when voices are raised – even when it’s Ben and I just laughing and carrying on. Praise and physical touch are not his main motivation yet – food is. While he loves meeting new people, he does not yet have the desire to please me yet. There has to be something in it for him, and it’s my job to find what motivates him.
He’s learning. He’s starting to check in on walks, to look up at me for direction. He’s beginning to react positively to praise. Hesitant tail wags are replaced with whipping tail flails, and at this point I would argue the most dangerous thing on a pit bull is their bony tail. Somehow, Mulder’s always seems to strike a knee cap or back of my thigh – and boom, a bruise!
Recall is going well, and we’re at about 95% success rate while on leash. The 25ft lunge line works well while hiking, but at home he sports the 50ft lead. It’s lightweight enough that he doesn’t notice, but it gives me peace of mind until I can trust him. Working with distractions has been the biggest hurdle, and I try to get him out a few nights a week to a busy park to practice ignoring distractions and focus on me. Mulder’s also starting to really play outside with me. Inside the house, he’ll play tug-of-war and gleefully bounce around with a toy. Up until now, he hasn’t shown any interest in toys when outside. He chased the tennis ball and brought it back. This is huge considering when I first got him he thought me throwing a ball meant he was going to be beaten. He would run off a few yards if he noticed you pick something up and raise your arm, and he’d flatten himself down and hide if you came at him with it.
I take him everywhere (even clothes shopping). We stopped at Cabela’s last night and at Old Navy to browse and grab some shoes. All these short, positive experiences out are helping to build confidence.
Mulder is terrified of his flea, tick, & heartworm preventative.
When attempting to put it between his shoulder blades he shrinks back in fear, eyes clouding over as his whips his head around and attempts to bite.
He trembles. He shakes, eyes wide with worry.
A thousand expletives cross my mind as I wonder how in the holy fuck can someone traumatize a dog when administering Revolution. He doesn’t have any skin irritation, lost hair, or any other indication that the medication burns or is otherwise uncomfortable.
For reasons that can all be filed under #horseowner, I have syringes of various sizes all over the house. I chose the largest for desensitizing.
A few days a week, I suck up some water into the syringe and rub it between Mulder’s shoulder blades. If he is accepting, he receives treats and praise. I do this a couple times before squirting a bit of water onto his back. I praise, shovel treats into him, and end the experience on a good note.
For July’s dosage, I dumped it into the syringe and carried on like I would if it was just water. Not a single objection – he didn’t even know when I administered it.
This morning, I separated August’s dosage from the pack and took count of how many I have left. Upon seeing the small application, he hunched and skittered away, tail between his legs.
This weekend was moist. The temperature combined with the obnoxious humidity made riding a no-go. Together, the numbers were 160+ for Saturday and 170+ for Sunday. When in the 130-170 zone, horses are unable to adequately cool themselves and their riders need to pay great attention to their horse. Nakai becomes quite sluggish in this weather (as do I) and with absolutely no reason to torture ourselves, I bagged riding.
I did, however, take Mulder to the lake for some proper swimming.
It started the way things normally seem to go for me: a whirlwind to the truck, a blissful drive to the lake, and managing to dislodge an ex attempting to fish from my favorite swimming spot. My delightful presence worked like a charm and Ben and I had the little shoreline to ourselves.
Game to walk out into the water but not sure what to do from there, Mulder shuffled around and watched Honey glide effortlessly past him. She didn’t understand why Mulder wasn’t excited (because water!!)
I coaxed him deeper and suddenly he was swimming! Mildly concerned, he made a quick circle and started back to shore. He reminded me of a puppy swimming for the first time – too upright and smacking at the water with his paws. He tried a few times to march determinedly back to the shore, but we were able to persuade him back in. He dunked his head a few times and seemed confused that he couldn’t climb onto the lily pads, but otherwise it went great!
He’s not much of a water child, but hopefully with some more exposure he’ll become more comfortable.
Mulder loves his crate. It’s located in our living room, and when we are home the door is left open. He comes and goes as he pleases. Upon returning from some serious mental stimulation (such as socializing or a difficult hike) he’ll take part of his bedding in his mouth and knead with his front paws. Mulder’s also allowed on the couches and bed (provided someone gives him permission first). He is a big fan of creature comforts and will tunnel under our comforter or throw himself into the pillows.
So, when he started resisting going back to his crate last Friday morning, I assumed he was getting too used to snoozing on the furniture. I figured it was another one of his budding behaviors as he continued to adjust to our home.
When I would place him in there, the whining and barking would start. If I put him in and “left” (walked out of the house and stood there), there was silence. He didn’t display any other signs of separation anxiety, and I believe it was perhaps attention barking. We began ignoring him when he started, immediately praising and releasing him when he was quiet.
I should mention that afternoon before this resistance and barking started, Mulder dumped his water bowl. I found it upside down upon arriving home from work. It was dry and the crate pan surrounding it was too, so I refilled the bowl and didn’t think anything more. I assumed he drank it and then knocked it over during one his redecorating sessions (he enjoys burrowing into his bedding).
I let him out Sunday morning and bent down to toss a few toys in his crate. I put a hand on his bedding and noticed it was damp. I pulled it out, and damn if the entire bottom was wet. It didn’t smell like pee (so far no house accidents!), but it was damp enough to be uncomfortable. “Aw buddy, I’m sorry!” I told him, pulling his bedding out and making a beeline for the washing machine.
A cycle later and armed with fluffy bedding, I threw it back in his crate. Immediately he runs back in, circling a few times before flopping down with a sigh. In fact, I haven’t been able to keep him out of it. The door is open right now, and instead of begging hanging with me while I eat lunch he’s curled up inside. The resistance and barking have vanished. I feel like a shit for not realizing it sooner. It was only 2 days, but ugh, would you want to sleep on a wet bed? Yeah, me neither.
+1 to the smart pup for voicing his displeasure, and shame on me for not investigating further.