The newest member of my household is a sinewy, energetic, pit/lab/mystery mutt from the Animal Rescue League.* Frida Sweet-a Face, or Frida for short, has been a handful. But the love, joy and health that a dog brings into the home is worth far more than every toy shredded during puppyhood. She’s been with us for only about four months, and with plenty of patience and advice from various dog training books, Frida is slowly becoming a well-mannered young lady.
She had been surrendered to ARL at about age one, because her previous owners believed she was “too much to handle.” Many dogs of Frida’s age are given over to shelters. I learned in Bruce Fogle’s Dog that this is the canine stage of development most closely related to human adolescence. “Dog body, puppy brain,” is what I apologetically say to strangers in the street when she jumps on them. (Jumping happens less often these days, I promise!) These dogs learned the rules as young pups. However, in their adolescence, they question authority, i.e. chew up their beds and steal cheese from the counter. Adolescent dogs can be gangly, awkward and clumsy. They don’t realize that their bodies are wielding more power than before. A ten pound puppy jumping in your lap is adorable. A sixty pound adolescent doing the same is a little painful. Many owners just give up on these dog-hooligans.
“I can do this,” I thought. I worked with teens for a long time, and the age group is very close to my heart. “I’m a very patient person,” I thought. Despite all of that, there was an extended adjustment/figure-this-whole-energetic-dog-thing-out period. She lunged at cars, people, birds, cats. She crashed into tables; she attacked shoes. One day she sneaked out of the fence and ran next door, where our two year old neighbor Charlie was playing with his mom. Frida kissed him on the cheek, and sneaked back under the fence, quite proud of herself. Charlie giggled. (Charlie’s family has dogs of their own and so his mother was most gracious about the whole incident.)
What baby-kissing dog is all bad? We just needed to help her get good. We read piles of dog books; we signed her up for classes at ARL. We learned the hard way that if Frida doesn’t expend enough energy, she goes a little, shall we say, nuts. All dogs are working dogs, so every dog needs a challenging job, whether the job be walking, running, playing, fetching, or another activity. Two forty-five minute walks a day weren’t quite enough for Frida’s “work ethic.” So I started running with her, building up her endurance a little bit at a time, and that seems to keep her shenanigans to a minimum.
In addition to expending energy, she must also practice her manners. New dog owners are encouraged to introduce their pet to as many new situations, people, and animals as possible. So we’ve traveled with Frida all over Western PA: hiking, walking, dog parking, and visiting family and friends. Dogs are not born with instincts that tell them to interact with other beings; they must be taught. Frida used to greet everyone with a hearty jump, a bump/crash, and a maybe a few bats of the paw. These days, she is a more mellow greeter, and all the dogs, cats and humans on our block are rejoicing.
Some folks swear by a specific dog trainer or book to train their dog, but we use a hybrid of different techniques. I definitely recommend reviewing more than one source of dog advice. We go over the commands we learned at ARL’s basic training class at least once a day. We use Cesar Millan’s methods in some cases, but “calm assertive energy” is tougher than it looks on TV. I’m currently examining the presidential route by reading Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz; she trained Obama’s dog. My father swears by the Monks of New Skete; they’ve been successfully raising German Shepherds at their monastery for decades. If you are interested in pursuing a homeopathic, herbal approach to dog wellness, then I highly recommend reading all of Juliette de Bairacli Levy; she learned from the Roma. Bruce Fogle is my favorite. He has written extensively on dog health, dog psychology and dog breeds.
Best of luck in all of your doggie endeavors!
*A note on shelters - Animal Rescue League is not the only game in town, there are plenty of other good shelters and organizations dedicated to dog adoption, such as Animal Friends and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.