Experiments in Desperation

I’ve often talked about Ellie’s…problems. She’s an almost 2 year old Cocker Spaniel and Poodle mix rescue. Chris and I picked her up when she was close to three months old. I don’t know how this problem got to where it is today and all I can remember from her puppy months is that she was and still is a very shy dog. She pees when too excited and when intimidated. She doesn’t approach dogs or people she doesn’t know. It’s actually more than that, she low grows at the sight of strangers and pulls me away from the sidewalk and sits. Some days, she just sits and waits for people to pass. Other days, she’ll bark at them incessantly, like they’re threatening her somehow.

I don’t care for strangers either but I don’t feel threatened by them and I certainly don’t warn them away when all they’re doing is passing me by. So whatever happens in Ellie’s brain when encountering this stimuli can’t be good for her state of mind in the long run. Not to mention that her incessant barking at strangers is no fun for Chris and I. You see, every once in a while I actually want to talk to my neighbors. Every once in a while, I would like for my dogs to be interested in other dogs. Instead, I find myself being avoided or avoiding other folks walking their brilliantly calm dogs.

I’ve tried the “Watch the World” game. The idea of the game or training is that you treat the dog every time the stimuli that she usually elicits the response you are trying to change (in this case barking and growling) comes into view. The goal is that the dog will associate the stimuli with something positive, like a treat, and therefore it’s response changes. Rather than bark and growl, it will wait for it’s treat instead. We began by sitting out on the church steps across the street where we live and watching people walk their dogs. At first, it only worked when we were watching people pass by from far away. Wanting to speed things along, we merged the game into our daily 1 mile walks. What Ellie and Argos began doing was to stop and stand aside whenever someone was approaching us. Even then, Ellie low growled just to let me know she didn’t like what was happening. I suppose this is a good response, stopping and standing aside and waiting for others to pass, unfortunately it extends our walks by an extra 15 minutes, something I don’t always appreciate at 6:00 am.

You remember when that weird uncle told your parents the best way to teach you how to swim was to simply throw you in the water? Or maybe it was your dad? Anyway, I tried this method on Ellie. We took a ride down to the local dog park and while Argos ran around like a crazy dog chasing other dogs, Ellie stood by me, shaking, whining and scratching at my leg. She never leaves my side when we go to the park. I’ve taken tennis balls and toys she loves playing with at home… and she’s not interested. She just sits there and cries.

So then we thought, what if we leave them to interact with other dogs while Chris and I are not present. This was one of the main reasons we decided to sign them up to doggy day care. It would give them an opportunity to interact and socialize with other dogs without us affecting the interaction. Well Eco Dog, our doggie daycare, has a web cam through which you can watch your pups all day. Argos chases, gets chased, jumps, humps, and naps while he is there. Ellie sits in a corner. If dogs come to invite her to play, she walks away…to another corner.

And then there was the Thundershirt. It’s a cute vest that’s supposed to fit snug around them and it reminds me of a straight jacket. It looks nothing like a straight jacket, but it has that feel to it. It’s meant to feel like a constant gentle hug. I slept with the Thundershirt for a few nights to inpart it with my scent. Anyway, it didn’t work for us. I know this product has helped many a folk but Ellie didn’t give a rat’s ass, she still acted out.

So here we are, back to square one  (don’t know that we ever left it) and I’m going crazy. I’m exaggerating of course, she only becomes agitated when in public. At home, she’s a model dog. Obedient, rambunctious and plainly the sweetest dog I’ve ever known. I live in a building where almost all the tenants have dogs. You can’t walk down the hallway without having dogs barking their brains out from inside their locked apartments at the sound of your footsteps. And you won’t hear a peep from either Ellie or Argos. Don’t come a-knocking, cause that’s a different story.

For a while, she was my running partner but thats only good on runs that are 2 miles or less. Otherwise, she becomes tired quickly and starts to lag behind, waning my own eagerness to keep running. We took her on her first ever hike to the Mount Woodson Trail (aka the potato chip hike) in Poway, CA. That’s a 7.5 mile roundtrip hike in which you are basically climbing the entire way up to the potato chip. Did this waste away her energy and calm her anxious mind? NOT ONE BIT. She ran up that darn trail and just about drag me going back down. Perhaps, if this type of activity was done in a more consistent manner it could work? I have to get creative if this the way I want to go.

Chris and I are currently debating consulting a professional, a behavioralist maybe. If anyone out there has suggestions, ideas on how I can get creative and fix this dog, do let me know! Giving up is not an option. A solution we must find!