In early October 1994 a coworker told me that her sister had a female Rottweiler who was about to have puppies and she was going to buy one. Like a fool, I committed to purchasing one as well, though I had no idea why. Perhaps it was just another step to adulthood since I had a good job and was in the process of purchasing a home. Regardless of the reason I had made the commitment. Being a typical stupid twenty-something male I then told her to pick out a big aggressive one. Looking back I shake my head at my ignorance. Seriously, what was I thinking? I had never seen a Rottweiler in real life, and my only experience with dogs was our ranch dogs who were more like four legged free loaders who followed us around on the ranch during chores. My knowledge of dogs was so limited that the first thing I did was go out and purchase a book called Rottweilers: A Complete Pet Owner’s Guide.
With a newly read book and not much else, I waited expectantly for my dog to appear. I had already decided that I would name my dog Taz regardless of the sex. Being an avid fan of the Tasmanian Devil on the old Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons, the name seemed a logical choice. During that time I learned that my coworker couldn’t keep her dog where she lived so I agreed to keep her at my house, another fateful decision. So here I was expecting two eight week old Rottweilers with not a clue as to what I was getting myself into. The weeks after my fateful decision flew by, and the pups were born October 28, 1994 with no males available so I knew I was getting a female. The pups weren’t available until after Christmas so I arranged to visit my mom out in Portland for the holiday, figuring I would be limited on my travels once I became a puppy parent. After Christmas I flew back home on December 26th, the very day the dogs arrived. There before me were two black and tan balls of fur and curiosity. Taz and Mickey were my first experience with puppies, let alone Rottweilers, and the lessons I would learn from them would transform my life in ways never imagined.
Over the next twelve months I went through the painful process of house training and learning of the destructive habits of puppies. After a year my coworker realized she couldn’t keep her dog so I was now the proud owner of both of them.
It was while playing with them and simply watching them grow and explore that I realized there was something different about them from other dogs I had known. They were thinking, scheming at times, they were, for lack of a better description, not normal dogs. It was then that I started down the path of researching more about the breed and their unique traits. They certainly were not like the mutts or cattle dogs from my ranch experience.
As Taz and Mickey grew older I found myself changing my lifestyle to accommodate them. I quickly learned that if they were bored or not exhausted from exercise then they became destructive. To this day I believe that there is no more destructive force on earth than two bored Rottweiler puppies. So, long walks and play sessions became the norm. This grew the bond between us, so much so that I found myself wanting to get home from work to spend time with my dogs instead of going out with friends. The reason was simple enough, I was finding my time with dogs more enjoyable than humans, or at least humans who didn’t like dogs.
My dad struggled with my new devotion to my dogs, not being a man that thought more of dogs than, well, just dogs. I was starting to see these powerful, intelligent, exuberant pups as companions, even starting to refer to them as my kids, something I never thought I’d do. This disagreement came to a head one weekend when the dogs and I drove the two hours back to the family ranch west of Helena, Montana. Taz and Mickey had accompanied me many times before and had always stayed with me in the house, but for whatever reason my dad said my dogs couldn’t stay inside anymore. I told him that my dogs sleep indoors with me and dad made it clear again that they were not welcome in the house. I said, ‘okay’, and didn’t discuss it again during the night. Come bedtime, I went outside with my dogs and all three of us spent the night sleeping in my truck. The next morning my dad saw the dogs and I exiting the truck and asked where I slept. I told him in my truck and he asked, amazed, and why I would do that when there was a perfectly good bed in the house for me? My response floored him.
“I told you, the dogs sleep where I sleep.”
I don’t recall the exact words my dad replied with but I’m sure ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ were mixed in his tirade. My dad never grasped the connection that had formed between my dogs and me. It was similar to the bond I shared as a youth with the ranch dogs, barn cats, and horses on the ranch. Those I will detail in future blog posts. It wasn’t that I was adverse to my dogs sleeping outside, it was just that I had come to realize that my world was full of many things: family, friends, job, hobbies, and many other things, but for my dogs, their entire world was me. I had never had a living thing so trusting, so dependent on me for its existence, and it wasn’t something I was willing to discard or treat in a cavalier fashion. For that I was willing to make sacrifices, including sleeping in my truck.
Months passed and during that time I heard all the rumors about how Rottweilers became aggressive and turned on their owners as they got older. I couldn’t imagine those being true as I watched my now 18-month-old dogs play. At nearly 90 pounds, though, they were starting to be intimidating even if still exhibiting some of the uncoordinated antics that puppies do. Then one summer night my worst fears came to fruition.
My dogs slept on the bed with me and while in a deep sleep I heard deep growls unlike anything I had heard before. I opened my eyes and in the darkness I could see and feel the shape of one of my dogs standing over me. I heard the growl again. Dear God, they are going to kill me! I couldn’t believe that the rumors were true. I struggled to figure out a way to fend off this beast who was standing over me growling. My arms were pinned under the covers; I truly felt helpless. I heard the growl again: deep, throaty, and menacing. Then I heard something else, voices outside my open window. My condo was right next to Montana State University, so a steady stream of students passed at all hours of the day and night. As my eyes, ears, and mind adjusted to consciousness I realized that Taz wasn’t growling at me but she was protecting me, giving that ominous growl that Rottweilers do oh so well. I finally freed a hand and patted her side, telling her it was okay. Seeing I was awake, Taz went back to the playful, loving pup she always was. Again, I realized my dogs were not what I had known dogs to be. One minute sleeping, then the next a fearless protector, and then back to loving companion.
I have never forgotten that night and the lesson learned about the loyalty of dogs. Over the following years I learned a lot from Taz and Mickey. I also made a lot of mistakes, which thankfully didn’t result in me having to put them down or losing my house in a lawsuit. The biggest lessons were, first and foremost, the understanding of how a canine pack functions. It is critical that we interact with and communicate with dogs in ways they understand, as dogs, and stop trying to interact with them as if they are humans. This was where the name of my consulting business, Think Dog Consulting, originated. For me to have a healthy relationship with my dogs I had to think like a dog. The second lesson was patience. Getting angry over deeds done hours before did nothing to help train the dog. I learned to roll with the punches, so to speak, and remember that Taz and Mickey were learning as much as I was.
Taz died unexpectedly at age four, the cause never determined. Mickey, the dog who was never supposed to be mine, ended up being a faithful companion and protector for ten years. I miss them both very much, as they taught me more about life than is possible to convey here. They also were the reason I expanded my interest in Rottweilers and eventually started Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, that story I will detail in my next blog.