Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My Hero

             Since starting Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue and teaching and testifying nationally on canine behavior, I have worked with a lot of dogs that are the sad result of court proceedings.  Usually these cases result because the dog was allowed to run loose all the time and got into trouble, sometimes even having been involved in a bite incident. Sometimes, after the courts become involved, the dog is surrendered by their owners in order to lessen penalties or simply because the owner realizes they are not in a position to care for the animal properly.  On one such occasion the local shelter, where I volunteered,  became the custodian of two wayward dogs, Joker and Brodie, whose owner had allowed them to run loose one to many times.
Joker was a young pit bull that didn’t realize his body had outgrown his still puppyish brain.  Brodie, a beautiful male Rottweiler, had thankfully outgrown his puppy ways and soon became a favorite of the staff because of his gentle demeanor.  Joker, on the other hand, was a bit much for some people. 
Like many pit bulls, Joker had a high predatory drive, meaning that if an object was moving then it had to be chased and grabbed.  It didn’t matter if the object was a leaf or a snow flake, Joker was all about the game of pursuit and capture.  I found this out the hard way one day while playing fetch with Joker and Brodie in one of the larger exercise yards.  Everything was going well enough at first.  I would throw the ball and the two dogs would race after it, bantering back and forth as to who would get to it first and bring it back to me.  At one point they brought the ball back and dropped it, but when I reached down to grab it Joker had moved off to my side to get a better view.  Foolishly, I swung my hand down beside my hip to allow a good swing for an overhanded throw.  Joker, being rather fixated on the ball, didn’t realize that the ball was only to be chased after it had been thrown.  As my hand came up to make the throw, I was shocked to find a fifty-pound pit bull attached to it.  My initial surprise must have been evident when I told Joker to “drop it!”, as he let go and fell to the ground.  I looked at my hand to make sure that all fingers were present and that I wasn’t bleeding.  From that point on I made sure to hold the ball high and avoid winding up for my throws.
            All of the staff enjoyed both dogs but one staff member, Melissa, was especially fond of Brodie.  He was her “handsome man” and their bond was strong.  Now, the staff all used slip rope leashes for handling the dogs.  These leashes were plastic ropes with closed loops at each end.  When you run one end through the other, you have a large adjustable loop that you can slip around the neck of a dog to move it back and forth from the indoor kennels to the outdoor ones.  The problem the staff dealt with was where to keep the leashes while they worked; many kept them looped around their shoulders or stuffed in back pockets.  Melissa, though, always wore the one she used around her neck. 
One day Melissa went into Joker and Brodie’s pen to throw the ball for them. As always, she had the leash around her neck, the loop making it like a necktie, with the free end hanging down her front.  After a couple of throws, this dangling end of the leash became a distraction, so she turned it around so that the loose end was hanging down her back.  She threw the ball one more time and Brodie sped after it toward the far side of the pen. Joker, unbeknownst to Melissa, had become mesmerized by the movement of the leash that dangled down her back.  With the last throw, Joker leapt up and grabbed the loose end, immediately tightening the noose around Melissa’s neck, choking her.  She struggled to loosen the loop as Joker playfully pulled on it harder, thinking all of it was a wonderful game of tug.  Melissa was starting to become faint when out of the corner of her eye she saw a black and tan blur streak by, and she heard the thud of colliding dogs accompanied by the deep growls of Brodie.  Amazingly, he had sensed that Melissa was in danger and, though having been friends with Joker since he was a puppy, he had attacked Joker, forcing him to release the leash. 
Melissa stood up and clung to the chain link fence while gasping for breath.  Brodie held Joker at bay in the corner of the pen until Melissa removed the leash from her neck and told Brodie that it was okay.  Thankfully, Joker was not hurt by Brodie’s assault and was actually rather confused by the whole event.  It was, after all, just a game of tug, wasn’t it?  To this day Melissa still refers to Brodie as “her hero”.  
            Joker and Brodie were eventually adopted but not into the same home; however, both went to responsible and loving families.  Brodie ended up in a home with three children, and like many Rottweilers he became their guardian and, more than likely, their hero as well.

My first novel, Stranger’s Dance, used this real life example as inspiration for some of the gallant behaviors of the dog, Stranger, in the story.  If you want to read more about him, check it out on Amazon by clicking here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Devious Dogs

My apologies on the length of time since the last blog post.  I’ve been so busy wrapping up the manuscript for my second novel that I really haven’t had time for much else.  The good news is book two is in the hands of my editor for the next couple of months, so I will have no excuse for being tardy with future posts.  That brings me to today’s blog. 

Having worked with rescue and pound dogs since 1997, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with hundreds of dogs, and I have learned that most are wonderful animals.  I’ve also learned that a select few are, well…somewhat devious.  Now I’m not talking about the aggressive dogs, though aggression often comes into play in these devious canines’ behaviors.  What I’m referring to are the dogs who scheme for nefarious purposes, dogs in whom, when you look them in the eye, you can see the wheels turning in their brains. Oftentimes, this is so much so the case that you realize the dog is thinking on a level higher than many people you know.  It is these dogs I’m thankful don’t have opposable thumbs because, if they did, they’d be running the world by this point. 

Now, this devious behavior comes in many forms.  Sometimes it looks like sneaking away items the dog knows you need, only to return them after you have given up looking and bought a replacement -- my girl, Belle, was notorious with this one.  Other times it may look like acting out a part in the movie The Great Escape.  My friend’s dog, Bailey, is a master escape artist who could have easily played a role next to Steve McQueen in the film. These devious behaviors are harmless enough for the most part, but then there are behaviors that reveal a bit more of an evil streak in a dog.  These antics are the ones used to intimidate people and, in all honesty, the dogs seem to enjoy causing people to jump back in fear.  My aforementioned dog, Belle, played this very game well but with a subtler twist, and this game always started innocently enough.  Belle would move into people’s personal space until she became a nuisance, and if the person tried to make her leave she would let them know that it wasn’t an option.  If I had guests over, she would identify the most dominant one with which to play her game, and make her approach with the classic ‘pet me’ puppy dog eyes.  As she was petted, she would move closer. Next she would put her front paws up on the couch next to them.  They would pet her more, and she would proceed to climb up onto the couch with them.  Now, most dogs would lay down with their head on the person’s lap so they could have a belly rub, basically submitting and accepting the attention.  Given that the word submissive wasn’t in Belle’s vocabulary, this wasn’t her intention.  She would stand eyeball-to-eyeball with the person.  If the person dared to stop petting her, she would give a soft, low, but very intimidating growl. Keep in mind, Belle was over ninety pounds and built “like a brick outhouse’, as my friend Angie once said of her. Of course, if I saw her pulling this stunt I would stop her well before it got to that point, but she learned to only attempt such a move if I was in the kitchen or elsewhere. Thankfully, Belle never snapped at anyone. She just gave the deep Rottie rumble that was rather frightening to most people, telling them that the petting must continue.
 Yes, some of this behavior could be classified as dominance; Belle was protection trained, after all. Perhaps dominance was part of the issue since another Rottweiler, named Oz, displayed similar behavior in his home.  Still, when I caught Belle in the act, I noticed a glint in her eye and could almost see the thought bubble above her head saying, “Did you see how scared they were, dad?” I honestly think she enjoyed this little game.

Belle’s minds games were subtle by nature but still devious. One not-so-subtle method is employed when the dog purposely puts themselves into a position where they can scare someone by barking at them.  I’m not talking about typical territorial barks but an ambush with the sole purpose of making someone jump.  An amazing dog, named Bo, was the first dog I saw carry out such a thing.   

Bo was a rescue that came into the Humane Society of Gallatin Valley back in 1998, I believe.  He had spent much of his life in a small pen, in his owners’ back yard, and he was often tormented by the neighborhood children. As a result, he was very territorial. After several months at the shelter, however, he came to be rather calm and accepting of people passing by his kennel.  This is true except when he was in the mood to make people jump. 
The staff started telling me that he was being cage aggressive when in his indoor kennel.  I was concerned as this behavior makes it difficult for a dog to be adopted, so I wanted to see what was triggering him.  I positioned myself inside a small room in the main kennel area and had the staff bring Bo inside. They put him in a kennel where I could watch him through the door, without him seeing me.  Everything looked normal enough until I heard the main door, at the end of the room, open as a group of visitors came to view the adoptable dogs.

The individual kennels had solid panels on the bottom half, so in order for a dog to see the visitor’s door, they needed to jump up on their hind legs.  I expected to see Bo on his hind legs; however, he crouched down so that his body was against the panel closest to the approaching people.  I realized, about two seconds before the people reached his kennel, that the little bugger was waiting in ambush.  Sure enough, the moment they passed his kennel, Bo went full Cujo on them, hitting the kennel door and barking like crazy.  And right on cue, the poor people nearly jumped out of their skin as the hundred pound, black and tan hell hound pounded the chain link.  I rushed out of my hiding spot and scolded Bo.  Do you think he cowered, looked guilty, or perhaps slunk into a corner after being caught?  Nope.  Bo grinned ear-to-ear,  his stump tail thumping back and forth at hyper speed. Once again, I saw the little thought bubble over his head with the words, “Did you see how high they jumped, dad?” 

From that point on, we ensured that Bo was in his outdoor kennel during public viewing hours, and I worked with him to try and convince him that, regardless of how much fun it was to make people jump, it wasn’t appropriate behavior.  Thankfully, Bo was adopted so it was not an issue for too long. 

Once again, though, I’m dealing with another devious dog, one of my own.  My girl, Carly, like most dogs, can read people like a cheap paperback book, and she knows more about their emotional status than they do.  Because of this she has buffaloed a few of my friends who are, by their own admission, terrified of her.  Carly doesn’t intentionally do anything to stoke the fire of that fear, but she does seem to enjoy it when she is around them.  Her behavior is manageable enough, but the one antic I find rather annoying is her propensity to bark at joggers, and not just any jogger, but typically the attractive, female joggers.  Being a single guy, I keep trying to tell her that I’ll never get a date if she keeps up with that behavior.  Then again, being the devious Rottweiler she is, this might have been her plan all along.
If you enjoy stories about dogs and their relationships with humans, be sure to check out my first novel, Stranger’s Dance, and tell others about it. Click here to be taken to it on Amazon.