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, September 27, 2016

The Terrible Twos

I sat in my living room looking at my two, eighteen-month-old Rottweilers and faced a terrifying decision.  Should I end their lives?  What led to this agonizing quandary was a behavioral change in my dogs that I wasn’t prepared for. The change was hyper-protective behavior, specifically protection of me.  The latest incident had involved both dogs lunging at a person who walked by me on the sidewalk.  Taz had gone for the face. I thank God that both dogs were on leash and no contact was made.  I was, however, mortified at what my sweet, innocent puppies were growing into, and I had begun to wonder if every bad thing I had heard about Rottweilers was true. 
My rather innocent looking Rottweilers, Taz and Mickey.
That was back in 1996, and I’m thankful I didn’t put Taz and Mickey down.  Instead, I dove headlong into understanding canine behavior and correcting the issues.  I’m thankful to say that my hard work paid off and I ended up with two great dogs, not perfect by any stretch, but manageable.

It is said that hindsight is always the clearest and that is true in this case. That period was a harsh learning curve for me and almost ended my ownership of Rottweilers.  Still, by addressing the problem, rather than   giving up, I not only kept both dogs for their full lives, but I also learned skills that helped me become an expert witness on canine aggression and bite behavior. It is fair to say that period in my life was so close to being a disaster for both me and my dogs, and I now want to ensure that others don’t experience the same.
As part of Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, myself and other trainers regularly offer free training advice to people who are struggling with their dog’s behaviors.  This advice is oftentimes the last resort before the dog has to be put down or placed for adoption. Consults are usually performed by phone call or email, so what help we can offer is limited but we do the best we can, and I like to think that it has helped to keep a lot of dogs within their families and in society’s good graces.

The most common issues we receive requests for help on are cases in which the dog is being overly protective of territory and/or pack members, which includes the humans.  Without question, the majority of these incidents occur in dogs between the ages of one and three, or as we in the rescue business say, the terrible twos (in reference to the two-year stretch where negative behaviors are most likely to materialize).  Unlike a human toddler, these terrible twos are not about saying ‘no’ to everything; these are more in line with the tumultuous, and often rebellious, teen years in humans.  You see, given the manner in which dogs age, their teenage years fall within that one to three-year range.  I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t exactly a shining angel of good behavior when I was a teen.  Like most, I was rebellious and sometimes a bit violent.  Though not positive behaviors, these are expected and predictable behaviors as this is the period in development in which the person or dog is trying to figure out where they stand in the world or in their pack --yes, humans operate on a pack system, much like dogs, but that is a topic for another blog. With Rottweilers, in particular, this behavior often manifests itself in alpha behaviors which include territorial protection, possession aggression, pack member protection, and various dominance based behaviors.  The behavior of pack member protection, alone, has been the basis of three phone calls I’ve received in the last two months.  Each call was from a person who had owned dogs previously or had owned a Rottweiler that was ‘perfect’ but now had a 100+ pound male Rottweiler who was becoming very aggressive towards guests and strangers.  Each dog had been neutered and had some rudimentary obedience training but was now becoming a liability to the home.

In each of these phone calls, I first listened to the full explanation of the dog’s history and behavior, including the triggers for the negative behaviors.  After confirming that what the dog was doing was not extreme, I said one thing before addressing training recommendations.
“Your dog is normal, and though the behavior looks bad it can be fixed.”

That one statement sets the tone for all that follows.  You see, back in 1996 when I was thinking my dogs were demon-possessed monsters beyond my control, I would have loved to have someone explain to me that what my dogs were doing was, indeed, normal, not acceptable but normal.  I had to learn that fact on my own over many years of study, so I want people to know that pivotal truth right from the start.  Each time I said that line, I could hear the relief in the caller.  You see, by the time we are called for help, we’re typically the last resort before either placing the dog in rescue or euthanizing it. It is an encouragement for clients to hear that what their dog is displaying is not unusual behavior, but instead correctable behavior, and it is an encouragement I wish I had received back in 1996. 

After issuing this reassurance, I delve into the basics of pack structure and how the dog is testing where they are within the pack structure.  Some breeds are more forgiving in this process, and their teenage rebellion is limited to mild stubbornness.  For Rottweilers, though, the rebellion can appear a bit more intense.  The reason for this is simple: Rottweilers don’t believe in a power vacuum. Either you are in charge or they are.  Problems erupt when the dog doesn’t see anyone in the pack as being alpha.  For a Rottweiler, this won’t do, and given their dominant nature they will assume the leadership position.  This is where the aggressive behavior takes root.  Alpha is the defender of the pack.  My job as a trainer is to help the human take back their leadership role.  Once the transfer of power occurs, it is amazing how quickly the behavior of the dog improves.  Dogs simply like to know where they are in the pack, and it is our job to establish the hierarchy. 

During the calls, I do emphasis that this isn’t a quick fix and will take time and consistent, effective training.  I often recommend that they enroll the dog in a good obedience course with an instructor that understands difficult dogs, such as my friends Ron Murray, Angie McDunn, Davina Schoen, and Ben Donoghue. The good news is that if the owners can stay true to the training and get the dog past three years of age, then their hardest work will be done, just as in raising a teenager.  As my dad told my stepmom when they were dealing with some teen issues with my step-brother, “We just need to keep him alive until he reaches eighteen.” 

This may seem a simplistic view but it is accurate.  As parents of a teen one must do their best, through guidance and discipline, to help their child through the tumultuous teen years.  It is the same with a dog, and especially so with a Rottweiler.  Thankfully, the teenage years of a Rottweiler are mostly limited to the terrible two -year stretch.  It takes a lot of work but it is so worth it in the end. 

In closing, I do want to clarify that once you’re through the terrible twos, the training doesn’t end.  Remember, Rottweilers don’t believe in a power vacuum, either you are in charge or they are.  They are one of those breeds that will look at you daily and ask “Are you alpha?”

So, just as I told each of those callers, when dealing with unwanted behaviors in their dog, put on your ‘Alpha Bitch’ t-shirt and take charge.  Don’t be harsh or cruel, but be consistent in setting rules and enforcing them.  The dog wants this; it wants the structure of a stable pack and it is up to us to provide it if we want ourselves and our dogs to survive the terrible twos.

 If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to check out my Facebook and Twitter pages.  You can also learn more about me at my website  There you can also purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance, or get it directly from Amazon by clicking here.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beautiful Stars

The stars really were beautiful that late summer evening. With each blink of my eyes the sky became clearer, a curtain of black embroidered with countless sparkles of light.  As I lay on the grass of the intermural field near my home, I couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the night sky.  Now how I got there, well, I need to step back a bit to get to that point.

Eighteen months earlier, the day after Christmas, I had brought home two roly poly, completely adorable Rottweiler puppies named Taz and Mickey.  Having grown up with ranch dogs, these were my first Rottweilers and my first experience with puppies.  It was also the first time I lived with dogs in the house, our ranch dogs having been relegated to living either in the garage or outside. This new experience resulted in a rather costly learning curve of dealing with highly energetic and easily bored Rottweiler puppies.  During this period, I coined a saying that I stick by to this day:
“There is no more destructive force on this planet than two bored Rottweiler puppies.” 

Taz & Mickey at about 16 weeks. So innocent looking aren't they?
That learning curve included teaching myself how to repair sheetrock walls, replace stair handrails, buying replacement hats, boots, and gloves for my roommate after theirs met untimely deaths in the jaws of Taz and Mickey, as well as assorted fence and lawn repair skills.  I also learned, thankfully, that tired dogs were well-behaved dogs.  To achieve the goal of tired dogs, I scheduled long walks morning and night as well as play time in the large intermural fields across the street from my house.  In the fields the dogs could romp to their hearts’ content, resulting in a  peaceful crash into slumber when they returned home. 

At the time, I enjoyed jogging for exercise. Not anything major, as anyone who knows me can attest I don’t have a marathon runner’s body nor discipline.  Still, a moderately paced jog was a good way to clear my head and get some exercise myself.  Though I enjoyed this type of exercise, I didn’t jog with my dogs until they were over a year old, per the advice of my veterinarian.  The reason for this being that because Rottweilers grow so quickly, jogging might cause joint issues during their development.  So when Taz and Mickey reached eighteen months of age I decided to take my pups out for their first jog.  Understand that when I say pups that applies to their mental status only, because physically they were more adult than puppy.  Taz was already eighty pounds and Mickey weighed in at almost ninety pounds. 

In preparation for this outing, I had decided to take them out late at night. Nighttime allowed for the heat of the day to pass and would ensure that I had walked them so that pooping and peeing wouldn’t be an issue.  It was after ten when I put the dogs’ leashes on, and their excitement at the non-routine outing was evident as they exuberantly bounced off of one another, each one taking turns at playfully biting the other. 

Half walking, half being pulled across the street, we reached the vast expanse of closely mowed grass that made up the intermural field.  Taz and Mickey thought for sure this was time to run and play, and after trying to jog a little with them on leash, I gave up fighting the hyperactive, fur-covered devils that seemed hell bent on tying all three of us together in a Gordian Knot with their leashes.  I unclipped the leashes from their collars, and like a shot they disappeared into the dark in a flurry of growls and rumbling paws. Freed from my canine hoodlums, I started my jog, all the while listening to where my dogs were, an easy task given how vocal they were as they played.  Even as focused as they were on wrestling with each other, they still kept within fifty yards of me as I did the fat man shuffle around the perimeter of the field.

 It was on my second lap that I really got into the jogging zone.  My mind was focused on my breathing and on the pace of my steps.  Still, my ears kept track of my dogs, that sensory option being my only way to really do so.  Black dogs on a green field in the pitch black of night meant that my eyes were worthless in the effort.

I remember exactly where I was when the unplanned stargazing occurred.  I had been running east, along the south edge of the field, about one hundred yards from my house.  Somewhere from behind I heard Taz and Mickey growling as they wrestled and kept pace with me.  The growls grew louder.  Then I heard the thunder of Rottweiler paws hitting turf at quick intervals.  They were coming.  I told myself to just keep breathing and just keep jogging.  The sound of Taz and Mickey grew louder.
I hoped they wouldn’t run into me.

That was the last thing through my mind before my legs flew out from under me.  Briefly, I was parallel with the ground and caught my first glimpse of the stars.  Gravity, that merciless, unforgiving law of nature, then did its work.  I landed with a thud, the wind from my already taxed lungs rushing out upon impact.  Fading quickly were the sounds of Taz and Mickey, still running, playing and growling, oblivious of the havoc they had wrecked. Struggling to catch my breath, I lay on the cool grass staring skyward.  The stars were, indeed, beautiful.
Taz and Mickey at about three years old.  Hogging the bed as always. 

If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to check out my Facebook and Twitter pages.  You can also learn more about me at my website  There you can also purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Taking Care of the Cat

Last week my best friend, Brett, texted me asking if I would be willing to take care of their cats while they were gone.  Now, the moment I received the text I knew that they had scraped the bottom of the barrel and exhausted all their normal cat care people.  This was obvious because, well…I’m not a cat person.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve know some cool cats in my time and I definitely don’t hate them, but I never want to own one again either.

To my friend’s inquiry I responded, “Please define, ‘take care of’ for me”.  This was necessary because Carly had already cost me a screen window when she’d tried to ‘take care of’ their cats after they had moved into their new house.  He clarified that he wanted the cats alive and unharmed and that my job involved food and water and that Carly was not allowed into the house. Bummer.  Oh well, I grudgingly agreed, but only because Brett and his family are dear friends, that and he buys really good German beer and shares it with me on occasion. Hey, I may not love cats but I can be bribed.
Carly after she tried to 'take care of' my friends cats.
As I stated earlier, I don’t hate cats, I’ve just learned that I have a much stronger preference for dogs.  When I was a kid on the ranch we occasionally had cats, though they always seemed to meet an untimely demise at the hands of our dogs when a door was left open by my dad.  This was always suspicious because these incidents occurred when the rest of the family was gone, that and the fact that my dad had no love of cats.  There was one exception though, and her name was Crystal.

I don’t know where the Siamese cat wandered in from. She showed up randomly at times, hanging out for a few days and then departing. Occasionally she had on a collar but never any tags.  Now, my dad didn’t care much for having the cat around, but I liked the idea of something keeping the mice out of our saddles.  We didn’t have any cat-aggressive dogs at the time so it was perfect.  Dad and I went around and around on the issue and then one day dad said he’d taken a shot at the cat but missed.

“You had your chance, so she gets to stay now,” I said, rather pissed that he had shot at the cat. I can understand shooting at a coyote that drew too close to the cattle during calving season or something but a cat? Really? Apparently dad accepted that he had missed his opportunity to rid the world of another cat and for the next several years, Crystal, as I began to call, her given her stunning blue eyes, made her home on the ranch.

In the summer we saw less of Crystal because her hunting grounds expanded dramatically, but in the winter I saw her every time I went out to start the tractor to feed or to plow the road.  The block heater of the old John Deere was plugged into an outlet in a ramshackle log cabin, the interior more resembling a chaotic repository for every piece of scrap metal and random item imaginable than something actually livable.  Though nearly impassable for human occupancy, the junk piles made a great home for Crystal.  During the deep freeze of winter, her hunting grounds included that cabin, the tack shed, and our old barn.  It was in the cabin, though, that I always spent time with her.

Almost every day, while layered up in a thick Carhart coverall, I would make my way to the tractor, unplug it, coil up the cord, and hang it in the cabin.  As if t on cue, Crystal would meow and make her way toward me, crossing the junk piles.  I would pet her for a bit, much to her enjoyment, evidenced by her loud purring.  When I would head back out she’d jump onto my shoulders so that she could rub against my head as I checked the oil before starting up the tractor.  She would then find the opening of my collar and burrow her way into the coveralls to enjoy warmth for just a few minutes.  I quickly learned to hold my arm to my stomach so that she stayed around my chest, otherwise she felt inclined to use her claws to prevent gravity from pulling her downward.  With Crystal warm and purring against my chest, I would climb into the tractor.  Needing to idle up to operating temps, I would g climb down and go back into the cabin where Crystal would stick her head out of my coveralls and enjoy being petted and talked to.  This was my normal routine with Crystal, and I even snuck some cat food or tuna to her on occasion, not daring to tell my dad, then, one day, I saw something I really couldn’t believe.

At the time, Dad drove a diesel pickup truck that needed to be plugged in during winter just like the tractor.  He did this over at the tack shed since it was closer to the house.  One day I watched dad plug in his truck and remain at the tack shed door for several minutes.  As I observed closely, I saw that he was petting Crystal.  I later learned that dad had actually bought some cat food and had been leaving a dish of it in the tack shed for her.  I hadn’t seen the bowl of food because I hadn’t been in that building all winter.  Apparently my dad’s hatred of cats was not as deep-seated as we were all led to believe.
Crystal and my little brother, Tyler, in the old cabin. Sadly this is the only picture I have of Crystal

I’m not sure how many years Crystal was at the ranch, but it was at least three as I recall. I only know that one year she was gone, never to return.  Perhaps a predator got her, or maybe she succumbed to the harsh environment.  It is my hope, though, that she had wandered to a home that invited her in and that she spent her last years in warmth and comfort. Still, I will never forget her beautiful blue eyes and her insistence at warming herself inside my Carharts while I worked on the tractor.

Regarding my friend’s cats that I was asked to care for, well, I did as was asked and all ended well and yes, I’m still on speaking terms with my friend.  So, like my dad, my dislike of cats is more bluster than truth.  Still, I do prefer my dogs, but I will take care of a cat every now and then, if I have to, I guess.

If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to check out my Facebook and Twitter pages. You can also learn more about me at my website There you can also purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Secret Ingredient

If you have not been living under a rock and have actually read more than one of my blogs, you know I love Rottweilers.  Since welcoming my first two Rotties, in 1994, I have been addicted to this breed.  Growing up with a hodgepodge of dogs on the ranch, I felt I knew canines well enough, until Taz and Mickey stormed into my life.  After only a few months I realized that these were not typical dogs.  What set them apart from their fellow canine cousins took me a while to really nail down, but once I did it made perfect sense as to why they acted the way they did. 

The way the history of the Rottweiler was told to me, and confirmed by various sources, is that when Roman forces conquered Germania, their supply trains of livestock and carts followed them.  Helping with that task were Roman Mastiffs, big powerful dogs who aided in the herding of cattle and pulling of carts.  Once in Germania, these Roman Mastiffs bred with the existing herding dogs in an area that was later christened Rottweil, a town named for the red tile roofs of the bathhouses the Romans had built there.  This new breed of dog came to be known for its fierce loyalty, strength, and intelligence, but the breed came with a secret ingredient thrown in the mix, thereby setting them apart from other dogs.
My girl Belle had a massive "F You" attitude, especially when she had her toy.
The way I like to describe a Rottweiler is this: a Rottweiler is a dog that has the strength and stoicism of a Mastiff and the intelligence of a Border Collie but with a very large middle finger added to the pot.  This was it, the defiant, look-you-in-the-eye-and-question-whether-you-are-Alpha-enough-to-run-the-pack attitude that set the Rottweiler apart from all the other dogs I had known.  It took years of working with countless Rottweilers (and other breeds) to truly confirm this, but I have full confidence that the secret ingredient that makes a Rottweiler special is that stubborn ‘f*** you’ type attitude they convey at times. 

This was confirmed yet again when I took my Rottweiler, Carly, to the vet for her annual checkup and vaccinations the other day.  My vet walked into the exam room and we chatted a bit about how she was doing since Bradum had passed.  The entire time, Carly lay on the floor near me but with her eyes fully locked on Dr. Anderson.  Her ears weren’t back in apprehension and outside of a slightly elevated pant rate, she was as calm as always.  Dr. Anderson then did as he does with all the dogs, he sat on the floor and called Carly over to him, hoping that she would want attention and allow him to perform the exam while petting her, like most dogs allow.

“Come here, Carly,” he said in his always calm, even tone -- which only contributes to making him such a great veterinarian.  Carly didn’t budge.  He tried to coax her over one more time and then stopped.  Now, I couldn’t see Carly’s face from where I was sitting, but apparently the look she gave Dr. Anderson was a good one.

“Troy, if that dog had middle fingers I believe she would be giving me doubles right now,” he said, giving up.

Yep, there was that secret ingredient again, displayed right on cue. 
Carly and "the look".
What’s awesome about people that know Rottweilers, even if they don’t own one, is that they understand that the middle finger is a breed trait, and they actually love the dogs for it.  It is what makes Rotties unique, and is, after all, their secret ingredient.

Do you have an example of a Rottweiler with an attitude? Share it in the comments below.  If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to check out my Facebook and Twitter pages.  You can also learn more about me at my website  There you can also purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Cost of Confidence

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned working with dogs came from my dog trainer friend, Angie, when we were asked by a shelter to come help do behavior modification on some of their worst dogs.  We were being shown a dog that exhibited such extensive fear issues that it was nearly paralyzed and had been for over a month.  A staff member would enter the outdoor kennel and leave food and water while the dog cowered inside a Dogloo doghouse.

“You need to get that dog out of there. You can’t let it stay like that,” Angie told the staff who responded by saying that any attempt to place a leash on the dog triggered massive fear aggression.  “Then use a catchpole!” Angie said.  

Her point was this: When are dealing with a fearful dog it must be broken out of that mindset. Leaving the dog in its fearful state will only drag it deeper into negative behaviors.  This is why fearful dogs should never be paired up together in a shelter setting.  Fear feeds on fear, which is why such dogs should be paired or worked alongside a calm, confident dog.  The dog that cowered in its dog house, well the staff did what Angie directed.  A catchpole was used (not harshly) to remove the dog from the doghouse, out of the kennel, and it was taken for a walk.  After only a few days of repeating this, the animal was no longer hiding in the dog house but out exploring its kennel, even when staff went by.  After a few more days it allowed contact, then finally a leash, and eventually it started acting like a typical dog.  Through confident measures and by not allowing the dog to wallow in its fear and insecurity, confidence was created, which basically saved this dog’s life. 

Of all the dog bite cases I’ve been asked to be involved in, most of them were the result of fear aggression, also known as defense aggression.  The dog, facing an unfamiliar or terrifying situation has only three options when under high stress: flight (run), fight, or freeze (submission). Fear-based bites are often the result of the dog not having the ability to run away and not being of a submissive temperament.  Thus, the only option that remains is to fight.  For this reason it is so important to work with fearful dogs by breaking them out of fear cycles.  In shelters, where time is short, it is important to take more drastic measures, such as using a catch pole to physically remove the dog from its self-imposed prison.  This isn’t done out of anger or in an aggressive fashion, but it is done in a manner by which the dog has no other option but to submit.  In doing so dogs learn to trust their handler over the world they were so fearful of.  There are few things more awesome than watching a skilled dog trainer, such as my friends Angie, Ben, and Ron, take a very fearful dog, that had been biting everyone and everything, and in a few months have a stable, calm dog that is on its way to being a well-behaved member of its pack and society.

Carly, queen of the tire
I want to address this topic because my girl, Carly, is one of those fearful dogs.  I consider her a dog with conflicting personalities.  She has the drive and dominance of a working line Rottweiler, but because of her past she came to me with almost no confidence and high defense aggression issues.  What helped most with her transition wasn’t just my efforts but also my male Rottweiler, Bradum.  I didn’t realize how much confidence Carly gleaned from Bradum until he passed away on August 1, 2016. In the last two years, Carly had grown to be my brave guardian who took on most challenges without much hesitation. However, in the week following Bradum’s death, she reverted back to being an insecure dog.  This makes sense, really, Bradum was one of those dogs who carried himself with calm confidence and who rarely had to push the issue of being top dog.  Carly fed off of that confidence, and I attribute her positive behaviors to him being a part of the pack.  Come on now, you would be brave too if you had a 120-pound Rottweiler as your backup, wouldn’t you? Now that Bradum is gone, I’ve had to ensure that Carly understands that her confidence should come from me.  I’m still Alpha; I’m still here.  It has taken a few weeks, but Carly is back to her normal, guard dog behaviors when out for a drive or in the house.  This is in part because I didn’t let her revert back to her old self for very long. Instead, I focused on her obedience training and proactively continued pack walks at Montana Murray Kennels here in Bozeman and with my friends Brett and Mike and their dogs.  These settings required putting her in challenging situations in which she had to look to me for confidence. It has all helped.  Consistency in training, routine in daily life, and exposure to situations where she can see that I will handle it have all been key factors.  Through these circumstance she sees that she doesn’t need to protect me (though I know she will), but rather I will protect her.  I am, after all, the Alpha in the pack.  This is all she needed, to know that there was still a leader after Bradum died and that the scary circumstances were not really so scary after all. 

Carly and I doing confidence training at Montana Murray Kennels
Does Carly still have issues?  Yep, and I suspect she always will.  Even so, she continues to make improvements with each day, though it takes consistent effort on my part. I’m okay with that effort in order to help continue to build her confidence.  It is a cost I’m willing to pay.

If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to check out my Facebook and Twitter pages.  You can also learn more about me at my website  There you can also purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance.  For those outside North America, Stranger's Dance is available through Amazon UK and Amazon JP in both Kindle and paperback.