Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Story of our Dogs

We got a puppy three weeks ago. This is our second time of raising a dog from puppy-hood, and this is our second pit bull. I have mixed emotions and regrets about our first pit bull, and working through those and facing my own guilt has been hard. I definitely want to extol the virtues of crate training. If we had understood crate training with our first pit bull, I sincerely believe she would have been able to live with us for the rest of her natural life. The adage that 'bad dog behavior is not the fault of the dog, one needs to look at the other end of the leash,' has been painfully and personally learned by me. I was a bad owner and let down a very good dog.

Beta, our first pit bull terrier, was a rescue dog of sorts. A family member had adopted her from a veterinarian in a small town nearby and was told she was an American Staffordshire Terrier (I am aware there is an unsettled debate over whether there is any difference or if it's just semantics and pit bulls are the same breed - I do not care to address that debate here). After owning her for a few months, and her having full run of the house with a single female owner, she was energetic, playful, watchful, a great guard dog, but entirely undisciplined when it came to digging in trash or tearing out couch stuffing. We agreed to take her in as she was a really beautiful dog, and after all, she was well behaved and obedient - when supervised.

Beta, American Staffordshire Terrier

She only tore up a few things of ours - dragged a couch across the living room and ripped off the skirt, broke down the screen door to get on the balcony, chewed on an old journal. Just a few things like that (sarcastic tone). But we put up with it because we didn't know what else to do. And she really was a wonderful dog as long as we were right there with her. We let Beta have her free rein of the apartment when we were working, every day worrying and hoping she hadn't destroyed anything.

We had downstairs neighbors who bought a boxer, and they had a crate, but it was the first we had ever heard of such a thing and it sounded terribly cruel. Plus their boxer would poop in the crate, so I'm not sure what they were doing wrong, but it didn't seem at all successful. We didn't try crate training till years later.

Within a couple of years, we had our first child. We decided to move into a house, and although the landlord allowed dogs, Beta was now more work than I could cope with between trying to keep her corralled and behaving while I tried to find time to sleep between every-two-hour baby nursings.

We found a family with older kids who wanted to take Beta in. They kept her for a year, but then brought her back. By that point, we had moved to a duplex that didn't allow pets, we were expecting our second child, and our first child was eighteen months old. We were going to try to convince our landlord to let us keep her, but then she circled our daughter, growling, every time she got close to her food bowl. It was classic food aggression.

We weren't going to take the risk of an attack. Distraught and in tears, I took her to the vet and asked them to put her down. I loved my dog, but my duty as a parent made me protect my child. My grief is still with me to this day. I let down a very good dog. If only I had known how to train her.

Sadie was approximately 8 months old when we adopted her through Animal Aid of Tulsa, in September of 1999, and our youngest child was over two years old. We went looking for a gentle breed, and I specifically called around the shelters and rescue groups looking for a border collie or beagle mix, as I was familiar with both breeds from my childhood. Sadie looked to be a border collie / Australian shepherd mix. She was a very calm dog, albeit a little too timid, but we liked her anyway.

She was already crate trained, having lived at the vet's office for a few months. We went ahead and bought a crate as per the vet's recommendation, plus my husband's co-worker was a professional handler (for dog shows), and had introduced him to the virtues and proper use of crating.

Sadie was amazing. She loved her crate. The vet had also recommended a book, "The Art of Raising a Puppy," and it taught me to be a good owner. We didn't have to come home to a crazed stressed dog, or torn up house. She would be sleeping peacefully and with nothing more than a happy "yip" of a bark upon seeing our return, she would come out of her crate to be let outside, and we were all happy - dog and owners alike.

Two years later, we started talking about getting another dog, preferable another rescue dog but less timid than Sadie, and wanted to look into boxers or bull dogs as we both like the look of those breeds, a mix being okay as we actually prefer to avoid the problems that can come up with purebreds (genetic problems, nervousness, and the breathing problems inherent in bulldogs, etc.). But then one winter day, another co-worker of my husband's found a little puppy under a truck in the parking lot, abandoned, alone. We brought her home.

Lucky was only four and a half pounds at approximately eight weeks of age, but she looked to be a German shepherd / Labrador mix, so we knew she'd be a big dog. When she was older and fully developed, our  veterinarian suggested she looked to possibly be a Belgian Malinois.

Tiny puppies often grow into giant dogs

From the reading of the puppy book and other materials from the veterinarian, my condition of bringing this puppy home was that we had to enroll her in obedience classes, because I was certainly not going to have a puppy tearing up the house. The obedience school gave wonderful lessons and explanations of crate training, and how it makes a happy puppy and a happy owner. And you know, it works. Lucky is goofy and silly, but is trained in basic obedience.

She went from a 4.5 pound baby to a 75-pound behemoth within a year. Poor Sadie didn't quite know what to think about this giant playful dog, but they got along.

A few years later, Sadie the border collie, became epileptic. She had her first seizure on Thanksgiving day. We had stayed home and prepared our own meal that Thanksgiving, an unusual circumstance. We were just sitting down to eat, and Sadie was lying on the kitchen floor, when she began to seize. We called the emergency vet, and they told us what to do (and what not to do) and what to watch for, and we took her to our regular vet the next open day. He examined her and advised us to just watch for another seizure; we wouldn't have to do anything unless her seizures became more frequent or lasted longer than a few minutes.

By February of 2008, she had two seizures within two weeks. Her vet prescribed primidone, twice a day. After a few days of it, and her obviously acting drugged and confused (she stood in front of the couch she had used as a bed for years, just standing there looking at it, not getting up, not even trying, just staring - and she did the same staring at the wall over in a corner she liked to lie in), I researched and found that her dose could be possibly reduced, and so I discussed it with the vet and he agreed it could be reduced to a half pill twice a day. She acted less druggy, and her seizures reduced to about one every 2-3 months.

She lived for another two years. In fact, she outlived her vet. He passed away, and the vet that took his place had to be the one to make the call to put her down when the primidone, that although it had reduced her seizures and extended her life, had a bad side effect. It caused so much swelling of her liver and other organs that she was terminal. This was just last year. We miss her. She was a good dog.

Lucky is getting old now, she is ten and has strange skin problems that the new vet hasn't been able to figure out. The closest thing we've found on the internet has been "cyclical hair loss" as it does seem to temporarily improve and then worsen every three months. We've tried thyroid medicine, food changes, medicated shampoos, and skin scrapings showed no sign of pests or yeast.

Lucky's mystery skin problem

The cyclical hair loss description advised Vitamin A and melatonin, so she's been on that for two and a half months now, and while she did improve markedly at first, she is back to balding again. It is a puzzle. Just this week, she has started licking the fur off her front leg again, to the point of getting down to bare skin and making it bleed. She hasn't done that in at least a year. I clean it and bandage it - of course she removes the bandage within a few hours. But this is so sad.

Perhaps it's just age. As a big dog, we know her life span is nearing the end. We miss Sadie and we know Lucky is going to be gone probably within a year or two. So this year we started talking about getting a puppy.

We knew it would have to be a puppy, because we now have a cat that adopted us when he, as a little kitten, jumped in my husbands' car at the Walmart parking lot. Being a black cat, there was no way I was taking him to the pound (I love black cats), so he has lived with us five years now. While he played with our adult dogs, especially Lucky (Sadie mostly ignored him and would just get up and walk away from any overtures he made), he was adapting to them, learning to play nice. Now that he is the older one, any newcomer must be a baby in order to adapt to him. So in deference to our cat, we had been casually discussing getting a puppy for a few months now.

Then we decided we wanted a pit bull again. We learned our lessons on proper crate training and obedience through our time with Sadie and Lucky, and we realized if we had known those lessons back when we had Beta, we could have saved her life.

Pits are excellent guard dogs, loyal and sweet family dogs, and if raised correctly, are downright friendly. "During WWI American Pitbull Terriers were used on American war posters representing our nation’s strength." - source

We like pit bulls because they look very similar to boxers and bulldogs, with the wide chest and strong back legs for pulling, but with a regular snout so that they are minus the drooling and breathing problems. We also decided we wanted a female. We have always chosen female dogs as they have less issues with dominance.

Once we started looking in earnest, it wasn't long till we found an eight-week-old female pit bull. Although we didn't set out to find a purebred, that is exactly what we ended up with. And she is amazingly smart, and checked out well at the vet, too.

Is it safe to approach now?

She is mostly brown, with white markings. Somewhat like a classic boxer, she has two white toes on each foot, and a white facial stripe that continues down into a nose-to-chest marking. We're leaving her ears floppy and her tail undocked. Before we got her, I didn't know that the noise that Snoopy makes on the animated cartoon show was an actual sound a dog could make. She makes that squeaky sound - like Snoopy's exasperated noise - when she yawns. It was the first sound we heard her make actually, when I was carrying her to our car from the flea market where we got her.

From this angle, she resembles Snoopy - in brown

She has a crate that she sleeps in at night, and when we're not home. Of course there are accidents, when we haven't been paying attention (I need to find my egg-timer - where is that thing?? - and set it for 30 minutes so we will remember to take her outside frequently). But we know that's our fault and it is our responsibility to help her be the most excellent dog possible - by keeping on schedule and praising her for good behavior. And so by having realistic expectations, and following a precise routine, she is a happy puppy and we are happy owners.

Be a good owner: 1. Crate-train; 2. And like they say on The Price is Right: "Spay or neuter your pet!"

No comments: