New house-related posts will soon be in the works. I finished my office, minus a much-needed flat file cabinet, over the holidays and am working on an illustrated breakdown. The holidays destroyed our budget for interior maintenance and repair; the weather made it too cold and sticky to do any yardwork. The weather is changing and I’ve begun to pull down ivy, but for the time being, here’s yet another post about the dogs.
Sometimes people ask us about what it’s like to own Rottweilers, which… I don’t know, do people with schnauzers ever get asked what it’s like to own schnauzers? It’s strange to own a dog that has such a bad reputation because he’s (they’re, now, I suppose) just your dog. Every so often we come home after spending time with friends who have smaller dogs and we realize Rottweiler Prime is nothing less than enormous, but the most dangerous part of our dog is not on the end with the teeth.
(Brown refers to it as the “ion cannon” since it vaporizes all living organisms in its path. ’nuff said.)
But we’re now spending a lot of time training Zu, and there’s the voice at the back of our minds which reminds us that a training process which is absolutely mandatory for Zu might be more flexible if he was, oh, say, a chihuahua puppy. And a few weeks ago, a reader commented that these blog posts “present a better image of Rottweiler’s than is usually seen [and] I assume the mass-media portrayal of them is completely unaccurate and biased.” To which I answered, “It’s sort of… not.”
Back in the day, Rottweiler Prime was a biter. I’m dating myself here as Cutter John was my graduation present to myself. I figured I’d be living and traveling alone so I got this eleven-week-old puppy and invested a ton of time and money in training classes and doggie behavior seminars. I worked in a book store and read everything I could about dog behavior and how to raise a happy dog and how your dog can be your best friend and all those other publications in the “treat your dog like a gentle flower and love him!” flavor of self-help dog-training dross which was popular at the time.*
It’s amazing how we’ve spent a couple hundred thousand years with these fluffy buggers and we still can’t figure them out. Every decade or so, there’s a revolution in dog training and all of the practical advice is thrown out the window or refitted in new clothes. For example, if you’ve got a dog, you might be interested to learn you can play tug-o-war with them now, whereas before it was a game that would destroy not only your authority over your dog but all surrounding natural ecosystems.
When I first got Cutter, the catchword du jour was respect; respect your dog, and your dog will respect you, or so the popular wisdom went. I had no luck whatsoever with this approach. Respect is a meaningless concept for a dog. We worked out our issues, but it would have been easier for the both of us if I wasn’t doing everything right. Then I started doing things wrong, and things fell into place. This experience, I’ve heard, is similar to first-time parents who spend nine months preparing for the kid, then find everything they’ve read is beyond useless. Except a seven-month-old baby doesn’t weigh eighty pounds or sport a set of chompers to put a bear to shame. So doing things wrong got desired results but was … stressful … and I really don’t recommend Rottweilers for twenty-year-old girls straight out of college who don’t know poop about poop.
Which brings us back to today and raising Zu.
I’m okay with the current catchword in dog training, which seems to be that dogs are dogs. Working with Cutter got worlds easier when I got past the belief that he was a fuzzy little person who reasoned like a human being. Today, everyone in Dogdom is running with the idea that dogs are animals, and, as animals, are rather dumb and have to be spoken to in a language they understand. Pack order and such. We’re training Zu using the (successful) techniques I learned from training Cutter, as well as a few new things we’ve picked up from dog trainers who follow the dog = dog policy.
Although there are some training techniques that we’re writing as we go. One is the belief that dogs need to be left alone while eating because it blah blah blah. I left Cutter alone in his private happy space while he was eating and he developed huge food possession issues. I did the same thing for Zu, at first, until the day he growled and snapped at me when I walked into the kitchen. Now, I schedule his meals around the same time I load or unload the dishwasher and do it directly on top of him while he’s eating. I also touch him and talk to him constantly, and during the meal I hold a chunk of wet food out on my palm next to his head so hands near his food bowl are perceived as a positive thing. Cutter helps; Cutter sits over him and drools. The food possession issues have vanished, and Zu demonstrates very little possessiveness over toys or found objects. I’m now working on training him to leave the food dish in the middle of eating; this is very hard for a puppy, but it’s necessary and he’s learning to back off of the meal.
Brown’s training sessions involve forced physical contact. Late in the day when Zu is tired, Brown will stretch out on the couch with Zu on top of him. Dog trainers will tell you that dogs think they are dominant when they are on the best seat in the house, or when they are physically positioned above their owners, but there’s no question who’s dominant during forced cuddling. Brown pins Zu in a death grip and the puppy fights back until he realizes he’s going nowhere, then sighs and submits for long periods of downtime. They have been watching Doctor Who together. Brown has explained to Zu that while we might miss David Tennant, Matt Smith is an excellent actor and we should give him a chance.
Zu remains unconvinced.
*The Monks of New Skete and Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond between People and Dogs come to mind. These days it would probably be anything with the Dog Whisperer.