Monday, June 26, 2017

Why I will never, ever, dog sit again

The dog that I sat for over the weekend (whom I secretly have been calling "the dog from hell") is renamed "Marley" for appropriate reasons. If you've seen the movie "Marley and Me" you will already know where this post is heading. If you haven't, you should. It's funny watching other people stress out over their dogs. (Until you *are*actually one of those people.)

^^^ Unlike Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston in this movie, I never drove with the windows open with our Marley in the car. I was too worried he would jump out--and I'm not being dramatic!

"Marley" even looks like Marley in the movie. H is a yellow lab, eight months old. He is Marley's evil twin.

Unlike the Marley in the movie, who is at least mischievously cute, this dog was not only destructive, but obsessed with objects (sticks in particular), bit us repeatedly (puppy biting he should have outgrown by now), jumped and nipped at our face, lunged at other dogs, ran and never walked, barked repeatedly, pulled on leash, and--wasn't neutered, which didn't help.

He pinned down Luke the other day, biting him all over the face and arms. It was all in play, but rough play. Luke was quite shook up, as he could not get up on his own, since the dog was on top of him, munching on his ear. He had scratches all over his face.

And that's not to mention the other more minor issues, like counter surfing (jumping on the counter to steal food), stealing shoes, clothing or anything else he found on the floor.

The only way to take care of "Marley" was to drain him of his energy. Dennis took him on long walks, which helped, but the dog didn't know how to just lie down and take a nap. We learned not to run around Marley, because he would suddenly jump up, barking and howling. He jumped on furniture--while he was tethered on a short leash--and still managed to crawl all over the kids if they were lying on the couch.

We had him tethered, for the most part, except for the times when we exercised him by playing Fetch in the hall. At noon, I would crate him for two hours, just so we could all get a break from him. I had to take naps every day that he was with us because he drained us both mentally and physically.

So I was really happy when his owner decided to pick him up a day early. Dennis took the kids out on errands so it was just "Marley and Me". (Ha! I couldn't resist the corny joke.)

I had all his stuff packed up and ready to go. Everything was ready. I made sure I looked somewhat presentable (not bedraggled and haggard like I have looked all weekend.) I decided to do a little "loose leash" walking with Marley outside with some treats. Loose leash walking was the one thing that had gone well over the weekend and I wanted to impress his owner by how well Marley was walking on leash.

And then, just when I thought my troubles were over for the weekend, two of the neighbors dogs came over. I quickly turned Marley in the other direction and of course, the dogs followed us. They were very calm, but I wasn't taking a chance. I was almost in the house when Marley turned around (as always, he was jumping all over the place) and saw the dogs.

Marley went crazy. His hackles went up and he barked and lunged with all his might, pulling me with him. I dragged Marley to the backyard (I couldn't get him in the house and was worried the dogs would follow me in). We had almost made it to the backyard when the leash suddenly went slack. I looked at the leash only to see a broken harness. I looked at Marley. Marley looked at me. It suddenly occurred to both of us that Marley was free.  I threw myself forward to grab Marley, and all I got was a fistful of fur, and he was gone.

That was Marley. Gone.

I don't think I have ever panicked so badly in all my life. Not even when I had my heart attack. All I could think of was that his owner was coming for his dog in a half hour, and I would have to tell him that his dog was either gone or dead.

Marley zoomed all over the yard, playing his "you can't get me" game that he likes to play when he steals our shoes or anything else he found. I stayed where I was, not chasing him, but I screamed his name over and over. Yes, the entire neighborhood heard me, and I didn't care.

I took all the treats that I had in my training pouch and called Marley's name. He stopped long enough to see what I wanted. I dumped them all on the ground. He didn't fall for it. He ran off again.

Over and over this dog zoomed around the yard, not too far away but not close enough for me to grab him, teasing me and daring me to catch him. At one point, he ran off to the front of the house, and I was convinced that he was gone for good. But soon he came zooming back around and around, stopping and staring and then running off again.

Every time I screamed Marley's name, he stopped. So you can imagine how many times I had to scream. I'm sure the neighbors were by now watching out the window, enjoying the goings-on.
No matter how many times I got Marley to stop though, I could never get him to come to me. I tried my Stern Voice.  I tried my Happy Voice. I tried my Gentle Voice. Nothing worked.

I grabbed sticks, enticing him to come get one. The entire time he stayed with us, we've been pulling sticks out of his mouth. This dog is obsessed with sticks; he even went after the broom because it's a long stick.

But the dog was smart and didn't fall for the stick trick either. I grabbed a treat I found in the grass and tried to get him to come. He just ran off again.

I had to scream his name again to get him to stop. I grabbed whatever I could, which was a handful of grass and pretended to eat it. "Mmm! Yum!" I said, trying to make it look like something good. He just stared at me. I grabbed another stick, and out of desperation, put it in my mouth, carrying it like he did. He just ran off again.

This dog had me crying, eating grass, putting sticks in my mouth and crawling around like a dog, just to get his attention, and he was too smart for me.

All this time, I was invoking God and all the Saints and Angels for help. "Think like a trainer" was what popped into my head.

I suddenly remembered a story that I had read about some dog rescue workers trying to rescue a dog who was trapped on a highway. Every time they moved toward the dog, he would dart into traffic. No treats or calling worked. So they put themselves into a fetal position, and turned their heads away. This is "dog language" meaning "I mean no harm."

So this what I did. I forced myself to calm down and put my head into my arms and quit calling Marley or reacting in any way. It took a while, but inch by inch, Marley began coming back to me. Any time I made even the slightest move, he would dart off again, so we had to start all over again.

Eventually, he was close enough where I calmly grabbed his collar and Marley looked at me. He knew the game was over. We got back in the house and I had just enough time to regain my composure and dust off my clothes before the owner came to claim his dog.

Marley was happy to see his owner. So happy, in fact, that Marley jumped up and nipped him in the face. His owner grabbed his face and I asked if he was ok. "Just a little dog saliva," he said, but a red mark was showing under his eye.

"You're a tough dog, aren't you?" His owner said affectionately, patting Mareley's back.
"He is," I agreed, "Very tough." But I don't think we were seeing it quite the same way.

So no, I won't be dog sitting anymore--for more reasons than I stated in this post. Dog sitting doesn't work for my family, for our environment, and quite frankly, makes me not like dogs as much as I thought I did.

I will happily work with them though on all those behaviors--as I gain experience--in the owner's home, one hour at a time. Not three days. One hour. And then I leave the dogs with their owners.
That's the difference.

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