May 8, 2013 by Julia West
I had the idea for a blog post about training Dash when I realized, with a twinge of chagrin, that I’ve never formally introduced him. While I try to avoid anthropomorphizing my animals, Dash is our “problem child” and typically gets less air-time when I talk about training. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he is the dog closest to my heart. I apologize ahead of time for the long post, but it is difficult to summarize the journey I’ve taken with this crazy lug nut of mine.
On Groundhogs Day 2007, Aaron and I took a slushy drive from Ithaca to Interlaken to meet a puppy named Esh. Aaron spotted the ad in the local paper which described a 7 month old Boxer boy as “free to good home, needs room to run.” The woman told me that their son had purchased the pup from an Amish man down the road and given it to them as a birthday present. The couple was sweet, but clearly overwhelmed. Esh had taken a wild leap at the end of his leash and he fractured his rear leg at 5 months old. He was put on crate rest for 2 months and, as soon as he’d been given the medical all-clear, the couple had put the ad in the paper.
To say that he was wild when we met him is an understatement. We met his paws first and his mouth second. He jumped and nipped and panted while the elderly couple tried desperately to reel him in. They told us that he hadn’t been allowed to play with other dogs because all their friends had little dogs. They had been running him in the basement until he got tall enough to leap up and pull their laundry off an indoor clothesline. The wife couldn’t take him for walks for fear he’d yank her off her feet. He didn’t appear to know his name or any commands and his self control was limited to not bursting out of his skin with excitement. I’d been reading Suzanne Clothier and Patricia McConnell, and I was training Xena to compete in Rally and Obedience. I thought I was prepared for the challenge of training this sweet but crazy young boy. In fact, I thought he’d make a good agility dog.
|Dash’s first night home|
We changed his name to Dash and began acclimating him to his new life. Things started out well enough – he learned his name quickly, was mostly housetrained and learned “wait” and “sit” effortlessly. Xena had to spend the week telling him off for rude puppy behavior but they were making progress.
Then he started to get calmer and quieter and we thought he might be settling in.
Then he stopped wanting to move at all. Our appointment to get his rabies shot became an urgent care visit.
Over the course of a week, the diagnosis went from suspected panosteitis to confirmed immune-mediated meningitis.
At that point we had an unvaccinated, unsocialized, intact adolescent who was on so much predisone that he couldn’t go 15 minutes without peeing. We fashioned a holding pen out of our apartment’s teeny kitchen and eagerly awaited every step down in his dosage. I worked with him and Xena continued to teach him, but his exposure to anything beyond our little family was extremely (and necessarily) limited. Five months later, we had moved into our house and Dash was once again given a medical all-clear that signaled a shift in his life. Just after his 1st birthday I enrolled him in classes at our local club, desperate to make up for lost time.
While Dash had a solid temperament, it quickly became clear that he was socially stunted and overly aroused by new environments. My then-40 pound boy had the mentality and self-control of an 8 week pup and, since he had missed the crucial windows for socialization, progress was going to be difficult. We dutifully attended classes for two years, slowly working our way up to Canine Good Citizen class, until he was banned from the club (more on that in the upcoming training post). His people and dog manners are still far behind the curve, but his “house manners” are good and we enjoy sharing our day-to-day life with him.
|Our happy boy|
He’s incredibly intelligent and eager to work, so we doodle around the house to keep his mind occupied. Since last summer, he’s been learning the tricks I’ve been teaching Delta. A lot of them focus on body awareness and, as many of you know, changing muscle memory with an older dog is a lot slower than with a pup. Even so, when I’m consistent about practice, he’s been steadily improving. The most recent exercise to ‘click’ was sitting pretty and he can now hold his position for a couple of beats. I’ll be working on duration for a while longer and then will begin to work on distance from the food lure.