Tag Archives: philosophy

Dusty, Part 4

Love Him Wisely

by Terri Florentino

“The truth is,” Susan said. She paused and ran her hand over her mouth. She took a breath. “Dusty can be so volatile that I’m afraid of him.”

Susan, Robert, and Dusty

Susan, Robert, and Dusty

I tensed. “Sometimes there are hard deci—”

“No. I’m in this for the long haul. We all are.”

“Okay. Good,” I relaxed. “I’m going to need you to love him wisely.”

“Can do,” Susan said.

We agreed to check back frequently, and a week or so later I visited them to follow up after their trip to the vet. I heard happy yelling and scrabbling behind the door as Susan put Dusty behind the baby gate. She let me in smiling and breathless.

“You were right,” she said. “The doctor agreed medication would ease his stress and lower his aggression. He’s been on it a few days now.”

I moved deliberately and calmly, never looking directly at him. Behind the gate he sat cute as a button and watched me intently. “Have you noticed any differences yet?”

“I’d say he’s showing a little less a play drive, which is sad, but the good news is, he is definitely less reactive.” She led me into the kitchen. “Juice? Tea?”

The fur family.

The fur family.

I could hear the hope in her voice, and I smiled. “Don’t relax yet. We’ve just begun. Keep a leash on him at all times, indoors and out, day and night.” This way he if started to act inappropriately they could get control of him quickly. “Think of the leash as an umbilical cord. If you want your dog to learn from you, he needs to be attached to you.”

Robert met us in the kitchen looking more at ease than the last time I saw him. We shook hands.

“I was just saying, be aware of Dusty’s body language and watch for early signs of reactivity.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Susan said. She put a kettle on the stove. “His body stiffens, his head drops, his eyes stare, and he might let out a low growl you can barely hear.”

“The second you see him enter that mode, change the subject.”

“Should I offer to take him for a walk or to get the ball?” Robert asked.

“Yes, and I’ll teach you to learn some constructive learning games in class,” I said and grinned. “You’ll have a whole repertoire of new subjects.”

Susan was setting three teacups and saucers on the counter. She turned and flashed me a big smile at the thought of Dusty having lots of fun things to do besides snap and growl.

It’s important to be pro-active rather than re-active. “Let’s not set him up to fail. For instance, he’s not sleeping in your bed anymore.” I took a seat at the kitchen table, and Robert joined me. “Since that last episode with you and the bed, Dusty has lost the privilege of sharing that space. Do you see what I mean?”

Susan set a box of herbal teas on the counter and turned around with a frown. “Where should he sleep?”

“In a crate, where you know exactly where he is and what he’s doing.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Robert said, relieved.

Susan set a plate of sugar cookies on the table and joined us. We discussed Dusty’s fear of people he didn’t know. “Don’t force the issue this early on. Once you and Dusty attend my classes we’ll work on promoting positive interaction.” The kettle whistled, and Susan got up. “In the meantime allow him to be social with people he’s relaxed with, but take him immediately out of any situation that makes him uncomfortable. Baby steps, okay?”

I explained the nothing-for-free concept. “Dusty needs to earn everything,” I said, as Susan filled my teacup. “Everything. Toys, food, treats, free time, and affection must be earned.”

Susan and Robert looked at each other, dipping their teabags. “This is going to be hard,” Robert said.

“It’s doable,” Susan said.

“It’s worth it,” I said. We raised our teacups. “To Dusty.”

It took years. They trained Dusty in basic obedience, rally, tricks, Beyond Backyard, and even Canine Good Citizen.

“One of the secrets,” Susan said in an email, was that “Dusty loved the hotdogs we used for training. It helped keep him focused on me. Each night the family and I also enjoyed practicing all of the skills we learned with Dusty, and it tired him out.”

Tigger, Autumn, and Dusty

Tigger, Autumn, and Dusty

Surprisingly Dusty was tolerant of other dogs. He didn’t want to wrestle and play with them, but he was comfortable in their presence. Susan and Robert eventually got two cats. “I never thought Dusty would get along with the cats, but I believe they helped with his social development. He and Tigger are good friends. Autumn tolerates him. It’s so funny seeing our tough guy get smacked around by a cat and tolerate it.”

“Dusty and I formed a strong bond during the training process. I had a blast training him, and he loved to learn. I was amazed at the transformation in Dusty once I stopped the punishment and intimidation technique I’d learned on television. I focused on his good qualities. Seeing the twinkle in his eye and overall happier demeanor motivated me to keep going. After I while, I wasn’t afraid of him anymore. I was more and more determined to save him. We were able to wean him off of the Prozac after only a year. It got easier and easier to love him. We became the best buddies I dreamed we would be.”

Dusty and the Kids

Dusty and the Kids

Susan and Robert did a remarkable job with Dusty. I had cautioned them that Dusty’s baseline personality would never completely change, so the behavior management techniques have to be lifelong habits, and they followed through. I’ve seen it too often: the biggest mistake that my clients make is falling back into their old habits with their dogs. When they fall back, the dog falls back, and the trouble’s back.

“I’m not afraid of him anymore,” Susan said. “But I’ll always be guarded in certain situations. He still gets annoyed. It’s clear he can never be trusted, just as Terri predicted. He still wants to be the boss, but we try to keep a nothing-for-free attitude with him. I recognize his triggers and immediately change the subject. He’s much easier to re-direct now, and he’ll forgive and forget quickly. He rarely sleeps with us, and when he does he’s on a leash, and Rob gets in bed first, then he is invited up. My mission is to make sure he stays on the right path.”

Dusty and his favorite person, Susan

Dusty and his favorite person, Susan

Some things haven’t changed. Susan is still his favorite person, and he’s protective of their daughter Sarah. He still keeps an eye on Robert. He’s an intelligent dog, so he was easy to train. He demands attention but he’s learned to ask for it playfully. He loves riding in the car, going to the beach or park, and seeing other dogs. “The best part,” Susan said, “besides being able to keep and develop a satisfying relationship with Dusty, was meeting the people along the way, who helped us.  Especially Terri, but we met others who truly cared about our plight, and understood the potential heartbreak and stress of what it was like to have to deal with him.”

Susan got choked up remembering the tough times. “So many of our friends and family said we should euthanize him.” She shook her head. “I never knew the depth of the relationships between man and dog, and how much a dog understands and feels. I learned about dog rescue, and saw people give of their time, money and emotions to protect the helpless lives of so many dogs.   How inspiring is that? I appreciate dogs more than ever, and even though Dusty will never be a therapy dog, I am inspired. I hope to have a Therapy Dog one day.  I never would have been exposed to that if it wasn’t for Dusty. This experience has been invaluable to me in many ways.”

“Now I realize the truth in Anatole France’s quote, Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

Beach Dusty

Dusty, Part 3

Nature, Nurture, and Dusty

by Terri Florentino

“What exactly do you mean by, ‘pack mentality?’” I asked Susan.

Unhappy Dusty

“I’m not sure Dusty knows what fun is.”

Behind the baby gate, Dusty blinked at the three of us sitting around the dining room table, blowing our noses and deciding his fate.

“A take-charge attitude. I was the ‘Alpha,’ not Dusty.” Susan said she followed what she’d learned from the dog-training television show. “When Dusty would resource-guard something I’d try to intimidate him into releasing it. I’d get very close to him, use a sharp guttural tone and order him to, ‘Leave it!’”

“What happened?”

“Well,” she said with a rueful laugh, “that never worked, so I did like the expert said and picked him up and angled his head towards the floor. A few times this did work.  He’d drop it.” Before long, however, he began to threaten her with an uncompromising growl.

“He bit me,” Robert said. “Again and again. I’d only yank something away from him if I thought he had a hold of something dangerous. He broke my skin every time!”

Dusty had never been a social butterfly with strangers. His normal response was to walk away. As Dusty neared a year old, when people reached to pet him, he showed his teeth, growled and lunged.

"Sarah adores him."

“Sarah adores him.”

“Even though he’s gotten to be such an unpleasant, and even dangerous little character, I love him.” Susan paused to collect herself, and I thought she might need another tissue. “Our daughter Sarah adores him. He’s never gone after me or the kids.”

“He’d be gone,” Robert said. “In a heartbeat.”

Susan squeezed his hand. “Look, Dusty was supposed to be our pet. The family pet. It’s not fair for Rob to live in fear in his own home, terrorized by a fluff ball.”

We all glanced at the fluff ball. He hadn’t moved. I started to wonder if he wasn’t a stuffed toy. He sure was cute.

“Now that he’s trying to bite other people, we’re at our wit’s end. We just can’t live like this. We can’t live with a dangerous dog.” She had steeled herself. She wasn’t going to cry.

Not knowing where to turn, Susan emailed Dusty’s breeder with her concerns about his behavior. To her surprise, the breeder replied that she and her family must have harmed him and ruined him. She refused to take him back, under any circumstances. “If you can’t handle him, you’ll have to euthanize him.”

“Euthanasia was not an option. I could not kill my daughter’s dog.” Susan reached for the tissues. “I started to believe the breeder was right. I must have ruined Dusty.” Even though she’d been following all the techniques of the well known television trainer, she suspected she’d only made things worse.

“Once the vet did a physical and blood work on Dusty, and everything came back normal, she told us to call you. She said your experience and motivational approach would be our best option.”

“Let’s get started,” I said. I sighed and thought for a moment. Some things were hard to say. “The first thing I want you to understand is that a certain percentage of personality traits are inherited and indelible.” I turned to Susan. “Based on your description of Dusty’s behavior right from the start, I’m certain that some of what you are seeing is his genetic baseline personality.”

“So he was born this way? And he’s always going to be like this?” Susan teared up. “I’m sorry. This is just so sad.”

“No, no! Don’t apologize. Your heart is breaking. I get it. I’ve been there. And I’m not saying things can’t get better for Dusty. This goes back to the nature-versus-nurture debate. Nobody’s entirely sure how much of each influences personality. All we know for sure is that a certain percentage of both are factored into the final product.”

Susan balled the tissue in her fist and looked at her hands. “I should’ve done things differently. It never felt right. I ruined Dusty.”

“No. It is both nature and nurture, but you still can’t blame yourself. Look, a dog with Dusty’s issues has to be handled very carefully, and you couldn’t have known that. You did your best. You’re still doing your best, and that’s awesome.”

Susan and Robert nodded. They smiled.

"We need to lower his anxiety."

“We need to lower his anxiety.”

“Before we can teach him new skills, we need to lower his anxiety.” I recommended that they talk to their veterinarian about anxiety medication.

“You’re kidding me,” Susan said.

“That’s interesting,” Robert said. “I’d heard about it. People do it all the time. I just hadn’t thought of Dusty as anxious.”

“He’s afraid,” I said. “He was afraid before you met him.” I also explained what I refer to as, “the nothing for free concept.” This theory is based on controlling all resources. “Anything of value to your dog must be earned.” Into his daily routine we would integrate positive, reward-based motivational techniques. “All of this has to be fun, okay? Fun for you, fun for Dusty.” I turned toward the pup behind the gate and in my best, “Oh, boy!” voice I said,  “Right, Dusty?”

He slid to the floor and dropped his head on his paws with a grunt.

“Fun?” Robert said. “I’m not sure Dusty knows what fun is.”

I’d love that. I want him to enjoy his little life,” Susan said.

“Okay. We make him feel safe. We set him up for success,” I said. “Deal?”

We had a deal.

Dusty, Part 2

Dust Comes Home

by Terri Florentino

Winter Dusty'

“There was nothing normal about him.”

As Susan and Sarah followed the young lady into the house, Susan said, “I’d like to meet our puppy’s parents.”

“I’m sorry,” she said over her shoulder. “We don’t allow anyone to go to the area where the dogs are housed. You might bring germs in on your feet, and the dogs could get sick.” She looked back again, wrinkling her nose at Susan.

“Oh. Of course.” Susan had been hoping for a glimpse of how her pup would act and how he might look as an adult.

“You wait here,” the girl ordered. Then she turned to Sarah, grinned, and said with false gaiety, “I’ll be right back with your new puppy!”

As the young lady disappeared behind a door, Susan and Sarah beamed at each other. When the door opened again, they were breathless at the sight of the adorable ball of curly fur in her arms. Susan reached for the puppy. She hesitated. The puppy looked tense and pulled away from her. “Why does the puppy seem fearful? His tail’s not wagging.” Susan didn’t know how to feel or what to do. She had sent a non-refundable deposit and invested a five-hour drive for this puppy; turning back was not an option.

Nothing made him happy

“Nothing we did made him happy.”

“He’s just nervous, nothing to worry about, he’ll settle down.” The young lady kissed him on the head. He didn’t seem to mind that.

Gingerly, Susan took the rigid puppy and cradled him in her arms. Mechanically, the girl went over the contents of a basket of puppy food and other new-puppy essentials. By the time she was done, the puppy had relaxed. He even gave Susan a little kiss on her cheek. The affection offered her some relief. The fact that he was as cute as a button didn’t hurt either.

“Well, if you don’t have any more questions,” the girl said, in a way that invited no further questions, I’ll see you to your car.”

Susan hesitated; she felt full of questions, but couldn’t think of any in the face of such a brusque remark. “Well, we do have a long drive ahead.”

“Can I hold him? Can I hold him in the car?” Sarah said. “I can’t wait to show him his bed and his bowls and his toys!”

Out at the car, the pup went stiff with fear again as Susan opened the back door. She placed him in his new crate in the back seat, said goodbye to the strangely aloof girl, and headed on their way.

On the way home Sarah and Susan discussed what name they liked best for their puppy.  The pup was mostly white, with a small stripe of very light tan down his back, and some tan fur on his ears that looked like dust. Susan suggested calling him “Dusty.” Once the entire family arrived home later that evening they all sat around and discussed various names. Everyone liked “Dusty.”

Really sad Dusty

“He seemed depressed.”

“The first two weeks weren’t what we had expected,” Robert said.

“What exactly do you mean?” I asked.

“When they brought Dusty home, he seemed depressed,” he said. “Normally a puppy would run and play, but Dusty just lay around. I wondered if he was sick. I got down on the floor to wrestle with him, and all he did was sit and stare at me.”

“We were worried. I called the breeder,” Susan said. “She said Dusty just needed more time to adjust. Something didn’t seem right, so I took him to the vet, but she just assured me we had a healthy-looking puppy and that we needed to come back in a few weeks for some vaccines.”

Inevitably Dusty settled into some of what anyone would constitute as normal puppy behavior. He chewed on whatever met his mouth, got the usual puppy “zoomies—racing around and like he’d gone completely haywire, and started the puppyhood biting, or “mouthing.” The mouthing was so severe, they called him, “land shark.” Dusty grabbed and nibbled on hands, legs, pants, and feet. It was difficult to walk him; he got furious tethered to a leash and made every effort to chew through it to free himself.

"I wondered if he was resource-guarding me."

“I wondered if he was resource-guarding me.”

By the time Dusty was six months old he started to exhibit “resource-guarding behavior;” when he had food or a chewy, he growled and snapped dangerously at anyone who came near him.

“I was taking Dusty for a ride in the car,” Robert said. “He grabbed a tissue from the console between the seats, and I didn’t want him to swallow it. I reached to get it out of his mouth, and he grabbed my hand in his teeth—not just once, but again and again. He bit down as fast as he could, over and over, slicing me up. In the blink of an eye, there was blood everywhere!”

“I was devastated when Rob told me what Dusty did.” Susan got up and fetched a box of tissues. She dropped it on the dining room table and helped herself to one.

“Careful!” Robert joked. “Don’t let Dusty near it!”

“I didn’t dare admit it at the time,” Susan said, glancing at the button nose behind the baby gate. “But I simply could not enjoy my puppy.” She blew her nose. “How sad is that? He was never cuddly or affectionate. Nothing we did made him happy. There was nothing normal about him. He was bold, pushy, always had to have his way–or else! It was like he was terrorizing us. I had no idea what to do with such a mean and nasty puppy.” Susan began to cry again. “I couldn’t believe it. Who’s ever heard of such a thing?”

Robert squeezed her hand.

Susan pulled herself together. “It seemed like he was only putting up with me and the kids, but he outright hated Robert.” She laughed and sniffled. “I’m sorry, Honey.”

Robert smiled. “I know it’s true. I guess I didn’t smell right.”

“I understand how some dogs are intimidated by men who are authoritative and commanding,” she said. “But Robert is gentle and kind. He was sweet to him. He got down on the floor with him, talked in a high-pitched voice. He did everything right. He really tried. I thought maybe Dusty was resource-guarding the children and me from Robert.”

“When Dusty and I where home alone together, he was fine with me,” Robert said.

“That’s right,” Susan said. “When I was home, Dusty would never leave my side. When Robert came within a certain distance of me, Dusty growled until he backed away.

“Then he started trying to keep me out of certain rooms.”

“Okay, that’s interesting,” I said. “How did you each handle Dusty when he acted inappropriately?”

"He just seemed to tolerate the kids and me."

“It seemed like he was only putting up with me and the kids.”

“I’m embarrassed to say,” Susan said. “But there was this trainer I saw on television who emphasized the importance of being a pack leader. I followed his advice.”

“Okay, I see.” I looked at the angry little mop-head glaring at us from behind the baby gate. He had hardly moved a muscle the entire time. “I think we see where this is going, don’t we, Dusty?”

He didn’t even blink.

Love Me, Love My Lookalike

Do You and Your Dog Look Alike?

by Lisa Lanser-Rose


From Cesar Canine Cuisine

We want to see! Email us your photos and a few words about the two of you to bordercollieinquisitor@gmail.com. We’ll feature you and your lookalike in our special Twins Issue.

Studies confirm that people tend to choose dogs who look like them. Vanity? Familiarity? Call it what you will, but it’s human nature. In this picture, I’m with three dogs. If you didn’t know us, which one would you think was mine?


Even though I love my little Border Collie Mick to pieces, if I had to choose among these three, I might have chosen the tall, curly-haired, golden Labradoodle. I felt a powerful, inexplicable connection between us . . .

We’d love to see you and your best lookalike friend. Email us your photos and a few words to bordercollieinquisitor@gmail.com for our special Twins Issue, coming soon.


Mean Dog, Finale

Safe and Loved

by Terri Florentino

I must admit I felt a connection with Wyatt. He’d look at me with those big, round, dark brown eyes as if he saw and loved my very soul. I had tried not to give him too much of myself, knowing he couldn’t stay. After all, now that Tulley had joined our family, I knew too well that six dogs were our limit.

Morgan at Six Years Old

Wyatt with Karen and Morgan

At this juncture neither Karen nor I were convinced that Wyatt would make a suitable companion for their family. We all went back inside together and discuss Wyatt’s training and feeding and sleeping schedule. While we decided his fate, he trotted through the house, following Morgan and inspecting her every move. Morgan talked to him, “C’mon, Wyatt. This is a stuffed-animal tea party, and you can be our guest.” Wyatt hung on her every word, which pleased the little girl mightily.

As we talked, occasionally Jim knelt and called to him. Wyatt dashed over and wiggled as Jim ruffled his fur all over. Finally, Jim turned to Karen, “I say let’s give him a try.”

Lost in her play-pretend, Morgan had seemed oblivious to the adult conversation, but right on cue she piped up, “Oh! Can we keep him, Daddy?”

Jim and Karen blurted, “Yes!” Then Karen added, “If Wyatt is happy, we would love for him to stay.”

“Wonderful!” I said, but my enthusiasm sounded a bit forced. Puzzled, I looked at Wyatt anew—could it be this was good-bye? What in the world had I expected?

Knowing how intuitive he was, I tried to conceal my sorrow. “Do you have that crate we talked about?”

“Yes,” Karen said.

“Put him in the crate and don’t let him out until after I’m gone.” I managed to hold back my tears. “I don’t want him to see me leave.” Just then, Wyatt walked over and slid his head onto my lap. I cupped his face. “You’re a good boy. . . . I’ll always be with you.” Everyone began to sniffle.

Ed stood up. “Okay, let’s go, honey.” I let him guide me to my feet and put his arm around me.

Karen escorted Wyatt to another room and the crate. At the door, Karen embraced me—no words, just strength, trust, and love.

Merry Christmas, Wyatt

Merry Christmas, Wyatt

Karen emailed me often. Morgan loved Wyatt from the start. He joined in many a tea party, fashion show, and Disney-movie reenactment. At first, he didn’t know what to do with himself, which was saying a lot, because Wyatt had a big personality. With so much attention from a family so happy to have him, he acted like a kid in a candy store. Overcome with glee, he’d race through the house and leap from couch to chair to chair. They realized quickly how right I was about his need for training, and they diligently obliged.

Wyatt was a counter-surfer, and for this, Karen asked my advice. I replied, “Don’t leave things on the counter to tempt him, and he may forget to surf.” That cured it, but one St. Patrick’s Day, Wyatt had a little lapse. Karen had made corned beef and cabbage and left it to cool on the counter. A half hour later she returned to find the entire meal had vanished. Wyatt had sprawled himself out on the kitchen floor, lounging with a look of self-satisfaction. He practically shrugged at her, as if to say, “Hey, you obviously didn’t want it. What’s the problem?”

Morgan and Wyatt

Morgan and Wyatt

At first, Wyatt was haunted by old fears and anxieties. Whenever he rode in the car with Karen and she stopped at the supermarket or strip mall, he’d panic and try to keep her from getting out, as if remembering the day his first owner gave him up in a parking lot. Eventually, he learned to love car rides, but it took time and a lot of reassurance. Summer storms frightened him; sometimes they’d find him hiding in the clothes dryer. When left alone for long periods, Wyatt scratched up the furniture, the floor, the doors. Karen used Rescue Remedy or Anxiety Relief drops, and Wyatt learned when he felt his fears coming on to go to her and sit obediently, as if to say, “Please, please, please may I have a few drops of the stuff?” He’d lift his lip and wait for her to squeeze the medicine into his mouth. Over time, he learned he was well-cared-for, and his fears subsided.

Morgan, Jim, and Wyatt

Morgan, Jim, and Wyatt

Last fall, while Morgan was asleep in bed and Jim was outside spotting deer, Karen decided to make a cup of tea before bed. Her heel slipped off the top step, and she went skidding down the wooden stairs on her tailbone. There she sat at the bottom with a dislocated shoulder, a concussion, and a likely broken coccyx, so painful that Karen heard herself wailing in a way she never had before. Wyatt dashed over and ran his eyes and nose all over her. Then he rocketed up on the couch in front of the picture window and barked and barked and barked. Jim was was spotting deer about thirty yards away and heard Wyatt’s bark. Afraid Wyatt would wake up Morgan, he came running to scold him, but instead found Karen injured and badly dazed.

You're safe, and you're loved.

You’re safe, and you’re loved.

Wyatt and Karen had grown very close, in part thanks to the three-and-a-half-mile runs. At one particular point halfway up a hill, Wyatt would stop dead in his tracks and sit right in front of the “SPEED LIMIT 25 When Horse Rider Is Present” sign. He refused to budge. Karen spoke firmly and tired to get him to heel, but nothing worked. Karen stood there thinking, “Seriously? Just move your tush up the hill. This is not hard!” She usually had to get back home to get Morgan on the bus and Jim off to work. Finally one day, as Wyatt sat by the sign like a cement statue, she leaned down, patted his head, and said in his ear, “Everything’s okay. It’s all fine. You’re safe, and you’re loved.” He relaxed, he wriggled all over, and then zipped up that hill like an Olympic athlete.

Wyatt still oversees all the movement in the house, off to work and school, over to the barn, out to bound in fresh snow, and up to bed, when he listens attentively to bedtime stories and often stays to sleep in Morgan’s room. Whatever’s going on, Wyatt is happiest when the family is all together.

Karen works from from home, and every afternoon like clockwork, Wyatt comes to her and whines. Engrossed in her work, she tells him to hush and lie down. He settles for a moment before fussing again—right around the time Karen looks up to see the school bus coming down the road. The house sits almost 800 feet from the road, and he starts to whine and pace about five minutes before she even sees the bus. Karen still can’t figure out how he knows Morgan is on the bus and it’s time to go get her.

Morgan and Wyatt in the snow

Morgan and Wyatt in the snow

Karen emailed me the other day, “I just said to Jim tonight that we’ve had Wyatt longer than we’ve had any dog. Hard to believe he’ll be ten years old in a few months.”

So many things had happened since their dear Raine had died. The whole world had changed for the mean dog who had become our own dear, old Tulley.

Karen wondered, “Where does the time go?”

I believe that there is an explanation for everything, so, yes, I believe in miracles. ~Robert Brault


Mick’s Secret to Happiness

P1030256 (2)

Mean Dog, Part 6

Looks Like ‘Raine,’

by Terri Florentino

I went straight into the house and called Karen. “I have a lovely little female Border Collie that I’d like you and your family to meet.”

“How exciting!” she said.

I gave her some details about Raine. “She loves children. She just lives for them. Can you come meet her this weekend?”

“That would be great!”

Jim, Karen, and Morgan came to meet Raine and visit with Tulley. Tulley had not seen them since the day they dropped him off at the farm. Ed and I were curious about how Tulley would react, but decided that time alone with Raine first was more important, so we put Tulley in a crate to wait his turn.

Raine and Morgan

Raine and Morgan

Sweet and gentle, Raine was not the type to jump all over and get too excited during an initial welcoming. We allowed her to wander freely as they came inside. Little Morgan, now three years old, huddled close to her parents as Jim and Karen bent down to greet Raine. Tenderly Raine approached, calm and welcoming. Once Morgan realized that she could touch Raine without the fear of being bitten, she relaxed. I took Raine through a sequence of obedience commands to show them what she could do. I also brought out some toys and treats so they could all have some fun together. They absolutely adored her, and she seemed content with them. As I suspected, she was most fond of their little girl.

Then we let Tulley out. He greeted Jim and Karen then grabbed a ball.

Karen’s eyes lit up. “He wants to play!”

Morgan stayed close to her parents, and Tulley paid no attention to her. All the while Raine stood quietly and watched Tulley playing with the toys and people. As we discussed the details about Raine, Tulley ran up to Ed and stood next to him. Out of habit, Ed reached down and pet him all over his body.

“You can touch him on his back end?” Jim asked with amazement. “Tulley would never allow anyone to touch his back end. If someone tried, he would’ve bitten them.”

Ed was taken aback. “Once he trusted me, I could touch him anywhere.”

We all watched Morgan stroking Raine, who wagged her tail and dipped her head, sweetly looking into Morgan’s face. “Well?” I said, grinning.

Jim and Karen looked at each other, beaming. “We’d love to take her home!”

Raine and Morgan passing happy years.

Years pass for Raine and Morgan

We agreed that there would be a trial period. We would keep in close contact. And so we did, there were frequent emails with updates. Most were of charming pictures, stories and updates about how well Raine was doing. They loved that Raine was a social butterfly; all of the neighbors quickly got to know and love her. The relationship between Raine and Morgan was all I’d hoped–they adored each other.

A couple of years passed, all was well, and we kept in touch with the occasional email, pictures, and Christmas card exchange. Karen remembered Tulley’s birthday every year and sent him a toy through the mail.

One day Karen phoned, crying so severely I could hardly understand what she was saying. “Raine ran out into the road, right in front of a car.”

I could hardly breathe. “Tell me she’s at the hospital. Tell me she’s going to be okay.”

Karen wept. “She didn’t make it.”

There was a long pause. I was speechless; my lips quivered, my eyes streamed. I took a deep breath. “How are Jim and Morgan?”

“She doesn’t go down to the road. She stays with us. It was a teenager, a new driver, but that shouldn’t matter because she never goes down to the road. Never!” Karen stopped crying, as if it simply couldn’t have happened. It couldn’t be true; it must not be true. “She never goes down to the road. We have so little traffic here. So few cars, ever. And she never goes down to the road. She wants to be with us. She stays close to us.” Her voice began to break again. “It was dark. The kid said he didn’t see her. Oh, Terri! This is my worst nightmare!” She began to cry again. We both did.

Karen and I spent a very long time on the phone consoling one another. When we finally hung up, we promised to keep in close touch. I put down the receiver, buried my head in my hands, and sobbed until I had no more tears.

Morgan drew this picture and said, “Raine is sad because she misses us.”

Morgan's drawing "Raine in Heaven with God and a hairbrush"

Morgan’s drawing, “Raine in Heaven with a Tick, a Hairbrush to Remove the Tick, and God, Who Will Take Care of Her Now”

Toxic Toad Invasion

by Lisa Lanser-Rose

Sometimes when we come home after dark, this cane toad meets us on our doorstep.P1030043

Last night when he practically held the door for us, I suggested we follow the experts’ advice and kill the doorman.

My husband said, “As soon as we kill him, we let our guard down. Then the one we haven’t seen moves in.”

I said, “So this one’s a ‘reminder toad?’ Do we need a ‘reminder rattlesnake?'”

“What we need is a toad-proof dog.”

Cane toads are toxic. They’ve killed many a Florida dog. When threatened, the cane toad’s defense is to sit still, which is  some comfort to those of us with motion-activated dogs like Border Collies. One time, though, our toad hopped, and Mick’s reflex was to go for it. That’s all it takes. Educate yourself so you know what to do if it happens to your dog–rinse and run! Rinse the gums immediately and away from the throat for fifteen minutes, then run to the vet.

I’ve got the stomach to kill a toxic toad if I have to, but I’m a soft-hearted thinker. Do I really have to? It’s not the toad’s fault he’s a toxic invasive species any more than it’s my fault the human race is a toxic invasive species. I’m a trap-and-transport kind of woman and a toad-proofer. Whacking them or chopping them up is just mean and it splatters poison around. They say the trick is to stick them in the freezer for a few days. Then throw the body out–unless you want to keep it to make a hat or purse. But I digress.

I’m leery of the death penalty–sometimes the condemned is innocent. What if I got the wrong toad? There’s one in town who looks a lot like a cane toad. The smaller, look-alike Southern Toad innocently rids the world of pests. The good toad has horns, the bad toad doesn’t, but if you toad-proof your dog’s yard, you probably won’t need to go looking for horns.

Don't Hurt This Toad!
Horny Prince of Innocence

A friend recently wrote me: “I understand the problem and danger of invasive species. However, I cannot kill an animal who by no fault of his own is in a bad situation. I also know the cane toads are legion. One dead toad will never make a dent in the problem. I take them to a retention pond along the interstate and release them. Is this the right thing to do? Can’t say. But I know I can’t deal with the alternative. What I do know is if you have one, you have more. So watch your dogs.”

Mean Dog, Part 3

Gimme a Hug

by Terri Florentino

It was time to call Bud’s previous family. I needed details about his past.

When a woman answered, I said, “Hi, my name is Terri, and I currently have Buddy.”

“Oh!” She tried to say more, but began to cry.

I took charge of the conversation. “It’s okay. I know you tried everything. It’s not easy.” I explained my involvement. “It would really help Buddy if I had detail about his past.”

“My husband and I got him as a puppy from a breeder,” she said, eager to help. “Things just weren’t right with him from the start, and we talked to her many times.” The breeder had refused to take him back and wasn’t helpful with training recommendations. Buddy was an unusually quirky Border Collie puppy who posed a unique set of challenges for her and her husband, none of which they were equipped to handle. Over the years they worked with various trainers, sadly, with no success. When their first child came along, they sought help from a new trainer in the hopes of building a successful relationship between the dog and their child. The new instructor’s training method did not suit Buddy at all—his behavior escalated out of control. “We were told that the only options left were rescue or euthanasia.” She began to cry again. “We were devastated. But we couldn’t trust him around the baby.”

“Of course not,” I said gently. “You did the right thing.”

“Do you think . . . is there any chance of managing his behavior? We’d really like to take him back.”

“Perfect! That’s my goal.” What else could I say? The possibility of finding Buddy another home was slim to none.

Now that I knew from his previous owner a training regimen had made him fearful of training, I confirmed it. Whenever I attempted basic obedience skills, he was adverse and dismissive. I was determined to help this dog understand that I would never cause him anguish or pain. He needed a total life do-over.

They say that when a dog needs a fresh start, change his name. In case using his name in a particular circumstance reminded him of an unpleasant experience, I decided to rename Buddy. Thinking the name should have a similar suffix to his previous name so as to ease with the transition into the new name, I decided to call him Tulley. The name Tulley is a nice Irish/Gaelic name that means Living with the Peace with God, which I felt apropos.

 DSCN0746Once Tulley became familiar with the “touch” technique, he wiggled with excitement when playing the “touch” game. I now needed to devise another technique that would promote closeness and trust. I observed that when he sat by my husband he pressed his head against his body. I decided that we would promote “hug,” offering treats and praise each time he pressed against someone. Since my husband was his person of choice, I recruited him to introduce the process of “hug.” Just like “touch” the game of “hug” became a joyful and rewarding task. No doubt the highly delectable treats were a motivator as well. Tulley also had a very high play drive that would helpful when promoting interaction with strangers. A game of “fetch” always gave him an opportunity for a positive experience. I was full of joy watching Tulley play “fetch,” “touch,” and “hug” with as many people as I could get to work with him.

I soon began brainstorming what I had to teach Tulley to get him back to his family. Their young child was a concern. It is impossible to teach a very young child how to be responsible with a dog—especially one that will bite. So, how do you teach the dog how to be safe for a home with a child?

Mean Dog, Part 2

The Touch

by Terri Johnson Florentino

Ed and Tulley (1)

I slowly stood up and backed away, careful not to alarm Buddy. As my friend and I discussed his background, I purposely ignored him, but watched his body language in my peripheral view.

His hackles went down, his lips went down, and the growling stopped. I even saw him glance at me. He seemed to want to approach, but was too afraid. A few other border collies were running about not paying any attention to him, nor he to them. “Let’s put him in the crate in my truck,” I said. “I’ll take him home and see what I can do.” Before I left, I got the name and  number of his previous owners.

We arrived to my home with no issues. I pulled into my driveway and opened the back door of my truck. To be safe, I had kept the leash on Buddy and left part dangling outside the crate. I took hold of the leash and slowly opened the crate.

He  cowered in the back, trembling, snarling, and bearing his teeth. I gently pulled on the lead and coaxed him out. He cautiously jumped out of the crate and stood motionless, paralyzed with fear.

Without any discussion and very little eye contact, I  gently gave him a tug, and he followed me for a short walk around.  He began to relax a little. I took him into a  large fenced area, leaving the leash attached to his collar. I’m fortunate that my Border Collies are used to me bringing home the occasional “outsider” to the pack and know well enough to keep their distance. I dropped the leash and let him move about on his own. One by one I introduced my dogs. He barely acknowledged them, and therefore they just left him to explore the yard alone. I remembered the first trainer’s warning, “This dog should never be around other animals.” I was not convinced. So far, so good.

The initial introduction with my dogs went well, so we moved inside. My husband was sitting in the living room watching television, and the other dogs were simply going about their business. I followed Buddy as he moved timidly from room to room. Once the tour of the house was complete, I settled in the living room to  give all the dogs time to adjust.

Everyone behaved. I decided to take off Buddy’s leash. I slowly approached, leaned down, and reached for the clasp. He swung around and bit me.

Surprised and bleeding, I ran to the sink to rinse my hand. I said nothing to Buddy. I didn’t want to aggravate him further. When I returned, I saw that after he’d bitten me, he’d gone to sit by my husband. He seemed to know that he’d done something wrong.

“We need to teach him how to touch our hands,” I said. “If he learns to come to us on his own terms, maybe he won’t feel so threatened.” My hand was still bleeding, so I wrapped it first, then came back in the living room with liverwurst.

I gave my husband a few pieces of liverwurst. “Hold your  palm out flat, and when he touches it with his nose, reward him with a piece.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“I want him to want to touch your hand. Hold still.” I smeared some of the liverwurst directly onto his palm. Fortunately Buddy seemed to have a high food drive. He touched my husband’s hand gently and got rewarded with the yummy food, My husband kept all his fingers.

Buddy learned this technique  right away and seemed to enjoy working with my husband. But he’d only been in my home a few hours and had bitten me good. Now what?