A friend asked me the other day, “So, how’s the dog training going.” That gave me pause. Not because I have any doubts about our trainer, Crystal Saling, who is talented, smart and an advocate (as I am) of positive methods. But at the beginning of the first session we had after my trip to San Diego and Santa Barbara, during which I let all training lapse, I found myself asking Crystal if we could do something that didn’t stress Frankie.
What I didn’t say was: “Or me.”
Hmmm. Early on, I was worried about my clicking abilities, but I seem to have mastered that skill. So what am I concerned about now?
Frankie can be described as a fearful dog, but that’s a pretty broad term. His fearfulness doesn’t manifest in aggression towards other dogs or humans. Mostly it means he avoids other dogs (and people) when we’re outdoors, only growling and snarling if they literally get in his face.
He does bark and growl at people and dogs who invade our personal space: House, backyard, hotel room… But that only happens when I’m around — people whom I’ve asked to check in on him while I’m away report that he totally ignores them — and he settles down pretty quickly.
He doesn’t like car rides and he doesn’t like the street noise outside my house.
To make Frankie’s life — and our life together — better.
Purely projective, no doubt paranoid assessment
So far I have made Frankie’s meal times and treat times unpleasant and caused him to fear the backyard.
I guess the good news is that I know for a fact he is miserable because I have become much better at reading his body language.
I should explain: The key challenge to training Frankie is that he is diabetic, which means that I can’t reward him with food at any old time of the day. In order to keep his blood sugar regulated, he is supposed to eat two meals, twelve hours apart, no snacking. With the permission of the vet, I also give him a bit of food in mid-morning when a blood glucose curves determined his sugar is lowest. This is not to prevent hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar) but to make me feel better about depriving him of food all day long.
I have therefore been opening the door and getting Frankie accustomed to the street noise while he eats. Because it’s essential for him to eat in order for him to take the insulin, those mealtimes, especially those in the mornings when he’s not always hungry, have always a bit stressful for me. Now I guess we’re in the same boat.
And for our morning walks, to which I drive Frankie, I have been parking the car in the back, where it is quieter, so Frankie won’t associate car rides with the noise out front. Instead of making Frankie happier about getting into the car, however, it has made him unhappier about going into the backyard.
Crystal has suggested various antidotes for what she has termed my “poisoning” of this formerly pleasurable space and I plan to use them, but in the meantime I feel terrible that I have become the Lucrezia Borgia of dog owners.
Can I really blame Frankie for being afraid of the car now when I’ve just hauled him off to undisclosed locations — though I kept assuring him that San Diego and Santa Barbara were lovely — for what must have seemed like endless hours? I don’t know his past. Frankie might have spent his first five years with a long distance truck driver who sold crack cocaine and used him as a front.
This relates to my Friday Focus question about whether dogs require a social life with other dogs. Frankie is nearly 12 years old. I give him plenty of exercise, good food, medical attention, and love. It would be wonderful if he enjoyed the car and if he enjoyed other dogs. He provides me with great joy and I’d like to reciprocate.
But just how happy is happy enough?