Loving My Difficult Dog

I adore my little chihuahua, Wesley. But he is not an easy dog.

He came to me in a way that let me know he wouldn’t be simple. He was malnourished, unneutered (at an estimated 9 years old), had a skin problem and a heart condition, and he had been abandoned. But that didn’t matter. He grabbed onto my heart and hasn’t let go.

When I first got him, he hadn’t displayed his dog reactivity yet. Most likely in all of the changes he was going through, he shut down a little and wasn’t ready to show his full personality. However, after a month or two with me, he started getting progressively worse around strange dogs.

I should also add that even after he came to live with me, there was some upheaval. I had just moved into my apartment when I got him, but then the mouse situation got out of hand. So we were spending lots of time going to my parents’ place to escape, then ultimately when my landlord let me out of that lease, we went to stay with them. Then about six or eight weeks later, I found my current apartment and we moved again. So he didn’t get much stability those first couple of months.

It was while we were staying with my parents that the reactivity started to emerge. He began barking at other dogs, and getting snarly and snappy if they got too close. It was almost like he was a different dog. I’d liken it to a panic attack or even a fugue state, where he doesn’t respond at all the usual methods for doggy distraction (a.k.a. treats) and is laser focused on what is triggering him.

It’s been a long road. First we worked one on one with a trainer, but it was too spaced out and we didn’t make much progress. Then, in the fall, I went to a Mighty Mutts fundraiser and won a dog training session in a raffle through a different group than I’d been to before. I was going to call right away, but I put it off, because that’s what I do.

To be honest, I probably would have called sooner than I did were it not for the following incident:

First: can you believe this nonsense? Would you also believe this dude harassed me a second time* not too long ago?

Second: this seriously on some level probably made me put off calling for the free class. Because it’s in my nature to do the exact opposite of what people think I should. But ultimately, my love for my dog and sense of responsibility won out and I called. 

It ended up going really well, and we signed up for a class called Sidewalk Psychos. Some ableism in the name aside, it’s a class that’s specifically for dogs with his issues.

We’re almost into the last class, and Wes has made some progress. He’s not completely past his reactivity, but he responds a bit better to when I step in to stop him, and he doesn’t react quite as strongly from certain distances. Keeping in mind his age, that’s a lot. Because you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, it just takes more work.

So my dog is difficult. He’s a lot of work, requires more vigilance than many other dogs, and has his own special needs. But I love him unconditionally. Do I wish that he didn’t have this problem? Of course. Not only would it make our lives a little more relaxing, I think he’d be happier if he were comfortable with other dogs. But he’s my little dude, my cranky old man, and I wouldn’t part with him for the world.

*This time, I wasn’t alone. I was chatting with my yoga teacher and she went off on the guy. I’d like to think he learned his lesson, but I doubt it. Dudes like that never do, because they think they’re always right.

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