My Jekyll and Hyde Dog

Note: This journal entry occurred shortly before my relationship with A.J. hit an all-time low. His leash aggression/reactive issues were making it impossible to walk him; that and our training regimen were making it very difficult to get this energetic young dog the exercise he needed. We were going through some serious growing pains at this point.

November 26, 2013

A.J. is just crazy.

We’ve been to three Reactive Dog classes now. The dogs spend most of their time in crates. Well, all the dogs except A.J. Most of the time I can’t get him in the crate. And whether he’s in the crate or not, he has a little tantrum. He cries and barks, and continues to get louder the longer I ignore him. Our trainer, Mary, has had me do various things to teach him to be quiet. I basically end up standing over him throwing hot dogs at him when he shuts up for a second. It’s not working.

This week we took each of the dogs out one by one and had them walk around the rest of us, with the goal being to keep the dog’s focus on the handler. I couldn’t participate with everyone else because I had to stand by A.J.’s pen and keep him from freaking out and jumping on top of his crate. When it was finally our turn, I took A.J. out and he did pretty well. He didn’t pay constant attention to me like the other dogs had done with their handlers, but he always brought his attention back to me. As I was putting him back in his pen I heard one of the other handlers remark: “When I hear all that noise I expect some big mean-looking dog to come out of there. Instead this happy, adorable dog comes out.” Yep, that’s my little Jekyll and Hyde dog.

At the beginning of class we all talk about our successes and non-successes (we don’t want to use the word “failures”). I mentioned that A.J. gets so amped up he just sits and shakes. That’s when Mary suggested taking him to the vet and getting him some medication. I immediately balked at this, but others in the group supported her.

“Think of someone who’s bipolar. Medicine isn’t a bad thing, it’s something they need to even out the brain chemicals so they can live a calmer, happier life.”

“But what if there’s nothing wrong with his brain chemicals? He doesn’t have a disease, he just hasn’t learned how and when he needs to control himself.”

“Someone with depression needs that too. Once he experiences a calm brain, maybe he can figure out how to do that himself. But right now he doesn’t know what that is.”

“There are a lot of natural holistic medicines you can try.”

I’m just not convinced. Maybe it would help him, or maybe it’s just a cop-out by me. Would my life be easier if my dog were in a drug-induced relaxation state? Sure. But is it best for him to be all drugged up? I still think he’s just a young, energetic dog who doesn’t know how to handle himself in the world, and it’s my job to figure out how to teach him to do that. I just haven’t figured out how to get through to him yet.

I’ll admit that I haven’t completely ruled out the drugs. But I don’t want to give up yet. This morning I put him in his crate to eat breakfast. I then walked out of the house to get the newspaper. Greg wasn’t up yet, so from A.J.’s perspective he’s been left alone in the crate. The last time I did this I could hear him crying and barking long before I got back to the front door. Today he was completely quiet. We are making progress.

November 26, 2013 (Part 2)

We went to the park today. I like it there because there’s a lot of space, it’s been pretty easy to steer clear of other dogs and there’s a lot of sunshine. A.J. was doing well, looking at me and coming to me when I called him (sometimes it took a couple of tries). There’s still no way he’d come back to me if he was off leash, but he was doing well. Then he saw a squirrel and stopped doing so well. He did come back to me, but I made the mistake of rewarding him by letting him go to where the squirrel had gone. That was a bad idea. He obsessed over the squirrel the rest of the time we were there.

I moved him away to try to get his little glitchy brain off the squirrel when Greg came riding up on his bike. We talked for a little while and walked around a little, since the squirrel was obviously still foremost on A.J.’s mind. Eventually I decided it was time to go and we walked back to the car. I was getting the keys out of my pocket and unlocking the car when Greg started to ride away. A.J. went nuts. He reacted like he does when he sees a dog. He started lunging and crying and barking. Greg turned back to see what was going on, and A.J. stopped. I told Greg to keep going because coming back would be a reward for that behavior. So he left, A.J. throwing his tantrum behind him. I have no idea why A.J. has suddenly started doing that. He normally doesn’t care what Greg does. But riding away on his bike has become a huge problem.

Which is great, because we really needed a new problem with A.J.