We Finally Turn a Corner

Note, July 17, 2015: As you’ll see in this journal entry, bringing a crazy dog into the family can be tough on everyone. Especially when a family member wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea of bringing a dog home in the first place. But here’s a spoiler alert for things to come: today everyone loves A.J. We just needed to get through some growing pains.

December 18, 2013

The last two and a half weeks have been a roller coaster. Thanksgiving Day I was ready to give A.J. away. I felt like I was completely failing him, not getting through to him, and not connecting with him at all. I was miserable.

Before our Reactive Dog class on Sunday, December 1, Mary sent out an email about the weather. I replied to her, letting her know that we had a horrible week, and if A.J. acted up again I’d be leaving so we didn’t disrupt the class.

When we got to class, Mary met us out at the car. She asked what happened and I told her some of our difficulties. She gave me a hug and told me that even though she’s all about positive reinforcement, she’s not against some discipline on occasion. That was good to hear, because I’d decided A.J. was not getting treats for not crying in the crate; he was getting a kick to the crate for crying.

Well, it worked. A.J. was the quietest he’d ever been. Not only that, but he had his best training session ever. Mary brought out her dog while I was working with A.J. behind the x-pen. A.J. started to throw a tantrum, but I was able to immediately distract him and get him working again. It was the first time ever I’d been able to stop a tantrum. We had a great class.

The first thing we do in class is sit around and talk about how the last week has gone. I talked about how horrible A.J. was, and I got a lot of support for the idea of seeing about some medication for him. Later that night, I received an email from someone in class. She said they’d been thinking about getting another dog to keep theirs company, and there was “something likable about A.J.” Here was my out: a good home for A.J. with a caring family and another dog to play with. But did I want an out?

I agonized all week, but throughout the week we continued to work, and things seemed to be getting a little better. I also changed A.J.’s food. I don’t know if that made any difference, but he’s been better since I did that. On Friday December 6 I took A.J. to the vet. We saw Dr. Frost, who had witnessed one of A.J.’s tantrums. The vet asked what was going on, and talked to me for quite a while. The first thing he did was try to assure me that adopting a dog that didn’t fit into my life was not a failure on my part. (I had a tough time agreeing with him. While this makes sense and I’d give this advise to other people, for myself I still believed that if I can’t get through to A.J. it is my failure.) A few times he mentioned that sometimes you adopt a dog and it’s just not a good fit. He told me about finding homes for dogs he had fostered. But in the end he knew I was determined to try a little longer, so he prescribed some medication.

That was two and a half weeks ago. The vet’s office called on Monday December 9 to tell me they were ordering the medication, but I haven’t heard anything since. But I’m okay with that, I don’t want to give it to him now. I don’t think he needs it, I still think I just need to get through to him.

We’ve been making progress on a lot of things. If we can keep moving I can keep him from going crazy at other dogs. I worked with him a couple of times when Greg left the house for a bike ride, and he’s much better now, just a little run to the window and whine, then he settles down.

We’ve had some setbacks. He finally discovered he can get into the kitchen garbage. That was my fault. I noticed in the morning the garbage was full, including a lot of food from having cleaned out the pantry and fridge. Then I forgot to empty it before we left. We got home and there was garbage strewn everywhere. I cleaned it all up and swept and mopped the floor. As I said, I take full responsibility for this, but Greg was angry all day.

Unfortunately, as I started to feel better about how things were going with A.J., Greg continued to get angrier at him. That translated to sulking and silent treatments towards me. I finally told him he was making this a lot harder. Yes, he has every right to be angry with A.J., but he needs to stop sulking for days at a time. I’ve decided to see if getting him a little more involved in caring for A.J. will help. I really can use his help. Up to this point I’ve been trying to take care of everything because A.J. was my idea, my choice, and I felt my responsibility. But he really does need to be part of the family.

The last two days Greg came with us on our morning outings. (I still can’t call them “walks.”) We’ve been going to the loop in the development next to ours and then up a trail. Greg comes along because he can run up the trail with A.J. I’m just not in the shape to do that, plus A.J. is getting stronger and pulling really hard sometimes. So Greg and A.J. run up the hill, and I walk up and meet them at the top. A.J.’s been having a ball. I have no illusions that it’s Greg’s favorite part of the day, but he’s getting a decent run in, which he doesn’t mind.

The really great thing these last couple of days is that when I meet them at the top of the hill, Greg lets go of the leash. I call to A.J., and both days he’s come running to me and stopped so I can grab his leash. That’s fantastic.

We had our last Reactive Dog class on Sunday December 15. All the dogs were out, and A.J. did great. I was so happy when we left. And everyone was so helpful and supportive. In a lot of ways some of their dogs are much more challenging than mine, but they’re not giving up. And neither am I.

Anyway, I put A.J. on our Christmas cards – how can I give him up after that?

AJ graduates
A.J. graduates from Reactive Dog class.