15 April 2011

Whether she's a most excellent frenemy, officially mentally ill, or possibly just an ass.

I like to live in a happy bubble, where everybody loves everybody. I read the news about the Middle East with one eye shut, plug up one ear and go LA LA LA LA LA when the radio talks about the budget cuts, and try to read one happy animal story involving puppies/baby chickens/marmosets for every tsunami/nuclear reactor/earthquake story reported in the New York Times. I somehow stay medicated enough on coffee and dog agility to have the ability to make it out of the house every morning to another day in a world of inequity, poverty, climate change, and mean people. Deep breath, one foot in front of the other, and off we go, repeating over and over, I am SuperLucky. Maybe I haven't won the lottery yet, but I sure do like most everything about my life.

Except, there's this one member of my family has the ability to stab through my hermetically sealed John Travolta bubble with a boxcutter and let out my pink easter bunny scented air.


Otterpop has a sordid past. I am not kidding when I say she is an ass. She's a lifetime parolee who works hard on being a better citizen because I work hard on her being a better citizen. And overall, she is. Otterpop has come a long way in her 7ish years. Except for when she backslides. Which she can. And which right now, she is. All the way back down that cliff over there. And I got to catch her, fast, before she plops into the sea of evil.

Otterpop can be reactive. When she came into my life, she had the ability to be a complete and utter shithead. If she had been a big dog, I don't think I would have been able to figure out what to do. 12 pounds of satan that you can snatch up and tuck underneath your arm is a lot easier to manage than 50lbs of evil dragging you down the street. I got lots of help from people, books and videos, learned many amazing things about animal behavior, and she learned how to exist in a life that involved other dogs. People she didn't like. Trucks that she wanted to KILL. Basically, she had to learn how to control the impulses that told her to fly off the handle at the drop of a hat. She's wicked smart. She got it. She likes the program. It's like AA. It goes on forever, because we both know what lurks underneath her bumpy surface.

Most of the time, I'm happy that she can be like a happy dog. The regular kind that plays with a toy and goes on walks and doesn't want to eat other dogs. Or that she can at least play one on tv, thanks to the magic of dog training. I give dog agility a lot of credit towards this. One day at a time.

On a dreaded backslide though, I become her Dr. Drew and she is checked back into rehab. Once something triggers the latch to her darkside, that trap door comes unglued and Hannibal Lector pops back into our lives. And we have to go all the way through the process again of erasing the bad again.

It can start with subtle signs. She's a little more agro and a lot more over the top. Plays rough around the house. Not relaxed on a walk. Jittery. Gets weirdly manic with her toys, and obsesses on her special objects, which currently include a plastic bone, and inexplicably, a ratty old tupperware. Which then have to become MY special objects. The tupperware of my dreams. I see hackles go up when dogs on the beach come too close to her personal space universe. There's more barking. Lots more. It's like she transforms into some kind of meth creature. She just becomes a pain in the ass.

The very, very worst of this, is that, if triggered sufficiently, she loses it on Ruby. Her beloved, joined at the hip compadre of all time. Sister Mary Woo. Mary Poppins amongst dogs. This pattern started a few years ago when I had one of the best dogs in the world here moving through the small dog underground railroad, chihuahua Black Beauty. Black Beauty's mere existence in our house hold tweaked Otterpop's already sensitive brain. Addled it like the rotten toothed, black hoodied meth guys that pick through the trash and steal kids' bikes off porches. Just not right, with pretty much zero reasoning abilities.

That darkness can still be unleashed. Dog fights amongst other dogs in Otterpop's presence will do it. Not even a fight. A snarl, a big snark, a scuffle, if Otterpop is backsliding, will trigger her instinct to turn from beloved sister to horrible, fanged frenemy and try to get Ruby. It happened over the weekend, after their first ride in BFF fancy Jetta, on a forest walk with their good friends. Dogs they always walk with, in their favorite forest. A minor scuffle amongst the other dogs triggered Otterpop and she flew off the handle on poor Sister Mary Ruby. Nobody was hurt, no blood drawn, but I am sure that in that moment, the intention was there.

Why? Maybe the sudden disappearance of their second home, beloved Honda, and the week of car borrowing and the new car may have had something to do with it. The other dogs, are all, whatever. New car. Nice seats. Otterpop, just doesn't work that way. I dunno. I might be wrong. Change is hard when you're a neurotic dog. Hell, it could just be the weather. It just makes me very, very sad. And I go back to working my hardest at making it extinguish another time. But knowing, that months or years away, it could all come back again.

Just like Courtney Love, another trip back to rehab. We're there now. I can tell she's not right. I am flummoxed and in disbelief that our happy, lucky family drops into discord like that at the drop of a ax. It's shameful. I won't talk to many people about it. I know some other people with multi dog households, with high drive dogs, who have problems like this, but i never thought this could happen to me in my world of rainbow unicorns. I want to go back to being one of the people with all happy dogs in a happy dog household, where everybody loves everybody and we have a white picket fence and the monkeys poop flowers out of their butts from the palm trees.

Where honestly, I thought that we were again, without the blackheart dog ever making another appearance. Problem solved. Case closed.

Not the case.

Life goes on, and this is what we're working on today.


Anonymous said...

Sorry for Otterpop, sorry for Ruby, sorry for you. It's no fun being mentally ill; I think Otterpop's brain circuits have taken a detour.

She's lucky to have you to help her work her program.

Anonymous said...

Otterpop! . . . your mom's calling you . . . come back to the light side!!

Here's hoping you're able to get her back on track soon!

Beth & Lexi

gscindy said...

I second that she's lucky to have you. Hang in there - the rainbow unicorns are still there and I'll send along some tangerine trees and marshmallow skies to go with :-)

vici whisner said...

As someone that knows your pain. Sucks.

What won't kill you will make you a better dog trainer.

Jodi, eh? said...

I have a an 8yr old who is perfectly agreeable when walking by herself, says hello with a tip o' the hat to all dogs and gives 3 secs of grace for males sniffing her ass, which is all I'd ever give. If I have my young male on a walk with her, at any moment of excitement, whether he starts playing or a frisbee gets tossed or snacks appear, she turns into that kind of bully who Facebook has announced that you can now rat on and nails my youngster with all her furry fury (she's a Terv) till he's flipped upsidedown and covered in wet leaves and spittle. The worst part is how I feel, mad at myself that I didn't have her on a gentle leader and leash which she hates, cuz sometimes she's good as gold.

maryclover said...

TSD, so many of us feel your pain. It sucks. Good luck. Nuff said.

Elf said...

Oh, that's rough. And I'll bet poor ruby never knows what's going on; that can make her neurotic, too. I'll bet it is the new car thing, and then that'll become a normal piece of otterpop's life, and then everything will settle again.

Julia said...

I'm on my 3rd 'team' of dogs and while these guys are the closest I've ever gotten to having a doggie Brady Bunch, we still interrupt that programming to bring you the occasional chainsaw scene from Scarface, and the horse head in the bed-style threats from The Godfather. Hang in there. Maybe the red dash-lights from your new ride will soothe the devil in her.

team small dog said...

So to any of my friends who have had similar situations at home, have you been able to make this go away forever? We have gone about a year with peace and love, and then this blindsided me, out of the blue.

We are back doing lots of impulse control stuff with Otterpop solo. Otterpop with the other dogs. Otterpop with Ruby. It is much better already. But when I know that the Seether is back, she's back under there somewhere, even when I'm seeing Good Otterpop and it puts me on edge. Because I know it could happen again.

Ruby Rose and the Big Little Angels 3 said...

Otterpop is just a special dog with special needs who has a special Mom who treats him special

Elf said...

My situations have been different from yours, so I have no solutions. Jake & Remington disliked each other from the beginning and were liable to go at it at any time, never were friends. Boost and Tika are friends, and then every once in a while Tika lands on poor Boost, who goes hides in a corner. But with Tika, it has always been either (1) something was sore that I didn't know was sore (abscessed tooth, abscessed anal gland, like that) or there was some unusual food source involved. None of which sounds like your situation.

You might ask Nancy if she can help, if you haven't already tried that route.

Julia said...

Umm, we're strangers, but I will answer anyway because this is such an upsetting problem and I love your blog: I do the sort of training you're talking about & use management strategies to give me peace of mind - separate crates in the car & feed meals in crates at home. I've finally realized that the quickest way to get nutty dogs is to get anxious and wonky, myself. Recognizing that and committing to slowing down and calming down - this has been key to lowering the canine reactivity up in here. Maybe not your issue at all. Best of luck, Team Small Dog.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I have this problem between my boys as well.
I know you routinely take them ALL with you wherever you go, but can you do some one-on-one trips and events with each? I find when my Otterpop-like dog is really getting weird, if I can take him separately for a class, walk, league, whatever it helps defuse the issue. He's always been a weirdo and I have to watch him like a hawk. Also agility has been GREAT for him and helps him be less of an ass... but the ass-ness does come out.
Also, you mention 7+ years. My guy is that age too, and I know sometimes he just doesn't "feel well." So I watch interactions at those times as well.
Good vibes to you. And to the Pop... because sometimes it's not that easy being a dog. :)

Ellen said...

I have a whole email list of around 100 mostly Bay Area people who have been there and there's a national list that's 20 times our size.

Otterpop is a Control Unleashed "CU" dog (it's a metaphorical term, not literal). Have you read Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed or seen her DVDs? She's a genius about these issues and we have several trainers in this area who can help.

Otterpop can be managed, I don't think it ever completely goes away but you can gain a lot more control over your life.

I'll post a link to this blog entry on our local CU_Dogs_SF list. My entire blog is mostly a 6 year journey in training my CU shithead Yoshi, so I feel your pain. You're surrounded by people who can help.

Ellen and Yoshi
Training Diary

team small dog said...

Thanks, Ellen. I have read CU, and I think we incorporate lots of her ideas into our training.

I think the comment about stress and slowing down is apt-I suspect our week of no car was more about stress and less about actual cars. Which may be what put Otterpop back over her edge.

She's been back on track again, and we have a happy family again. This makes me feel confident in my training. She hung out practicing the other day with people and dogs and was a good citizen. She is back to being best sister ever to Ruby.

I think the part that's hard is we can go for a year of good dog Otterpop, but then so quickly, she goes backwards with nearly no warning. I guess when life gets different or stressful I have to now assume, maybe forever, that she can go back over to the other side, instead of thinking that I've made this part of her personality go away.

Lynnda L in Mpls said...

With deficits [personality and/or training ones], the "fixes" need to be maintained. Years ago Rachel Sanders shared at a seminar to "write yourself a note on your calendar every 3 or 4 months to work on the issue". The "patch" needs to be tuned up every so often to keep the problem from rearing its ugly head. Does that make sense?
Lynnda L & the Spotted Dotties in Minneapolis, MN [whose firs agility dog was a bit of an a**hole]

Lynnda L in Mpls said...

With deficits [personality and/or training ones], the "fixes" need to be maintained. Years ago Rachel Sanders shared at a seminar to "write yourself a note on your calendar every 3 or 4 months to work on the issue". The "patch" needs to be tuned up every so often to keep the problem from rearing its ugly head. Does that make sense?
Lynnda L & the Spotted Dotties in Minneapolis, MN [whose firs agility dog was a bit of an a**hole]