23 October 2012

Reaching the boiling point, which is first little bubbles, then big bubbles, then boiling over, and then you have a mess.

Otterpop has always been a boiler. She's never been entirely happy in her own skin. Years of training have taught her how to manage her fears and keep her emotions in check. But not make them go away, just put them onto simmer. Her oodles of tricks and mad skilz of attention and focus are this evidence. Instead of boiling, she has agility and running in the forest, working on the ranch and her frisbee.

But shit can happen.

When her pot used to boil over, it was a loud, barky explosion. Historically, the punchline involved chasing a semi truck down the road or charging the massive, intact pitbull. The magic of dog training took this boiling point to where we barely ever saw it, so was just tiny little bubbles. Disguised to look like the ones that floweth through your Lawrence Welk accordian flavored champagne. But bubbles nonetheless.

All bubbles are something trapped, creating surface tension that stretches the surface until it gets so tight that it has to POP.

Otterpop developed, a few years back, what dog trainers call redirected aggression, so when her pot did boil over, something caused her to redirect the freak on to her beloved sister, Ruby. I remember the exact moment it started. Why her beloved sister? I don't know. I guess this happens to girl dogs sometimes when they get older. The thing that triggered it? Very predictable. Anything that sounded like a dog fight. So a dog fight over there, that could cause her pot to boil and she would turn to Ruby, who, normally she loved like no other, and try to attack her.

Ruby never tried to fight back. Ruby was never injured, but we were all totally freaked out. Otterpop would try to nail her, and then it was over, and then they worked their way back to normal. I talked to many dog trainers and read many articles for help. Many people told me about similar and much worse situations in their own dog families. I implemented training ideas, lifestyle ideas, used careful management techniques, and eventually our family went back pretty much to normal.

Pretty much because the bad, ugly thing could pop up, but it was rare and finally we had 16 months of perfect, happy dogs. No bubbles that I could see. I thought maybe it was gone. Life was finally, actually, really back to normal.

Until this past August, when Otterpop got attacked by a big dog. Something in her brain went snap. Soon after, Sister Mary Ruby, who doesn't do anything to anybody and who can't hear or see good, got attacked by a big dog. And then Otterpop tried to attack Ruby, again.

Our lives ever since are like someone had been standing there quietly shaking up the champagne bottle, all those months of happy times, and then popped that cork and all those bubbles all came up at once. Except not champagne. Champagne's so pretty and suggests black and white Carey Grant and Katherine Hepburn standing around gabbing about the snooty society beauty who slipped and fell - in love. Otterpop's bubbles are gassy and dark, more of what burbles up through the wound when you stab the zombie through the eyeball and jerk the rebar back out for future use. Otterpop's hair now always stands a little bit on end. She's not a happy girl.

Ruby is fine, except for the fact that me and Ruby are scared that Otterpop might hurt her. Nobody's allowed to hurt my Ruby. Our household exists in a state of low grade paranoia, rather than our old times of blissful, groovy dog frolicking. Well, except for Gustavo. He is immune to all of this and cheerfully frolics around no matter what. Having a Gustavo is like having your own baby unicorn. That's housebroken. And doesn't stab people with it's antler. And has no teeth.

We have changed how we do things. Who plays with who, who is on a leash, who sleeps where, who is outside with who. There is no new puppy in our lives. Dog trainers say management always fails, but I am doing everything I can to manage our lives so that in any instance where the potential for Otterpop to redirect aggression back to Ruby is eliminated. Even though most of the time they look like happy, love-each-other sisters, I am mentally pre-planning for what if there was a dog fight nearby, or a dog charged us from that alley, or from behind those bushes, or ran out of the agility ring. I look at everywhere we are very differently. What would happen if someone brought a new dog into work? Or two strange dogs got into it in front of my house? What if Ruby hurts herself and starts crying?

Basically, I am looking at the world through paranoid, slitty eyes, just like Otterpop does. It's a lot of pressure. I can't imagine what it feels like to be Otterpop, always living in a pressure cooker. Maybe like those poor lobsters with their claws tied down, thrown into a cold pot straight from the trap, and the water starts to heat up and gets hotter and hotter and hotter. By the time it starts to boil, the lid clamps down and then they get boiled to death. I think some people even eat their livers. Lobsters have 10 legs, 3 of which are also claws, but they can't get out of the pot.

It's hard to be Otterpop. And it's hard to be Ruby. And it's hard to be me, because I now spend equal time making sure Ruby's life is not scary or dangerous and that Otterpop's feels happier and calmer. This is what we do now. I carry around a lot of responsibility, when I used to just have pet dogs. This isn't very happy to write or talk about. At a trial recently, I was asking someone about how she handled a similar situation. Another competitor overheard our conversation, and the rest of the day continually asked me if the dog I had with me was the mean one. Having this going on makes you feel like a very bad dog owner. But I have learned that it's, sadly, not a rare situation in multi dog households. Just no one talks about it, so you think like it's just your dogs.

So if it's your dogs, too, sorry. I know exactly how you feel.


Amy Carlson said...

When ever I read your blog I am amazing at how similar our lives are. Right now my Colby (nearly blind dog due to PRA and only one eye) is living in total paranoia that something is going to get in her way. Rotten Roscoe, old deaf dog, shoots out from his bed to attack her. She now wanders around the house whining and shaking. I manage it. Roscoe gets crated, Colby gets protected. Spur, who looks strangely like Gustavo only with more colors and slightly longer legs, wanders around in a happy little daze, life is good world. It's odd. I think we are the same person on different coasts, but you write better.........

team small dog said...

I am sorry Colby has to be scared! I have worries that this would someday start to happen in our house as Ruby gets older and more blind. So far at home, they still are ok together.

It's good to know I live in a parallel universe!

Anonymous said...

You wrote: "Dog trainers say management always fails" ... they do?

Maybe what they mean is that although we ALL use management as a tool, management doesn't CURE anything. Or rarely does. As dog age you can see the dynamics shifting. And loss of stamina, hearing, eyesight, etc makes our dogs "different" to eachother. And this causes stress. I think you're doing your best to be READY for what comes up. And you're vigilant. And it's what is called for. Maybe thinking of it more like "this is how we do things" rather than wishing for some sort of cure will make your eyes less squinty. I hope so anyway. Our house also has dogs who don't like each other and ones that are old and sometimes get jumped. You're not alone. Hugs and scratches to you all.

manymuddypaws said...

I think that it is way more common than people (even dog trainers) talk about.

I have a similiar situation. My already scared, weird little pyr shep bears the brunt of bad attitude, angry little corgi dude.

Anytime there is excitement, the doorbell, a dog barking, a minor scrap between completely different dogs that bad little corgi starts looking for the shaggy one.

We manage though. There has been no blood shed. And Vito (the bad one) is constantly in training recall wise. And Boone (the shaggy one) has learned to stick close to the momma...

Dogs are jerks (and UBER complicated). It's a good thing they are cute.

Anonymous said...

cats do all this too. and scream while they are at it.

Anonymous said...

Laura, this is an excellent post. I applaud you for all the management you are doing with Otterpop.

Recently, my wire fox terrier Trevor has been snarking after the small ones at my house. It involves who gets up on the bed. Of course, everybody does, but when the smaller ones just off, Trevor isn't as obliging to let them back aboard.

Multiple dog households are often fluid (you probably know that) and when the dogs age that fluid swishes around some more. whereas I used to have to watch Zip, it is now Trevor.

At least it makes life interesting.

Thanks again for a great blog!

Otterpop Groupie from Kentucky

Jenn said...

Ugh. Reactive is NOT mean. I'm sorry that happened to you. More stress is never better.

Just throw some ideas out there. None of which I myself have tried:

Maybe try a thundershirt type of device for outings?

Some folks swear by Rescue Remedy.

I don't really have anything brilliant.

I do a lot of little management here, nothing on the scope you are experiencing.


team small dog said...

In many articles I've read, and from people I've talked to, the "management always fails" never fails to come up. This weighs on my mind all the time.

You control everything you can, but shit happens.

And if shit happens, and you're not ready, fail. Maybe it works 99% of the time, but that 1% scares me when it's something beyond my control.

We have to do some dog separating at work, there is a work dog that doesn't get along with my dogs. We work very hard at this. But if my dogs are out, and that dog gets out by mistake, there's a very scary 1% right there. Lots of training, lots of management, lots of backup plan, but a lot of stress to be ever vigilant.

Amy Carlson said...

Roscoe has been seen by Dr. Dodman at Tufts. Dodman isn't a trainer, but certainly tops in the world of behavioral medicine and HE prescribes management all the time. He always told me "if you don't let the dog behave in that manner, it won't happen". How true is that? I manage it so Colby doesn't get picked on by Roscoe any more (except for like you said,......that 1%), but it has happened before so she is now on edge and more so as her sight fails and she doesn't forget. And then that 1%.....damn it! Shit happens. You can't keep them in a bubble, but just do the best you can.

maryclover said...

Laura, I'm so sorry you have to deal with this. It totally sucks and I know what you are going through. Management is tough especially when the trigger is the dog himself.

At just about one year, Wisp decided that my oldest dog, Scout, had to die and she would take care of that. I managed it for almost 4 years until Scout blew his ACL and I started to consider what his old age would be like.

Thankfully Wisp was great with all other dogs besides Scout. She was still young and had a full life ahead of her. The best thing for us, Scout and Wisp included, was to find a new home for Wisp. It was the toughest thing I ever did. Wisp is a wonderful, loving, fun dog who just couldn't live with us anymore.

I know this is not something you could ever consider with Otterpop, but I do totally empathize on the whole management aspect. You do what you can.

jodi,eh? said...

Has this changed your feelings and relationship with Otterpop?

team small dog said...

When this has happened, it's like it's not even Otterpop who is doing it. It's like she changes into a horrible devil, another dog in her body.

I do hate her in the moment, then I realize my dogs are a reflection on me. It's my job to train her. It's my job to protect her. This horrible backslide she had makes me feel bad for her and I want to help her feel better. She ends up staying close to me, because I need to know where she is. She ends up getting all the training time, because we are back to square 1, like where we were years and years ago, since now all strange dogs are enemies to her. So somehow, our relationship gets weirdly stronger, even though I'm mad at her when she's an ass.

It makes me wonder, what did I do to contribute to this? She came to me broken, but she is now 9 years old and in some ways so amazing and in some ways, really f*&ked up.

I sure have thought about other options. Who would want Otterpop, and how would I give away a member of my family? I know this is the right answer for some people, and I can't imagine how hard it was for you do this, Mary. You are right though, I don't see any way I could find her a different home. Ruby is too precious and has done nothing wrong, and Otterpop, she can't go anywhere.

Liz said...

Laura, you can't train out genetics and oftentimes management is the best you can do. I have no doubt you have done everything in your power to train what components of the puzzle you can, but there are always other pieces you just can't change. You haven't failed anyone--you've taken the cards you've been dealt and well, have dealt with them. Thats it, thats all. Anyone who says/thinks otherwise is full of crap.

Not to mention you have given this dog plenty of outlets to redirect her juju positively--through agility, frisbee, forest, etc. Can you imagine if she was someone's "regular" pet dog? Not so good.

I am free of multiple dog drama at the moment--my guys seem to work it all out surprisingly well somehow. But, thats not to say I am delusional enough to think we'll be immune forever. I also have a redirector, but luckily he's the oldest and in charge so that helps I guess. I also am surrounded by multi-dog households that experience real carnage--blood, trips to the vet, etc--including well-known trainer households.

Dont beat yourself up, you have dealt with it to the best of your ability and you will continue to do so.

vici whisner said...

Hey! Boy oh boy. You are so right about management. Someone leaves a door open and wham...1%.

I totally get what you are saying about feeling bad. I feel so guilty when things go awry. It is like if I had just done "xxx" this wouldn't have happened and poor "xxx" wouldn't feel scared.

I "manage" Tazz. Home I feel is 100% managable. I know what sets him off and I prevent it or he is in a kennel. I feel bad when he is in a crate, but life sucks sometimes and I'm not having any more arguments in my house.

I have no suggestions, only this, "Your dogs are better off because they are with you. You can't ALWAYS keep them protected. Even when bad things happen, they would rather be with you then anyone else."

BTW, many times in my life I have felt like a leper when people give me the "you've got a mean dog why do you even show your face in public" look. Screw them. They have NO Frigg'n idea what I go through (or you) on any given day. They do not know the extent of committment it takes to work with crazy aggression that comes on so quickly. They do not know the years we spend trying to just have everyone get along (in private and public).

All they do is make us feel bad. I'm not feeling bad any more! You shouldn't either.

Of course that said, when Tazz goes off on Maddie or Fin or Olive (he leaves Rocks alone) I cry. Every time.

Elf said...

Yup, I, like pretty much everyone else, have had dog management issues with a couple of dogs. And, like Vici, I cried a lot whenever I/they lost it. My first two dogs were no problems. My most recent two dogs were no problems. My middle two dogs were problems and not just with each other. I think you're right, that it goes on all the time in many people's homes, even people who are good trainers and always know what to wear to any kind of party. As you can tell from all the responses here. KNowing that doesn't make it any easier, though. I'm sorry that this keeps coming back for you.

Jerry said...

I had a rough week and am behind in reading Team Small Dog. Last weekend I almost asked by agility teacher if she ever had a problem with her dogs (she has a bunch) fighting.

Over the last two years my team small dog has gone from two to five, four small and one not so small. Three or four times in the last year Ipo (Maltese age 11) and Pookie (age 2) have gotten into huge fights. Everything is fine and then wham, crazed attacking. I don't know who starts it or what triggers it.

I have been there to pull them apart and in a few minutes everything is fine. But what if I was not around? I have not yet done any management, they still spend unsupervised time together with the rest of the team. This has me worried.

The other issue is Orbit (one year old Brussels Griffon) and Kira (4 month old Border Collie--as my teacher says, I have gone over to the dark side) who always seems on the verge of brawling. They can't leave each other alone, but their "playing" is often on the verge of getting out of hand. When they seem to be getting too loud and too rough one or the other will go into a kennel.

Finally, I LOVE team small dog. How much? Enough to put up with red type on a black background. Even with reading glasses these old eyes can't read that!

Anonymous said...

I have been a bad ex tshirt design recipient internet friend and haven't kept up with your blog in ages. And then I read this. And hey, at least you didn't kill your dog that was like this at home. I did about 7 days before you wrote this post. It fuckin sucked...balls. I don't recommend it.

So I am not much help to you but I am saying I feel very sorry for you because I know what it is like to want that peace again. I internetlove otterpop very much but I wish she wasn't making you so anxious.

Love Penny

local dog walkers said...

I have been walking a blind dog for over a year and the improvement they have over for walking and being with others do seemingly improve and they listen than usual