From Foe to Friend.

My dear friend Laurence had grown up with dogs and had a dog when we met at university. I had turned to her for advice a week after I adopted T.O.M. when I felt so overwhelmed by the new life that I was living.

When she was visiting we got together to go for a walk with T.O.M. I cautioned, that I didn’t think that T.O.M. and her dog Sophie would be able to go on the walk together. I was too nervous that T.O.M. would demolish the slight and petite, ginger Standard Poodle, that I had known for almost 10 years.

I met up with Laurence and we walked cautiously through the neighbourhood. Avoiding dogs, keeping T.O.M. on track and eventually making our way to the Lakeshore boardwalk that was teaming with people on the unusually warm winter day. T.O.M. was so excited that we decided to just stay in one place and let the world go by around us.  He was taking everything in. Everyone was taking him in. Some people even came up to us and asked to pet T.O.M. I was surprised at how many people seemed keen to interact with my dog.

I mentioned the positive attention that T.O.M. was getting to Laurence and she said, “Han, I think he wants to play. He seems really friendly. Like a friendly giant.” I let this roll around in my head. It was completely contrary to the reality that I had been living these past few months.

We started the journey home and on the way a little dog kept turning around to make eyes at T.O.M. as we got closer. Laurence suggested that we stay our course, so we continued on the path to meet the little dog. Before we arrived I was already cautioning the owners – T.O.M. isn’t great with other dogs, he’s very intrusive, he doesn’t know his commands, I’m not sure how he’ll react. We all watched with anticipation, with baited breath. Well, I did. I was definitely holding my breath waiting for a yelp of sorts to come from this teeny tiny dog. Instead, I watched two dogs start to play and prance and sniff and wag tails.

Laurence looked at me with a little roll of her eyes and said, “I think T.O.M. is pretty friendly. He’s just a really large puppy who wants to play.” He just wants to play. All of this time. All of that muzzle, all over his poor puppy face and my dog just wanted to play.

This socialization exercise was good not just for T.O.M., but for me too!

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Big Dog, Big Money.

“How much is that doggie in the window?”, Patti Page sang in 1953.

I had budgeted the cost of having a dog before I went ahead with the decision. I thought I had done a pretty good job of factoring everything in. Below I will share with you what the various costs involved for me are, but a few words of caution; the bigger your dog, the bigger the money.

Big dogs eat more food, produce more waste, generally consume more of everything – treats, toys, health care products. Their sessions and treatments at the vet are often categorized by the size of the dog and the increased dosage of medicine also increases the dent in your pocket book. Although I had factored in an amount for insurance, I didn’t factor that the size of my dog would also increase the annual cost of insurance.

**all amounts are approximate.

One Time Fee

Adoption Fee: $300

Spay/Neuter: $180

Crate: $300

Bed: $90

Collar: $10

Prong Collar: $30

Training Leash: $40

Walking Leash: $30

Muzzle: $30

Bowls x 2: $14

Brush: $20

Apple Bitter Spray (to deter chewing): $14

Total One Time Fees: $1058

Annual Fees

License and Registration Fee: $50

Health Care Insurance: $700

Towels x2: $18

Private Training x 12: $1000

Blanket: $8

Total Annual Fees: $1776

Monthly

Food: 90$

Treats: $40

Winter Boots: $80

Poop Bags: $8

Probiotic: $4

Rope Toy: $12

Total Monthly Fees: $234

Misc

Dog Walker: $25/private walk

Kennel: $40/night

Approximate Annual Cost: $5642

 

 

Come. To. ME.

T.O.M. and I had been working on  basic commands since our last visit to see Tony, the trainer. In addition to the posturing and communication lessons that I had learned, Tony also talked through some trust and obedience components. The ‘Obligation’ part of the T.R.O.T. philosophy comes when the desire to obey me, outweighs the desire to do anything else.

Part of building trust is through the variable reward system. Every obeyed command  is rewarded with a treat, multiple treats or affection. Every disobeyed command is corrected with a pop and release of the prong collar, followed by the command again and then a reward on delivery of the command. Consistency is important so that T.O.M. knows that he will be compensated for his efforts. This routine is repeated until a treat can be completely replaced by affection, and that, can take a long time.

T.O.M. and I were practicing all of the commands and we were both holding up our ends of the bargain – he was delivering the task and I was paying him in small pieces of chicken hot dog. The chicken hot dog was a suggestion from Tony as a highly desired treat by the dog, an efficient and an economical way to get through the long days and years of training ahead.

T.O.M. was doing really well with all of his commands, except Come. For some reason, this command just didn’t resonate with him. I regularly took him to an enclosed area and practiced and practiced, but he just didn’t listen. He was having far too  much fun and everything else was far more important than me.

 

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I kept telling myself that consistency and hard work would pay off and that I just need to be relentless in my training ethic.

One day as we returned home and were getting ready to enter my apartment, we went through our normal routine. T.O.M. sat next to me, patiently and politely while I dropped the leash and unlocked the door. I stepped inside, turned to him and said, Come, inviting him inside (being first inside any space was an example of my dominance and alpha position in our pack). He looked at me longer than usual, and then almost as if he was starting to grin, held my eyes. He’s going to turn and run the other I way, I thought. I could sense that he was testing and taunting me all at the same time and I had no idea what to do. “Come”, I called again and then reached for his leash — but away he went! Off the porch, down the stairs, towards the sidewalk and up the street. Ohmygosh, I thought. I chased after him weaving in and out of my neighbours back yards, through the lane way, back to the street and then did it all over again. Up and down. Back and forth. All I could think was, “please, please don’t run out into the road”.

Finally, I saw him hunched over a garbage bag in the back yard of a neighbour. He was happily bumping his nose around and pushing through the bag. He was completely enthralled with the smelly contents of the bag that he didn’t even notice as I came up behind him and took a hold of his leash.

Do you have any tips for training your dog that you could share with me?

 

Emergency Services on Christmas Eve.

We had arrived at my mum’s house to visit for the holiday season. T.O.M., my brother Jack and I had loaded up the car and driven a few hours to visit Mum. The drive had been great. and T.O.M. is always so well behaved in the car. Apart from his monstrous snoring, you wouldn’t even know that he was there.

Our first day was spent adjusting to all of the freedom offered by Mum’s house and spacious back yard. T.O.M. was having a ball playing so freely outside, romping around in the snow and throwing a stick for himself. img_1598-2.jpgThe snow was so so deep. He leaped and bounded around the backyard, pressing his nose against the door to check in on us every once in awhile. He moved easily from inside to the back yard, coming and going with no trouble. He would lay down by the fire place inside, completely exhausted by his own antics.

Feeling comfortable with how the backyard arrangement had gone the day before, I let T.O.M. out in the late morning for a play. He came back inside and spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying all of the attention he was receiving from his extended family.

In the late afternoon, I stepped out to take him for a walk. On our way back through the yard, I thought I would indulge in a couple rounds of fetch and moved to the centre of the yard. Right away I could see a plastic container had been shredded open and the contents of the container were strewn all over the yard. It looked like bright green-blue rock salt grains. I picked up the packaging next to it and immediately saw that it was mouse poison. My dog had eaten a package of poison.

Before I panicked completely, we went inside and I asked Mum if she knew anything about the quantity of the contents of the plastic container before T.O.M. got into it. She couldn’t believe her eyes when I showed her and immediately she started to panic. Now I know where I get it from. She had forgotten that she had left some mouse poison near the garbage bins, and my ‘eat anything in my path’ dog had most certainly gotten his BIG mouth all over it.

I called my vet in Toronto. At 5:00pm on Christmas Day, nobody answered. The machine kindly told me to call the emergency clinic, so I did. They directed me to poison control. I called poison control and was routed to a number in the United States. Turns out they are a not for profit and for a fee they will share a few details about the type of poison consumed, suggest a visit to your vet and get a recommended course of treatment from a medical professional.

Either way I was going to see a vet, so I hung up on poison control, found the emergency vet clinic nearby and joined all of the other clients with their Christmas Day pet emergencies. We had walked into a surprisingly busy clinic.

Due to the nature of T.O.M.’s situation, he was seen right away. However, I was forewarned that because so much time had passed since the point of consumption there was likely little to be done. T.O.M. had a ‘physical’ and the the vet explained that they would still induce vomiting to be safe, but after so many hours, his stomach contents had likely passed on.

Awhile later, the vet came back to report that poison was not found in T.O.M.’s vomit…but many other things were. Turns out he had been chewing on a carpet and had been unable to digest it. There it was. Turns out most of the training treats I give him, the many many treats that I give him, are swallowed whole. There they were in the vomit bucket. The entire contents of his stomach was in a bucket in front of me, and the vet was poking through it and identifying different things. But no poison to be seen. The Poison Control report that he received essentially stated that T.O.M.’s giant size had saved him. A little packet of mouse poison was no big deal for my massive dog.

The next day, on our morning walk, a bright green-blue poop was delivered right at my feet.

 

Road Trip. House Guest.

T.O.M. and I had been invited to my brother Jack’s, birthday celebration. It would be the first time that T.O.M. was a guest in someone else’s home.

Normally, I would have left T.O.M. behind. He was too big. Too unmanageable. And too independent minded, eghem, dominant.

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But it was my brother. He grew up with a dog too. He was very fond of them and he was understanding. It was the perfect first, house guest moment.

We hopped in the car and road tripped to Jack and his partner, Jill’s home. We arrived and on entry to their lovely home, all set up to entertain, I thought, Oh, boy. The coffee table had a beautiful display of baked goods, snacks and treats. The end tables had delicate bowls of sweets. And the dining room and kitchen were set with appetizers and the most beautiful chocolate hazelnut cake.

It was a total dream come true for a massive, food forward dog.

T.OM. was so excited to be in a new place, with new people and so many delicious smells. It was a playground waiting to be discovered and a total nightmare for me to keep T.O.M.’s nose away from all of the food.

He bounded into the living room and started to tear around. It was a game of who could get to all of the yummy food fastest. As soon as I had moved one dish, he was on to the next. Bumping into furniture, barreling through doorways, and sliding around on the hardwood floors. He was having the time of his life. The horror on Jill’s face was giving me a heart attack.

Finally we had the food moved to appropriate locations and heights. T.O.M. was relegated to a specific corner with his blanket, kong and other toys and I crossed my fingers that the calm was for good.

Within minutes, T.O.M. was back up and charging full speed towards the stairs. In leaps and bounds, it took him no time to reach the landing. My jaw dropped as I watched Jill running full tilt behind. Not only did she match him on the stairs, she caught him at the top of the landing.

Ohmygosh, I thought, as I ran after both of them. What a way to kick off a birthday party. Snacks were almost demolished one dish at a time, and now my crazy dog was terrorizing the house. I reached the landing where Jill was desperately trying to hold my 100lb dog, just as he slipped through her fingers and with the momentum landed with a large thud on the opposite end of the hallway. The collision didn’t stop him for a second, and he kept butting his large nose against the closed bedroom door. More precisely, he kept butting his nose against the gap between the door and the floor, where I could see a little paw swiping at him. Jill’s cat.

Whew. At least the cat was alive, was the first thought that entered my mind. The second; we should probably think about gathering our things and leaving quietly before we ruin our chances of ever being invited back.

With that, we packed our things, loaded the car and headed back to the city.

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Training Day. For Me.

I waited the full six weeks for our appointment with the trainer and finally T.O.M. and I arrived at the behaviouralists door step.

He came highly recommended by my neighbour and I did my own research too. The reason it had taken so long to get an appointment is because the trainer travels to the United States often on contracts for police forces to train their service dogs. In addition to obedience, he specializes in tracking and detection. I checked out his website and it terrified me. It was a lot of pictures of BIG men with BIG dogs. It didn’t seem like a normal space that I would choose to enter. The language of the site countered the pictures, describing a T.R.O.T. system of Trust, Respect, Obligation and Teamwork.  That sounded good to me. I was feeling desperate and I had so much hope from the referral.

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When we arrived the previous session was still going on. I waited outside for fear of a dog fight when we entered, but eventually, Tony, the trainer waved us in. I cautioned immediately that my dog wasn’t good with other dogs. He smiled kindly and told me not to worry. We took a seat and watched for a few minutes before Tony suggested we join the training. He prefaced that both dogs weren’t good with other dogs.

T.O.M. and I participated passively in the other dogs training as obstacles or distractions, but then Tony offered to engage both dogs in training exercise directly and took T.O.M.’s leash to demonstrate. He walked and T.O.M. heeled. Tony stopped and T.O.M. heeled and sat next to him. He kept his eye contact. All while the other dog was walking circles around him and back in forth in front and behind. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My BIG dog was like putty with this BIG man.

“Posturing”, Tony told me. “It’s all about how you carry yourself.”

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He went on to explain that if T.O.M. thinks that I can handle the situation, he’ll let me handle it. But if I give him any reason to doubt my strength, T.O.M. will feel like he needs to take care of things. He needs to protect me. I have to be the alpha. Wow.

We moved on and started learning the basic training positions – Sit, Stay, Come, Down and Heel. Again, the emphasis was on my posturing. Feet apart. Spine tall. Shoulders wide. Take up space. Make your presence known. Wow.

We continued with a communications exercise. Not me and T.O.M., but me and Tony. It was a version of ‘Hot, Warm, Cold’, the game you would play as a kid only this time, we used Yes and No. I chose an object in the room and through the use of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ guided Tony to the object. The point is that T.O.M. doesn’t speak English and can’t read my mind. My communication needs to be crystal clear at all times. Wow.

Everything that Tony was saying made perfect sense. We continued teaching, learning and practicing. I was completely blown away by how quickly T.O.M. learned, by the depth of his learning potential and by how much I had to learn.

I walked out of there feeling like I had learned so much about myself. And this was dog training?

Shame vs. Confidence

Feeling completely out of my element, I followed the advice of my neighbour and I bought a muzzle and a prong collar. I wish I could say that I spent a long time thinking through the suggestion, weighing the pro’s and cons, but that wasn’t the case. I so desperately wanted to feel safe and secure walking my dog, that I found the items and purchased them immediately. They both made T.O.M. seem far scarier than he looked before.

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But the confidence and comfort that I felt when I walked him was worth all of the shame that I carried. Knowing, that I was doing everything that I could to be responsible about my fears of what T.O.M. might do, provided me with peace of mind. Well, some peace of mind.

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I felt shame for having adopted a dog that I couldn’t handle. I felt shame every time someone crossed the street to avoid passing next to us on the sidewalk. I felt my heart break when I heard children say, “Oh, that’s a mean dog. That’s a bad dog.” I felt shame and completely inadequate when friends asked about taking him to the dog park, or going for coffee with him, or doing anything ‘normal’; any ‘ideal, man’s best friend’ excursions were just not options.

On the flip side, the muzzle gave me a renewed sense of confidence. I wasn’t afraid that T.O.M. would bite someone, or snatch a snack out of someone’s hand. I was no longer afraid that he would attack another dog and destroy them to bits. The collar helped to shake T.O.M.’s prey drive and intense focus on everything but me. With my new tools, I was feeling a little stronger. I was feeling stronger in my ability to manage the situation that I had gotten myself into when I adopted T.O.M.

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And then I got the call. The trainer would take me and T.O.M. In 6 weeks. Six weeks felt like an eternity, but also something to look forward too. Knowing that more help was coming, lifted my spirits and renewed my confidence further. I was armed; muzzle, prong collar and a specialized trainer.