Is Your Beloved Dog Being An A-hole? (asking for a friend)

Posted by Janet Gurtler on

I’m sorry, if you’re here looking for answers  about what to do about your dog's a-hole behavior. This is not that post. 

This is more about commiserating. I love my dog, don't get me wrong. I love her SO much. (Too much some might say) But sometimes....

Every dog owner who’s had more than one dog, knows that all dogs have their own personality. If you have a dog from a certain breed, they have similar characteristics of course, but they have their own little quirks and things they love and things they hate or are afraid of.  Like Betty is afraid of Safeway Bags and blow up Christmas Ornaments. And the dark. Very scary. Totally reasonable, right?

Dogs are all so different. Mixed breeds, rescues dogs, the same idea, right? They come with parts of a personality trait from this breed or that, but they’re individual dogs. Nature and nurture and all of that, too.

Betty, is a Golden Retriever and she is such a Betty. She’s beautiful and blonde and kind of silly. Very silly, actually. She loves to play. She is a pro toy squeaker. She’s great at fetch and loves to run through the trees and find sticks and run and run and watch birds and play and snerf and have all of the fun. She is a retriever, but she kind of lacks the whole, I need to give it back after I fetch it so we can do it all over again, gene. She’s learning, but it’s taking her awhile.

Silly Betty the Golden Retriever picture

The first dog my husband and I owned together was a Black Lab named Peppsy. Poor little Peppsy, she came from a really bad breeder.

I would almost call her a rescue dog, except we actually paid to rescue her from her breeder and didn’t know it until later. We got her back in the late 90’s, before Google Search and YouTube channels or modern technology as we know it today. So, I found her in the Bargain Finder. Does anyone remember that paper? 

Anyhow, the people who sold us Peppsy, actually met us at MacDonald’s in High River, in the parking lot, and we picked one of three black lab girls. Peppsy had a white mark on her chest, which a family dog had when I was growing up, so she stole my heart. She was the runt and kind of quiet, and she shook in fear all the drive home. In retrospect looking back, she had all sorts of warning signs. She had a urine infection when we got her, she was timid and barked out of fear. She was really anxious and we really had no idea what we were doing with a dog. I found out later from local town folks that the breeder was well known for being a puppy mill. He’d leave the dogs outside in the barn and rumor had it he left the dogs and went travelling. So not good. Not good bad breeder man.

We took her to puppy classes (where she would cower under my seat and refuse to come out). She took a long time to potty train, probably because she had urine infections.  We took her to dog training and it was the absolute worst kind of training for a dog like Peppsy.  This was over twenty years ago and the trainer had an aggressive, alpha dog way of training and insisted on choker collars and lots of firm, whack the dog around, pull it around and let it know who was boss. Again, we didn’t know that this was really horrible at first, but soon learned that she was not responding well to such force and stopped. Poor Peppsy.

She remained a fearful, barking reactive dog, but she loved me fiercely and I loved her back. She was my total walking pal and loving companion before my son was born, much like Betty is now that my son is in University and doesn’t want to hang out with his mommy. Hasn’t for years, actually.

Peppsy and I went out every single day for a huge romp. We would play with the ball in Fish Creek Park and go to the Dark Park at Southland. Sue Higgins now. Peppsy never liked to play with other dogs, she was pretty much afraid of every dog she met and not interested in making friends. She was obsessed with her ball though, and an amazing retriever. She learned to drop the ball easily, and would bring it to me consistently, over and over and over to throw and bring back. She listened to me when I told her to do things. She had excellent recall and the two of us were tight. It changed for a time when my son was born, but after I got through some rough postpartum stuff, my son became our third on walking adventures. And yes, my husband was there too, and he loved Peppsy, but I was the one who walked her consistently, and I was her main person.

Peppsy the black lab plays with a little boy named max

When we got Betty, I kind of expected she would be the same way. I’ve been treating her the same (without the meaner meaner training. We did puppy and dog training thought). So I'm trying to give her freedom to run off leash with me, and believing the recall will get better. But Betty is a different dog entirely. She is the sweetest silly, people loving dog and she LOVES children and will roll over on her belly for a scratch for almost anyone who cares to give her an ounce of attention.

White Good Dog smiling at camera

But she is not good at recall.

We’ve changed our word, from “come” because clearly, she doesn’t feel she has to listen to that. We now use HERE. We work on it every day. And by we, I mean, me and Betty.

But when we get out to burn off that energy, when we are playing in the woods, she will only drop her stick or ball for me if she feels like it, not when I ask. I fear that this bratty adolescent dog is being trained not to listen to me. By me. It’s driving me a little crazy. And she knows it. But she does not care.

I keep trying to change things up with her to help her to improve. We talk a lot on our walks. She’s gotten much better at recall, and she stays a reasonable distance to me when we romp, but if she sees a deer, she is a goner. At least she was until she had a near run in with two deer who kind of trapped her as she was on her chase. They formed a gang and were ready to kick her chasing little ass. At least she realized it and finally came running back to me. Have you seen the video where FENTON the dog takes off after a herd of deer. It's hilarious, but also frightening. I could be this man. I would not be yelling Jeezus, though, I'd be yelling worse things.

Anyhow, since the bad chase, we’ve been walking in new areas, where deer are less likely to distract her. Or vice versa.

I read an article online about the chase instinct in some dogs, and how they get such a huge dopamine rush from the chase that they can’t even hear what we’re saying when we try to call them back.  Yes that. I’ve seen that look on Betty’s face.

I have been trying to get her to transfer that feeling to chasing balls and sticks, but that has challenges too.  She doesn’t give a SHIT about treats when she’s in a state. Anyhow. A work in progress, and it’s getting better.

We’re working on that and "drop it", and she’s learning the concept of, "oh, if I drop it, DogLady throws it and its super fun". I’ve been able to call her back from a chase since the bad one.  I'm working on watching my commands and not giving them if she won't listen. It's improving...


Today she pushed me again. We’ve talked about it Betty and I. That there are no bad dogs, that there is only bad dog BEHAVIOR.

But today.

Today, she flat out refused to come when it was time to leave the off-leash portion of our walk. She ran away when I called. Yelling doesn’t do much good. I tried to use the right word, the one we practise at home. HERE. Instead of Come. I tried not to freak out and lose my cool. I tried to get her to make the right choice on her own. I tried to bribe her with a treat.  But she kept RUNNING AWAY from me. Not too far, but far enough that I couldn’t get to her to put her leash back on. And I didn’t want to chase her. And she knew that. And she kept it up for way longer than was acceptable. She eventually sat and allowed me to walk TO HER and loop on her leash. But by that time, I was furious at her. And myself for allowing her to get that way. A-hole. 

I put her leash on and we walked calmly the rest of the way home. I believe she knew I was mad. I don’t know if she cared that much or if she knew that she'd lost her off leash privileges for a while.  I know she understands the commands. And I heard rumors she’s supposed to feel guilty when I’m mad at her, because she’s a golden retriever, but she did not give a SHIT. I did not see any of the guilt I’ve heard so much about. I saw defiance. Teenager style. A-hole. 

I’m hoping that it will improve as she gets out of her adolescent phase. I’m the one who has to change things up. She’s a good dog most of the time. She walks well on a leash. Most of the time. She knows how to heel and she’s learned not to express her desire to greet each and every person she meets on a walk, and crawl between their legs and demand their love. 

She doesn’t bark at people or other dogs and she has manners with our tiny old Chihuahua and small dogs. She’s a nice, good girl at home. Sweet.

But Holy Bad Dog day, Betty. She’s acting spoiled. Maybe because she is?

At least it gives me some perspective. We have some more work to do. And we’ll do it together. But first, I have to give her a treat for coming in from outside, when I call HERE. Oh. Betty. 

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