The Small Black Dog
The Small Black Dog is going to reform school. Or rather, reform school has come to him.
The SBD is a rescue dog. He’s part Tibetan terrier; a breed trained to guard remote Buddhist temples. Our casa on the hill is nowhere as grandiose as a Himalayan house of God but SBD has always been as fiercely protective as if he was guarding the Chosen One.
While generally sweet, the SBD is also a bit skittish and wary, which we attributed to him being on the street for the first ten months of his life. He’s also been snappish in the past but we assumed it was because of illnesses: a sudden, quickly escalating hot spot, a bad ear infection, a fox tail in between his toes. Occasionally, he was aggressive about his chew bones.
The incidents were far enough apart over the years that we kept thinking that they were aberrations. We’d trained him to stop barking when people came to the front door. He was friendly once visitors came in or, as we perceived it, were deemed safe by us, his guardians.
But we’ve had concerns since Christmas when we were gone for five days. Perhaps Santa Dog gave him a lump of coal instead of a bone but the SBD has not seemed his usual self since we returned. He snapped at our home-from-college daughter. He snapped at two dog-savvy friends. He snapped at us.
We had a sneaking suspicion that instead of staying at the house, our dog sitter stopped by only to feed the SBD, which meant he was alone most of the time. We mean this as an explanation not an excuse for his behavior; obviously, something needed to be done and pronto.
Enter Lezle Stein, Mt. Washington resident and owner of Handle With Care dog training. We’d taken the SBD to Lezle’s beginning class a few years ago and he did well, subsequently impressing the neighbors because he sat on command at every curb. Lezle, who is also the Director of Animal Welfare for the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council and the dog rehabilitator for Downtown Dog Rescue, was very clear in our initial phone chat that the SBD should be on a leash when she came to the house.
We understood. We were ready to transform our dog.
Wikipedia defines a Perfect Storm as “an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation”.
I’d left the leash on the SBD when we returned from our pre-training walk. However, it didn’t occur to me to tell Lezle which of our two street-side doors to knock on. It didn’t occur to my husband to tell her to knock again on the front door where most visitors enter. Because I’m hard of hearing, I didn’t even realize Lezle was in the house until she and my husband were walking down the hall. The SBD raced towards Lezle, barking ferociously. I grabbed for the leash but wasn’t quick enough.
Lezle got bit. Twice.
Things had suddenly gotten so bad, so fast. Clearly, we had called her just in time.
We were horrified. I was practically in tears. Lezle was amazingly sanguine. While she held an ice pack on her leg, she talked to us about the situation.
According to Lezle, dogs are not good decision-makers, which was vividly illustrated by the reception she got from the SBD. The fact that the situation had escalated to biting was, of course, very bad.
Lezle recommends that the SBD get a complete physical to rule out any medical issues. Also, until we’ve worked through this situation with the SBD, he must wear a muzzle if there is anyone around besides family.
Lezle sends us to Blue Collar: a “store for working dogs” in Echo Park. I’m full of trepidation but things go well. There’s a big Rottweiler in the store that keeps barking at the Small Black Dog. Maybe the SBD is cowed by the Big Dog on Campus but he accepts the soft, plastic, Italian basket muzzle quietly in the store. He looks like Hannibal Lecter. The two times he wears it at home go smoothly.
Hannibal Dog-ter ignores all visitors and they ignore him.
Our homework is to have friends come up to us on the street when we’re with the SBD to see if he’s protective of the house or us in general. The SBD sits quietly during curbside chats. The next time Lezle comes, we’ll meet her on the street with the SBD muzzled and on leash. In the meantime, I work really hard on making him heel when we walk in order to reinforce that I’m in charge.
So far, Alpha Dog Guardian: 1 – SBD: 0.
This is the first in an occasional series about the reformation of the SBD with the help of dog trainer Lezle Stein of Handle With Care.